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During the development of The Darkest Hour, James Cameron’s groundbreaking 3D film Avatar was released to overwhelming critical, financial, and creative success. “Originally The Darkest Hour was a 2D movie in my head, but when Avatar came out, the studios started really thinking about which properties could be 3D.
So in the spring of 2010 we shot some 3D tests in Los Angeles to see how 3D fit with what we were trying to create. Quite honestly I was reluctant because I had a different film in my head for so long. Once we played with the 3D equipment, cut that test night shoot together, worked with it in post putting in some visual effects, and projected in on screen… I just changed,” admits director Chris Gorak.
“Going 3D was quite ambitious because it costs more money,” adds producer Timur Bekmambetov. “It was a very brave decision to shoot in 3D and not convert later, because it changed the whole production plan and made us rethink all these shots. The choreography of the 3D shots is another language from a 2D movie.
It’s the beginning for 3D and some of this language doesn’t exist yet. Every new 3D movie, it is one step forward to develop this language. We have to learn how to do this, but also we have to teach audiences how to consume, because it’s very different. But it’s good because we have a chance to play with these new toys and figure out how it works.”
“We chose to shoot 3D to really capture one, the environment of this incredible city, and two our alien itself and the way it behaves and shreds. We thought the electrical nature of the aliens would be fantastic in 3D. To us, Moscow is the new Pandora. To be the first film to shoot 3D here is a great opportunity that we didn’t want to miss,” shares Gorak.
“Shooting in 3D has an immersive quality to it. I like to call it innovative dynamic immersion, or IDI. It’s not about 3 dimensions… it’s about four, five, or six dimensions. It’s HD on steroids where you’re in the environment and the environment is shaped in a different way for the viewing audience. Grabbing the characters and sticking them in the lap of the audience, and grabbing the audience and sticking them in the environment is what it’s about,” says Gorak.
“The movie is going to be a real strong emotional and thrilling ride. Once out characters come out of their shelter and try to find their way across the city, it’s pretty relentless. Chris and our director of photography Scott Kevan specifically designed shots with a lot of depth behind the characters so you’ll feel like you’re there, like you’re in it,” describes producer Tom Jacobson.
“It’s a natural for this movie to be 3D because the story has an adventure quality and a journey part to it – those elements play really well in 3D. We’re also trying to shoot in this naturalistic action way that we don’t think has been done a lot in 3D. You’ve seen grand fantasy science fiction movies, family movies, and video game movies shot in 3D, but we haven’t really seen a grounded adventure movie in 3D yet.”
Just prior to the start of filming, acclaimed visual effects supervisor Stefen Fangmeier joined the creative team. “Timur was instrumental in developing some of the early concepts – the way that we could define the aliens movement by being electric, lighting the things around it, the shred, and some of the lightening that it shoots.
But when it came time to actually execute that, Stefen has been very instrumental in helping us to really integrate the production into those visual effects. It’s very important that it not feel too CG. It needs to feel like it is really happening,” says Wills.
“Stefen’s input on the film is priceless,” states Gorak. “He added a great level of creativity and detail to the film that comes from his years of experience and his experience as a director. He had some great suggestions, not only on set, but also in post as we developed the alien further and how an alien would come towards the camera in 3D.”
“The 3D helps to create these epic stages for an intimate story. The core is the relationship between people, that’s a dramatic spine of the movie, what makes the movie emotional,” says Bekmambetov. “But the scope gives you the scale and the background. This is very unique because the 3D makes the experience about being there. I hope this movie will give audience a chance to literally feel what’s happening when a huge disaster happens. It’s the first movie when you see the world in this destroyed in 3D.”
Shooting in 3D makes the job of the actors even more crucial. “It’s very important to be connected with these characters because in a 3D movie you cannot cut and force the viewer’s attention, you can’t shake him, and you have to let him be there with the characters. Thankfully, we have great actors.”
“The modern movie-going audience is thirsty for something that they haven’t seen before. But they’re not going to care if they’re not connected to the characters going through the experience,” agrees Wills. “First and foremost for us was to really connect this character journey to the audience and then let the experience that they’re having with the aliens, the visual effects, and the 3D inform and complement that, but not to overpower it.”
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