Heather Buckley recently shared an afternoon with Steven Spielberg and crew to talk all things Tin Tin and bring back this report:
When Steven Spielberg makes a new movie we’re interested. He’s E.T.’s “father” for Pete’s sake. And his latest, Tintin, is coming to theaters in all of its 3-D glory this holiday season. If you do get a chance to see it, you’ll “get” why Spielberg has been trying since 1983 to get this flick made. That is, Tintin, the property, is a lot like Raiders of the Lost Ark on a junior scale. A fact, which was not, lost on the French press in ’81 who kept referencing Tintin in Raider’s reviews. That mention piqued Spielberg’s interest and after a quick read, he was hooked. Because Spielberg is Tintin, so to speak; ruthless in looking for stories—even if it takes him around the world; laser-like problem solving abilities and determination even in the face of a faulty mechanical shark.
Tintin’s stories frequently center around friendship and trust. Which we see again with his successful life-long collaborations with producer Kathleen Kennedy. “I could not have made this movie if Kathy hadn’t been with me for twenty eight years trying to get this thing off the ground, back in 1983, when we both went to Belgium, two weeks after Hergé’s death, to meet the widow Annie, who we got the rights from, and welcomed us as Hergé would have had he lived, and has been tenacious in getting me not to forget Tintin. All these years, ‘Don’t forget it. Don’t forget how you felt in ’83. I know now, it’s ‘95, but remember about ’83? You loved it then, why wouldn’t you love it any less in ’95!’”
Helping Spielberg finally bring Tintin to the big screen is the great and wonderful Peter Jackson, whose laid back attitude made the film loads of fun to make. During motion capture sessions, Jackson would call in at 4 am New Zealand time to help give pointers to the L.A, team—a style of collaboration light years away from Spielberg's collaborations on the Indiana Jones series with George Lucas, who would work on the script with Spielberg, come up with the "macguffin" and then not show up again until post. “George goes away, I don’t see him for six, maybe seven months, eight months, till I show him the cut of my movie. With Peter, he was on my set every day. But not physically, his head was on a TV screen… And sometimes, I would just walk over to the monitor, to ask Peter a question, and I would find Peter [sleeping] and we would go ‘Peter’ …’Peter’…’Peter’ and he would say…’Yes, and about the last take, maybe Jamie is speaking too loud’. So I had a real collaborator on the set with me”
For the look of Tintin, WETA’s Joe Letteri and team looked closely at the source material for inspiration, “…We went back to [Hergé’s] references, the family was really gracious, they opened up all their archives… So we took those ideas, and just kept going with it. Everything we saw, we tried to imagine what Hergé would have done, if he had been able to look around and see that third dimension.”
Most importantly, though, was the understanding around eye rendering. Letteri was given notes by Spielberg while working on the title character of the 1995 movie Casper, “They have to look like E.T.’s eyes.” As his work progressed to Gollum, Letteri kept thinking about what that meant. And so it hit him. “I kept that line in the back mind, about really trying to bring out the expressiveness of the eyes, and it’s been a focus ever since, because, as you say, human characters, you understand that instinctively, even if you don’t understand it technically. So we’ve just progressed that work, you know, through King Kong and Avatar, and we’re able to do the same thing on Tintin.”
Though over 25 years in the making, and with a great depth of collaboration and technical skill, Spielberg just hopes his audience forgets about all of that and just enjoys the story and experience and connection the film is trying to convey. And for the sequel? “Yeah, well, it’s being written right now, and Peter’s going to direct it, after he does the Hobbit, and I’ll produce it with him, as he produced this with me, and we have the stories, and we have the book we’re adapting from Hergé, and we can’t wait to get started.”
The Adventures of Tintin opens in theaters nationwide today.
Heather Buckley is a major contributor to our yearly NY Toy Fair coverage and writes for Dread Central as well. Thanks Heather!