Backstage Interview | 85th Academy Awards

Visual Effects


BACKSTAGE INTERVIEW
CATEGORY: Visual Effects
INTERVIEW WITH: Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott
FILM: "LIFE OF PI"

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Q.What does your win mean in light of the state of the industry with VFX, the folks protesting outside, and the Rhythm & Hues bankruptcy? A.(Bill Westenhofer) What I was trying to say up there is that it's at a time when visual effects movies are dominating the box office, that visual effects companies are struggling. And I wanted to point out that we aren't technicians. Visual effects is not just a commodity that's being done by people pushing buttons. We're artists, and if we don't find a way to fix the business model, we start to loses the artistry. If anything, LIFE OF PI shows that we're artists and not just technicians. Q.Congratulations, gentlemen. Can I ask a question to you? A.(Guillaume Rocheron) Sure. Q.I'll ask the question in English and then in French, if possible. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. We talked a lot about the French nominees, you know, Emmanuelle Riva and Alexandre Desplat, and we forgot to talk about you. A.[Speaks in French] Q.Congratulations, Bill, and everybody else. A.(Bill Westenhofer) Thank you, Bill. Q.Bill, in light of what's happened with Rhythm & Hues, are you hopeful that whatever happens that you'll be able to keep the same culture? And for the other visual effects supervisors, talk about what this means for you being able to work on a project where the visual effects are very much a part of the aesthetic of the movie. A.(Bill Westenhofer) So the first part of your question about Rhythm & Hues, it really was something special, experience funded by John, Pauline and Keith, and it was a place that really catered to the artist and supported them really well. It is a concern. We're hopeful that we can pull through the bankruptcy, but it's a concern in all of our minds that the culture is preserved. As long as the key people are maintained in that environment, I think it will carry on. You guys can talk about the second part of the question. A.(Guillaume Rocheron) Well, I think LIFE OF PI, as you mentioned, is a perfect example of visual effects contributing to the look of a film. And I think with everything we're talking about now is it really shows that visual effects is part of filmmaking. And that we're here, and we contribute to telling stories, making images and, over the years, develop relationships with filmmakers and really trying to be integrated in the filmmaking process as early as possible to give as much as we can to the director and try to make sure he can have his vision on screen. So I think it's really important thing for me that LIFE OF PI kind of shows, it's a turning point where we're not only supplying a service, we're here to actually tell stories and put them on screen. A.(Bill Westenhofer) One more thing on that point. If you look at the nominees that we shared the award with, we got to the point where you can almost do anything in visual effects. And now going forward, it's not going to be a question of what you've done do. It's how you use the tools to make something special. Just like any facet of filmmaking that's matured, visual effects, it's got to the point where it's really about the artistry going forward. Q.We've seen you a lot for this month. So the question is, congratulations to everybody for winning the award. The thing is talking about LIFE OF PI, everybody said it was to make the impossible possible, and you guys did a fantastic job. The thing is with you guys coming together, Ang Lee and you make the special effects, but you also tell the story for the tiger. How is that a working process, and the second one is you being in Taiwan for half a year, how much do you like Taiwan? A.(Bill Westenhofer) I'm going to start with the first half. Taiwan was great. We had a great time, and when you follow Ang Lee around, you're going to be taken to the best possible restaurants, and he shows you a good time. So we had a great time in Taiwan. As far as working with Ang Lee, what's so great about him is that he's a director who knows what he wants, and he communicates it very well, but he lets the people who work for him, visual effects being one of them, he lets us bring our own sensibilities to the table. Talking about the sky, I want this to be liquid gold, and we have to go back and figure out what the heck that means. And so it's our interpretation of liquid gold that we bring to the table, and that makes it a really rewarding process. Q.I don't know whether you guys have Smartphones and have been checking Twitter, but when they played you off to the theme of Jaws and Bonanza, I had a visual effects artist tweeting, "I'm signing a registration card for my union right now." I'm wondering if you had any reaction to how you were treated on stage. A.(Bill Westenhofer) There were some things that I did want to say that got cut off. I mentioned them right here, the visual effects are definitely in a challenging position right now, and we've got to figure out how to make this business model work, because there are artists that are struggling right now. It is not just something being done by anyone pushing buttons. There's artistry involved, and we've got to make sure we maintain that, because we start to lose some of the quality we see on stage, if we're not careful.

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