GDC 2012: ‘The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings’ And Knowing Your Game

Before he was Head of Marketing for The Witcher and The Witcher 2 developer CD Projeckt Red, Michal Platkow-Gilewski was a fan of the the dark fantasy novels on which they were based back in his native Poland. So were many of the designers and programmers at his studio, he explained, saying many of them grew up reading Andrzej Sapkowski’s dark fantasy novels about Geralt of Rivia, the titular “Witcher” or specially-bred monster hunter who was front and center for the CD Projekt’s two award-winning games based on the books.

With The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings making its console debut exclusively on the 360 this spring in both regular and Enhanced editions, I spoke with Platkow-Gilewski at GDC about the release as well as getting the word out about your game, even if you’re not a major studio.


We kicked things off by seeing a new opening cinematic for the game, crafted by BAFTA Award winner Tomasz Baginski, which sets the stage for the story of The Witcher 2 and also backs CD Projekt’s claims that the 360 release will be getting a few more bells and whistles. Including all of the DLC from the PC release, it’s also getting an Arena Mode outside of the main game where players will fight off waves of enemies and familiarize themselves with The Witcher 2‘s third-person melee and magic-based combat system, approximately another four hours of gameplay through two new quests, an updated camera system, and revamped controls.

On the standard Enhanced Edition side, the two-DVD game will also include a soundtrack CD, a world map, a quest handbook, and game manual. Or, if you want more stuff, there’s the Dark Edition, you get all of the content from the Enhanced Edition plus a Witcher medallion like the one Geralt wears in-game, a revised version of the original art book including information about the new CG intro, and stickers.

While the other journalists sat down to mess around with the 360 version of The Witcher 2 controls, and grabbed some time with Platkow-Gilewski to talk about bringing the game to PCs and consoles and why it was so important for his team to really know their game and be its biggest cheerleader over the years.

He explained that back in Poland, the original novels have the stature of The Lord of the Rings, epic fantasies that grabbed Platkow-Gilewski when he was a teen and didn’t let go over the years (the first two novels are available here in the U.S. with a third on the way in September). For Platkow-Gilewski, when it came time to make a Witcher game, the challenge was communicating the lore of the novels—the CD Projekt team wanted to make sure that their games kept all of the sex, violence, and political machinations of the source material while maintaining the moral ambiguity of Sapowski’s work. The one word Platkow-Gilewski kept coming back to was “plausibility,” hammering home his team’s need to make all of the mature elements of the game feel natural, even if the stories weren’t direct lifts of the novels’ content.

The current game sees Geralt investigating a series of royal assassinations, placing the Witcher between dual factions that threaten to unravel the kingdom. To tell the game’s story, CD Projekt had three major goals: to make it mature, to keep it as non-linear as possible, and to show how small decisions in the game could lead to major events later in the story. We saw one of these as Geralt joins King Foltest in laying siege to a seceding prince’s castle. Using the game’s choice-driven dialog system, Geralt can choose to negotiate for peace with the prince, or fight him, both decisions bearing repercussions for the story down the line. Platkow-Gilewski elaborates that it’s all part of the company’s mission statement to excel at making RPGs, particularly ones driven by story.

I asked him about the additional content of the game, of which he says players will see about a third through the first 30-40 hour playthrough (with about 90% the second time around). Platkow-Gilewski conceded that it was a challenge having a bunch of additional content, but insisted that the branching plot needed to be two stories, and Platkow-Gilewski was fairly animated here as earlier when explaining the draw of the story for himself, the rest of the team, and, hopefully, the audience.

This all came back around to the title of this post, “Knowing Your Game,” as Platkow-Gilewski encouraged new and up and coming developers to evangelize their games as much as possible, but most importantly to be as independent as possible and to know what your game is and to love it. The Witcher 2 is being published in the U.S. by WB Interactive (and Namco in the E.U.), but the CD Projekt team is rarely away from the game’s side. He says that his team knows the game’s story and gameplay inside and out and while they’re happy to work with local marketing and PR, The Witcher is their baby and it’s their message.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is out now for the PC and will be available on the 360 April 17th.

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Viggo Mortensen set to walk red carpet at Genie Awards

TORONTO – Viggo Mortensen, David Cronenberg and Philippe Falardeau are among the film luminaries set to walk the red carpet at tonight’s Genie Awards.

The prizes, which celebrate the best in Canadian film, will be handed out in Toronto at a ceremony to be hosted by CBC personality George Stroumboulopoulos.

“SCTV” comedian Andrea Martin had been scheduled to share the MC duties, but pulled out at the last minute due to a scheduling conflict.

The leading Genie nominees are Jean-Marc Vallee’s dreamy romance “Cafe de Flore” with 13 nods, followed by 11 for Cronenberg’s psychoanalysis drama “A Dangerous Method.”

Mortensen is nominated for best supporting actor for his turn as Sigmund Freud in the Cronenberg film.

Falardeau’s Oscar-nominated “Monsieur Lazhar,” meanwhile, is up for nine Genies, including nods for its young stars.

This year, there are a striking number of Hollywood stars contending for the Canuck film prizes, including Michelle Williams, Michael Fassbender, Taylor Kitsch and Rachel Weisz.

Other than Mortensen, however, it wasn’t clear if any would attend the ceremony.

Kitsch, in the city this week to support his new sci-fi epic “John Carter,” said he would be unable to make the show.

The awards — put on by the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television — air on CBC-TV.

Duplass brothers bringing ‘Do-Deca-Pentathlon’ to the screen

Duplass brothers bringing 'Do-Deca-Pentathlon' to the screen

Fraternal writer-director duo and Sundance faves Jay and Mark Duplass may be slowly going mainstream — first with 2010’s Jonah Hill dramedy “Cyrus,” and now with this month’s “Jeff Who Lives at Home,” starring Jason Segel and Ed Helms — but they still have a soft spot for micro-budget, dialogue-driven indies like their upcoming “Do-Deca-Pentathalon,” which hits theaters in June.

Starring Steve Zissis, Mark Kelly, and Jennifer Lafleur, “Do-Deca-Pentathlon” is about two highly competitive grown brothers who revive their epic childhood sporting event, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, at a family reunion in order for one of them to finally claim ultimate victory.

It’s the kind of lo-fi “mumblecore” concept that brought the Duplasses success in their early films “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead.”

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“Almost 20 years ago, Fox Searchlight redefined how the world came to see independent film. Now, on the brink of the digital revolution, we couldn’t be happier to partner with them on their new initiative with Red Flag to further redefine how to get smaller, innovative films out into the world,” said Jay and Mark Duplass in a release.

“We formed a great relationship with Jay and Mark on ‘Cyrus’ and are excited to be partnering with them again,” added Fox Searchlight Pictures Presidents Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula.

Red Flag Releasing nabbed theatrical distribution rights, while Fox Searchlight Pictures will handle all other ancillary markets. The film will premiere at next week at SXSW, and will open theatrically in June.

“We’ve wanted to work with Mark and Jay for a long time, and are thrilled to be distributing ‘Do-Deca-Pentathlon’, which is vintage Duplass,” said RFR’s Paul Federbush.

Mark Duplass spends a fair amount of time in front of the camera these days as well. He was seen in “Humpday,” and on FX’s “The League,” and will soon appear in “Your Sister’s Sister” and “Safety Not Guaranteed.”

John Carter: Two epic hours of CGI-enhanced yawning

Rumbling now into a theatre near you, the first blockbuster is early in arriving this year – let’s blame the mild winter. Certainly, there’s no mistaking its credentials. The gargantuan price tag, the pulp-novel brand, the extraterrestrial setting, the CGI adornments, the 3-D camera, the warriors, the princess, the effects, John Carter is epic by every measurement. So it would be only fitting to issue a verdict in keeping with that scale. Epically fantastic would be a welcome change, although epically awful would at least keep the symmetry. Alas, epically bland will have to do.

It isn’t bad so much as innocuous, $250-million worth of innocuous, framed by a decent start and a solid finish but sagging through the long middle like a cheap mattress. Then, what’s billed as a tonic plays like a soporific, leaving the fiercest battle to be waged in your seat – yawns must be vanquished, and sleep fought off.

Of course, the blockbuster has long been an enthusiastic miner of pulp fiction. This one enjoys the distinction of digging deeper into the past, all the way back to Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Barsoom series, published early in the last century. The screenwriting trio of Mark Andrews, novelist Michael Chabon and director Andrew Stanton have adapted the first book in the saga, borrowed a bit from later instalments, and spun out the yarn over a two-hour-plus running time – ample by most standards, yet still not enough to contain the clutter of this sprawling plot.

Our eponymous hero begins in the divisive climate of mother Earth. A disillusioned vet of the American Civil War, John Carter (the unfortunately named Taylor Kitsch) avoids the clutches of the army only to find himself inside a cave of gold and mysteriously transported smack into the midst of another internecine conflict. He awakens in the arid desert of Mars (Barsoom in the native lingo), where the city states of Helium and Zodanga have been going at it for millennia. Different planet, same old bloody strife, perhaps because both these cities are populated by humanoids who look much like us – indeed, exactly like those of us whose taste in body art runs exclusively to red tattoos.

Not so the Tharks. Green-hued, nine feet tall, tusks protruding from their upper region, boasting a complementary pair of spare arms, these folks seem like the real Martian deal. Their leader Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe + digital enhancement) takes a shine to Carter, especially to his acrobatic skill in the lower gravity of Mars’s atmosphere – the guy can jump in prodigious leaps and bounds. Since flying humans should always be a visual treat, it offers Stanton, who made his rep in Pixar animation, his first directorial test in live action. He fails, and the 3-D glasses do nothing to boost his grade.

Much better are his CGI sets, which impressively depict the ecological death rattle of a dying planet, as vast waterless plains give way to crumbling spires of urban decay. Through this bleak landscape, Carter and his new pals – Tarkas, the maternal Sola and Woola the amiable monster – trek off in the direction of Helium and its lovely princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins). Apparently, in an ill-advised attempt to broker a peace, Ms. Thoris is being forced into a political marriage with the villainous king of Zodanga. Happily, she and the Earthling hit it right off. Sparks fly at first sight, and love blooms even in the red desert.

But that long middle patch is upon us – prepare for a seemingly interminable sag. Perhaps the problem is simply that the Burroughs material has already been heavily plundered by others, influencing the likes of Arthur C. Clarke and George Lucas and James Cameron. From shape-shifting to glowing medallions, from flying machines to sword fights, from the stranger to the strange land, hellishly growling beasts to the massive clash of alien armies, few will have trouble picking up on these influences.

But the irony is obvious: At this point in the history of pulp, it’s the original that seems derivative. Neither the writers nor Stanton have done anything to address that problem, with the inevitable result that our eyes glaze over when the action heats up. A century ago, Burroughs’s imaginative brand of silliness was unique; now, when silliness abounds, it’s just trite.

Our slumbering interest does get ramped up at the finale, although no thanks to Kitsch, whose inflections remain as flat as ever. Then again, perhaps we shouldn’t slight him, because here at last the symmetry is perfect. His John Carter does what John Carter is – it’s an epic delivered in a monotone.

John Carter

Meet the 2012 SXSW Filmmakers #18: Joko Anwar, ‘Modus Anomali’

Joko Anwar says the slums of Indonesia’s North Sumatera are “really not a good place to grow up,” but so it was. He began watching movies at a local theater, usually through a ventilation window, when he was very young. It was there that he saw there were other paces in the world, and different kinds of lives. His desire to make movies comes from wanting to give others that same experience. Because his parents couldn’t afford to send him to film school, he got a degree in aeronautical engineering. That was followed by unsuccessful attempts at breaking into the film biz, before getting work as a journalist where Anwar could “meet local film people and bullshit my way into the industry,” he says. “And I did.”

What it’s about: “A guy has to save his wife and two children who go missing during a vacation in the woods after being visited by an uninvited guest.”

Director Anwar says: “It was shot on Red Epic, in only 10 days under a USD 200,000 budget (low, even by Indonesian standard) but this is the project in which I had the most fun. We utilized everything we got to shoot. For the tracking shots in the woods, we didn’t have access to a motion control so we mounted the camera on a flying fox and just threw it to the other end of the rope. In one shot where the camera had to follow a character into a small ditch, we used a small frying pan as the mount. I wanted the audience to feel that they are there with the main character throughout the course of the movie.”

Other projects in the pipeline? “I’m preparing a movie about five young Indonesians killing off politicians in Indonesia. One by one in a delicious way. Sort of like a perfect escapism for Indonesians. I’m also gonna make a romantic drama titled ’24 Frames per Heartbreak a.k.a. Masturbation as the Perfect Cure for Insomnia,’ about a young filmmaker who’s trying to find the most heartbreaking story for his first romantic drama, to punish the audience.”

Indiewire invited SXSW Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival.

Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch for the latest profiles.

Creative Science Introduces Upgraded Mobile Systems for Realtime 4K and High Frame Rate Dailies Workflow

Powerful dailies systems target high-end productions with added support for Sony F65, 4K Dailies, High Frame Rate Cinematography and Background Processing.

Los Angeles, CA (PRWEB) March 07, 2012

Creative Science a Los Angeles based post-production rental and technology company, today announced upgrades to their fleet of mobile dailies systems for support of realtime 4K dailies workflows, 48 or 60 frame per second Cinematography, and background rendering of deliverables. Integrating the first dailies software to provide 4K playback for Sony’s F65 RAW and other high-resolution digital cinema cameras, Colorfront On-Set Dailies software and Creative Science mobile systems open up a host of new creative possibilities for filmmakers and studios.

When capturing images using Sony F65RAW, RED Epic 5K or Alexa ARRIRAW and intended for 4K mastering and exhibition, productions will now be able to view and manipulate their raw files in realtime 4K while applying dailies LUTs and color grades, sync sound, and other image processing functions. With this new technology, critical details such as focus and lens attributes can be judged accurately utilizing 4K digital projectors and monitors allowing for the highest quality and precision.

“Dailies are something which myself and my co-founders at Creative Science have always seen as critical,” stated Marco Bario, Partner at Creative Science. “Filmmakers today need precise representation of what’s been captured in order to push the limits of the movie going experience. Our high-end mobile dailies systems make this possible.”

Creative Science Dailies systems with Colorfront’s On-Set Dailies software are powered by hardware featuring state of the art Solid State (SSD) storage arrays for the systems designed and engineered by JMR Electronics. “The ability to process so much data on location in realtime was unheard of until recently,” stated Mitchell Guzik, COO, JMR Electronics. “JMR’s SilverStor™ products combined with our extensive knowledge of demanding workflows provides Creative Science with properly configured hardware to achieve a previously unattainable performance.”

Mobile systems from Creative Science also support the new capability of Colorfront On-Set Dailies to utilize a single workstation for rendering dailies deliverables in the background while working on newly received footage in the foreground. This ability effectively halves the time required to process footage and produce deliverables.

Creative Science’s latest generation of high-performance Dailies systems are now available for rental and can be custom configured to fit the unique needs of any given scenario. The company remains committed to offering emerging technology to studios and filmmakers wherever their creativity may take them.

About Creative Science

Creative Science is a post-production rental and technology company focused on mobile solutions and leading technology tools for major studios, production companies and post-production providers. Founded in 2010 by industry veterans Mike Doggett, Merle Sharp and Marco Bario, Creative Science’s mission is to push the limits of remotely deployed post-production through providing rental systems, training, software, and consultation to top entertainment industry companies. Creative Science is a North American Authorized Rental, Training and Integration partner of Colorfront On-Set Dailies. For more information visit

Marco Bario
Creative Science
Email Information

From Kawayan Cove to the Red Sea

A few weeks ago, I was happily watching cartoons with my baby boy, when to my surprise, I got a text message saying I would, if I accept, represent the Philippines in the FINA Marathon Swimming 10k World Cup on April 1 in Israel. My initial reaction was: isn’t Israel right next to Syria? Besides, the last time I suited up for our country was 18 years ago, and more than 18 pounds ago. Still, it was a privilege to be selected and I couldn’t think of a more unique experience than racing in the Red Sea. After much deliberation, I accepted, and now, I’m less than a month away from this international open water race.

Preparing for the race

A part of my preparation was swimming 10k in Nasugbu, Batangas from Kawayan Cove to Punta Fuego with my triathlon teammates. It was an epic swim for most of us, especially with fighting the current and being attacked by jelly fish. Safety, not speed, was our primary concern. We were beside guide boats and were always parallel to shore, but when you’re staring down a dark, bottomless ocean for three hours, a John Williams score is so loud in your head.

I’ve done countless 10,000-meter swim workouts in my career, usually in a cozy (corny) pool. Open water swimming has reinvented the way I swim. There’s no need for precision starts and turns anymore. And no more butterfly sets! In the open water, the best thing to do is be a fish.

Swimming with butandings

There’s no better way to be one than to learn from the biggest one, the butanding or whale shark. To celebrate our wedding anniversary, my wife and I went to Oslob, Cebu — the new, not-so-secret destination to swim with the whale sharks. The southeast coast of Cebu is so beautiful and blue. Contemplating life, staring at the sea: it’s more perfect in the Philippines, indeed. But I came down to swim. I put my Speedo fast skin full body suit on and my swim fins. We paid the local fees, listened to the rules, and got on a small boat. Around 200 meters from shore, the big fish were there. I jumped in and looked in awe.

The local rules say to stay five meters away — nope — wasn’t going to happen. The strong currents pushed us right next to them. My wife was clicking away with the GoPro camera at one butanding that she didn’t even see the other one slam into her. The whale sharks are such gentle giants that despite 30 other tourists wanting that perfect Facebook shot, they seemed to oblige. I floated underwater and studied its movements. Each fin did its own thing, particularly when it would go vertical to feed on fishermen’s shrimp. Apparently, the daily feeding brought these whale sharks to Oslob, and so they never left.

Making the Philippines proud

Then one of the big guys got full and took off. I went after it. I was at full speed. It was simply gliding. Then the big guy slowed down, practically stopped, and I swear it was looking at me. I popped my head up and realized we were already far from the tourist trap. I looked down again and the big guy was still there, as if waiting for me. Was it an invitation to the open sea? I imagined it was. At that moment, I knew I was ready for the Red Sea. If a butanding “invites” me, then wow, that must mean something, even if it was to meet his friend tiger shark. I nodded my gratitude and bid goodbye, then swam back to reality.

A local fisherman asked me if I were a swimmer. I sheepishly smiled and said yeah. I guess this is what Dicky Bachmann feels when he shows up at a barangay basketball court. We all have our small little turfs and tiny victories. It would be awesome if mine was owning the big, blue ocean, or at the very least in April, I am able to make the Philippines proud in the Red Sea. Yet each time the waves crash me back to shore, I’m reminded I belong on land. Hey, that’s cool, land is where I get to watch cartoons. Thankfully, my baby likes the ones with whales, and sharks, and many other fishes, too.

The author is the head coach of the reigning UAAP champion De La Salle University varsity swimming team. He is also teaching an introduction to entrepreneurship course under the Philippine Sports Commission and De La Salle partnership to provide continuing education to national athletes and coaches. Comments can be sent to his e-mail:

The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of De La Salle University, its faculty, and its administrators.

Landing on Mars: Visiting the Set of Andrew Stanton’s ‘John Carter’

Landing on Mars: Visiting the Set of Andrew Stanton’s ‘John Carter’

March 4, 2012

John Carter of Mars

In 2010 I visited Mars. Well, not exactly the red planet 63 million miles away, only the set of John Carter, the live-action Andrew Stanton-directed adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic sci-fi stories. The actual location was in Big Water, Utah, right on the northern Arizona border. They had found natural red locations in the rocky, desert region that looked a lot like Mars already and built big sets to look like stone-carved buildings that had been there for hundreds of years. That was where we visited, and this was nearly two years ago in April of 2010, when Stanton and his crew were hard at work actually shooting the movie.

It’s always odd looking back at a set visit that occurred so long ago as the movie is being released, but that’s exactly what’s so fascinating about the process. Andrew Stanton, a Pixar director making his live-action debut, had started shooting this sci-fi just before Avatar had been released. They were using the same technology as Avatar to shoot and record the actors playing the Tharks, the 9-foot tall green martians that are one of the three dominant races that inhabit Mars, which will from now on be referred to as Barsoom. It’s the classic name for Mars from Burroughs’ books, and it’s the name the inhabitants call their planet. This early shoot gave the cast crew all the time they needed to work on effects, finishing editing, reshoot if necessary, and make sure this turned out exactly how they wanted it to, without too much pressure on time.

In fact, Stanton doesn’t even call it post-production. “I call it ‘principal digital photography‘. Once you look at it like that, you realize, yeah, I’m not done with this shoot at all when I finish in June. Four of my leads are CG and I’d say three or four supporting cast members are CG… The movie always was planned to be half CG and half live action. Not in look, but in the attempt to build this vision,” he explains. “Hopefully, if we do it right, when it’s all done, nothing will look CG and you’ll just accept it.” At least some of the sets are practically built, which stays true to Stanton’s vision all along. What is his Carter vision? He explains:

“The approach that I finally decided on was that it should feel like a period film. It should feel like it’s historically accurate to everything that really does happen on Mars, as odd as that sounds. It’s the same way that I might watch a film about a civilization that I didn’t know about in the deep regions of South America or the Middle East of Asia. If it’s done in the right way, maybe I’ll go, ‘Wow! Maybe that’s how it really is on Mars.’ I’ll sense these layers of history that go behind it and that go unexplained.”

The experience of visiting this set truly was like going to Mars, which is why I started with that comparison. One of the actual sets that we were allowed to walk through was a Thark encampment located in an old city made of giant stone buildings that had been made to look like they’d been there forever. It looked stunning and just walking through it truly felt like being instantly transported there. The magic of the movies, right? Especially when they actually go to the lengths to build this stuff by hand and use as the set (instead of all greenscreen), since later on they’ll be adding in hundreds of CG Tharks that are meant to act and move like they were there when they were shooting, too. It may have been made mostly of wood, but it looked like real Barsoomian stone, even in person. I wish everyone could experience what it was actually like to be there.

John Carter Set Visit

Our visit took place on day 71 on their 100 day principal shoot, which means this was a massive project, and Stanton and Disney went all out to make sure it was realized in a truly epic grandeur befitting Edgar Rice Burroughs. The sets we visited were a solid mix of greenscreen backing, CG markers, large actual set pieces, real landscapes, Thark mannequins as visual height/location markers, and more adornments to complete the dusty, historic look. Stanton says that about half the world will be made digitally later. Specifically, “the extension of worlds and the extension of sets. These things that are so massive and fantastical that you can’t build them.” While it looks pretty good now, I’m sure it’s going to look even better in the finished film.

The second full set we visited was about a short 10 minute bus ride away, a giant desert plain surrounded by a half-circle of rock cliffs rising up on one side. Again, it looked like Mars, but there were only a few old city remnant pieces scattered around this time. Other pieces included burning wreckage that they were using to shoot nighttime scenes with later in the week. It was here where we got to meet a Thark in person, which were actually esteemed actors wearing grey leotard motion capture outfits with black white markings, facial capture rigs with tiny cameras on arms that stuck out like tusks, standing on 3-foot-tall stilts to make them 9 feet, with a spotter nearby to help them sit down or incase they tumbled. One of them was Willem Dafoe, playing Thark leader Tars Tarkas, who shot a few scenes then spent a few minutes talking with us.

John Carter Set Visit
John Carter Set Visit

Dafoe had been shooting a scene with Taylor Kitsch as Carter from early in the movie. “There’s just been a battle and the John Carter character has helped us in the battle, kind of by accident, unknowingly. So, I’m embracing him as one of our warriors and he’s very reluctant,” Dafoe explains. His last line before cutting, delivered with all the same gravitas you’d expect even in a grey leotard at 9-feet-tall, was simply “now… to the plunder!” It’s impossible to forget what it was like watching that in person. Stilts weren’t the only technique they used for the Tharks martians, as they showed us a variety of filmmaking gimmicks they had devised: from the typical molded-head-on-a-stick to a backpack the actors wore with a head mounted above them at the right height. It’s certainly a huge challenge to bring to life a world full of multiple martian races.

We watched Dafoe and his co-star Thomas Haden Church, who plays Tal Hajus, a rather menacing and nasty Thark, perform the scene for a few takes before Dafeo came over and chatted with a perplexed and beyond-excited group of press. It was a fairly surreal experience asking a guy wearing a full motion capture suit with two camera-like tusks sticking out questions about what it was like playing a martian on Barsoom (full transcript here) but fascinating, as Dafoe seemed to enjoy taking on the role. Commenting on the work:

“Each time it’s a new challenge because the terrain’s different, the quality of the sand’s different, but it’s very important because that height relationship not only helps technically with direct eye lines when mixing effect-oriented stuff with real actors, but also you find the voice much better and you play the scenes much better when you’re that character. […] I prefer shooting on location, just because it always helps you. You go some place, you put your life on hold even more than when you’ve settled in some place. You can make a new life so it opens yourself up to the make-believe and the imagination in a way when you aren’t burdened by things that remind you of your life all the time.”

As he says, it was wonderful to actually see them find amazing natural locations like this (on Earth) and shoot right there. While that pays off on screen in the final movie in how great it looks, what you don’t see is all the work that went in to making it all happen smoothly. Not only from the massive crews keeping everyone hydrated, cool, fed and healthy, but also to the water trucks constantly driving around keeping dirt down on the ground, plus of course security scouts making sure no one is snapping any photos. “You want this to just be a great movie that people come to see and enjoy the character and the ride of it. Once you start immersing yourself with that, then hopefully everything else will just kind of set in the way it should be,” star Taylor Kitsch says. He was just leaving set so we didn’t speak with him long (full transcript here).

John Carter Set Visit

While we spoke to Andrew Stanton and the producers about the scope of the story and just how much of Burroughs’ world they’d be getting into, there was much they didn’t reveal. It turns out what we saw was just a small glimpse of what’s in this massive sci-fi Barsoomian movie, scenes which actually take place only in the first half. Kitsch gives a good hint about the scope: “A month ago I was surrounded by 360 green on a one-man flyer with wind machines, so you come out here and it really does start to feel like an epic adventure movie. We are on Lake Powell and there are all of these crazy great set designs.” We got just a small glimpse of that in our visit to Utah, but with John Carter almost finally here, we can see all of it soon.

The project has changed over the years since we visited. It was still titled John Carter of Mars, the John Carter retitling wasn’t until a year later. At the time, Stanton told us he wasn’t sure about 3D, but the studio had yet to make a decision – and of course it’s now in 3D, post-converted. But, Stanton tried to stay as true to the book as he could, bringing to life the world as Burroughs envisioned. “How can you keep the spirit of what it felt like to be in the book and to be in these scenes and to be with these characters and to make it work in a three act structure for an overall film. That’s where I came at it,” Stanton told us in his interview (full transcript here). He talked about the challenge of adapting and finding the core elements of the story:

“I used to laugh because it seemed like, in every chapter, there was the sentence, ‘And then I fought the greatest battle of my entire life.’ I went, ‘That can only happen once, technically!’ We decided, hey, it’s an action movie. It’s probably going to be two hours, two hours plus… I want every single battle to move the story forward. I want every single conflict to feel like it’s different and special. You certainly want it to compound and feel like you haven’t blown your wad early. You don’t want the best thing to happen in the middle of the beginning of the film. We worked really hard to make tentpole scenes of conflict and saved or combined things to make them that much stronger. Because there was a lot of fighting to choose from. But we’re trying very hard to make them feel like they felt in the books. For me, it was equal amount thrill of adventure and equal amount romance. At the end of the day, I felt like it was a romance. I’ve really tried to make that the bigger thread through the whole thing.”

From our brief glimpse at the set in 2010, it looked like Stanton was at least achieving one thing: creating an epic sci-fi movie that was going to be full of adventure and thrills on a massive scale. We would have to wait a year to find out what the Tharks actually looked like, what Woola—Carter’s lovable pet martian creature—looked like, and how it would look when Carter leaped due to the change in gravity. But looking back, it was unforgettable experience. We traveled by plane, by van and bus, and finally by foot into the deserts of Utah to be transported instantly by the magic of the movies to the plains of Mars, for a rare and unique glimpse at the filmmaking process. As well as a glimpse at a talented director making his live-action debut adapting one of the most influential science fiction novels ever. An experience I wish everyone could have.

John Carter Set Visit
John Carter Set Visit

Andrew Stanton’s John Carter (of Mars) finally arrives in theaters starting March 9th. It’s been a very long journey for Stanton, Disney and everyone else who has worked on the movie, but after all that hard work, they’re finally ready to share this exciting adventure with us. Lost in Our World. Found in Another.

Related categories: Editorials, Sci-Fi, Set Visits

Zacuto Rigs for RED Epic and Scarlet Cameras Available Now

CHICAGO, IL–(Marketwire – Mar 1, 2012) – RED Epic and Scarlet camera owners will be happy to know that Zacuto has developed several rigs for RED’s Epic and Scarlet cameras. Zacuto is now offering Recoil, Recoil Lite and Stinger rigs for the RED Epic and Scarlet. For people looking for smaller, lighter rigs, Zacuto is also offering the Target Shooter and Striker kits.

“But it doesn’t stop there,” says Mandy Rogers, VP of Sales and Marketing. “We are working on several other accessories due out by NAB 2012.”

“Our new line of kits for the Scarlet and Epic will transform your camera into an ergonomic masterpiece,” says Zacuto Sales Associate, Rachel Kenton. “These awesome cameras can now be supported and carried comfortably and are easy to adapt to all your other accessories. Whether you’re looking for something fast and simple like our Striker kit or are in the market for a more heavy duty solution to hold all your goodies — like the Stinger — we’ve got something for you.”

At the heart of these rigs are the new Zacuto Studio and Gorilla baseplates. The studio style baseplate features the Zacuto Rod Riser to get the correct height for a matte box. The baseplate is very flat and features four sets of 60mm spaced holes, one on each side of the baseplate, giving users a virtually unlimited amount of mounting options.

“The Studio Baseplate does exactly what we want and more,” says filmmaker, Tyler Ginter. “This is seriously one of Zacuto’s best designs to date!”

The Gorilla Baseplate features two 15mm diameter, 60mm spaced threaded rod holes in the front that allow users to mount a follow focus, lens support or other accessories. Both baseplates are extremely flat and are compatible with all other existing Zacuto products.

Please contact your local authorized Zacuto reseller or visit to take advantage of these specials and order yours today.

Zacuto, located in Chicago, Illinois, is known for their “Made in the USA” brand of high quality, originally designed camera accessories. Their camera rental house division builds custom camera packages and delivers nationwide. Zacuto Films produces original programming and recently won a 2011 Emmy Award (Regional Chapter) for their webisodic program, FilmFellas and a 2010 Emmy Award (Regional Chapter) for The Great Camera Shootout 2010. For more information, visit or follow @Zacuto on Twitter.