Today we present an exclusive interview with Leon Tan, producer of War of the Worlds: Goliath, an award winning stereoscopic 3D animation feature.
1. Tell us how you got the idea to make this movie?
It all started from an idea by Joe Pearson, a Los Angeles-based animation producer and director, who had a concept for an animated TV series entitled “War of the Worlds: ARES” in the 1990s.
I met Joe in a bus in Tokyo in late-2006, during the Tokyo International Film Festival, and after he returned to Los Angeles and I to Kuala Lumpur, we kept in touch and he shared his many animation project ideas with me and the one that stood out was “War of the Worlds: ARES”.
By July 2007, Joe and I had formed a Malaysian company called Tripod Entertainment Sdn Bhd, together with New Zealander Mike Bloemendal whom I had already partnered with at Imaginex Studios, an audio post-production house also based in Malaysia.
Tripod was fully-funded by MAVCAP, the Malaysian government’s venture capital firm. MAVCAP’s endorsement and investment was key to greenlighting Tripod’s production of “War of the Worlds: Goliath” (of which “ARES” was now called), which had by now shifted focus from a TV series to an animated feature film.
Soon, other Malaysian government agencies and funds supported “Goliath”, including the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS) and Bank Simpanan Nasional.
It’s not so much a sequel to the original HG Wells’ book as it is a “what if” scenario: What if HG Wells’ book was really an eye witness’ journal of a historical global Martian invasion in 1899? It’s just one man’s story, in an event that would have millions of stories to tell from perspectives all over the world experiencing the invasion. By then, we got Kevin Eastman, the co-creator of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and owner/publisher of “Heavy Metal” magazine on board as Executive Producer, and David Abramowitz, the creative mind behind the acclaimed “Highlander” TV series, as a producer and writer of the script. Joe helmed the movie as director. And so it began.
“War of the Worlds: Goliath” really is our way of paying homage to the great heritage of sci-fi “alien invasion” stories in literature, film, radio and TV going back 100 years, of which masterpieces like HG Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” play a significant part.
And from that premise, we began OUR story fifteen years later, after the first Martian invasion.
Ours is a whole new story, with new characters and settings, set in another part of the world, experiencing a second Martian invasion. Our world of 1914 is also very different – having survived a first Martian invasion, it’s edgier, steampunk-like, potentially proto-fascist and aggressive in technological advancement – very different from HG Wells’ Victoria era. Even the Martians come back different – augmented, stronger and resilient, having learnt their lesson of deadly microbes from the first invasion.
We also wanted to tell a story in the backdrop of an “alternate history” scenario – if a Martian invasion really did happen in the late 19th century, what would the early 20th century look like – its culture, society, geopolitics? So we reimagined a “new” world but still at the brink of the First World War, with real historical figures like Teddy Roosevelt, Nikola Tesla and the “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen. We also invented new characters, like the crew of the steam-driven “Goliath” battle walker, which included an Irishman and a Malayan prince, both with homelands still under British rule.
Finally, we also wanted to tell this story in a hybrid of 2D cel animation and CG animation, in the tradition of Japanese anime.
AND, we wanted to tell this story in stereoscopic 3D, which at that time had not been widely experimented for this genre and animation format.
2. What made you do the film in 3D and what techniques did you and your teams use?
We were in early production when “Avatar” was released and stereoscopic 3D suddenly became not just a new mainstream tool for visual storytelling but also a potential new revenue stream. We reviewed 3D studios in the US, India, Hongkong and Korea, when a solution surprisingly emerged from our own backyard. It came from BaseCamp Films, led by Scott Inglis, based in Kuala Lumpur. We had already contracted BaseCamp at the time to handle our film’s post-production – so a stereoscopic team taken from within the fold seemed the best idea. Scott was very enthusiastic about stereoscopy and convinced us that his team could do it. He created a short stereoscopic test off existing work file footage, and presented it in a cinema hall. The results were very encouraging to us as producers, and our investors – and it led to more funds raised to make our stereoscopic 3D version of “War of the Worlds: Goliath” – right here in Malaysia.
Our first rule was not to go down the path of CONVERSION in the traditional sense. There was in fact very little roto and paint work – perhaps just 15% of the usual roto and paint expected for a feature originally made in 2D. We wanted instead to maximise on the natural advantage “War of the Worlds: Goliath” had as a 2D cel animated feature, which was already produced in natural “layers” – foregrounds, backgrounds, characters, props, vehicles, effects – captured as raw data in After Effects source files. The idea was to use as much of these flat layers as possible and “dimensionalise” them in the 3D space.
When the final animation was done in our Korean studio, we took all the After Effects source files – essentially the files with all the “raw data” and natural layers of animation packed together – and shipped them to BaseCamp in Malaysia. Based on the movie’s locked edit, the files for corresponding to each scene were painstakingly disassembled, “cleaned up” (and roto/painted where required) and dimensionalised in the Nuke environment, then reintegrated back into the same scene, to get the stereoscopic effect we wanted. Since 2D animated layers are presented “flat” like a traditional stage diorama, we created geometric shapes and skinned them across the layers – faces, figures, vehicles, etc. – for many scenes, to create the sense of “volume” and enhance the 3D effect.
A total of 121,000 frames of animation, encompassing 1,600 scenes, were dimensionalised this way – and the end result is the stereoscopic 3D version of “War of the Worlds: Goliath” we see today. This is of course separate from the post-production process, which involved editing (we have PG and R versions), colour grading and sweetening, and the Herculean effort of sound design/foley, voicework/ADR and music for the movie.
Personally, I found the process of producing a stereoscopic 3D film very fascinating, and a true fusion of creative and technical, which appeals to me greatly. Creatively, I see stereoscopic 3D as another weapon in the arsenal of visual storytelling, and less of a gimmick and a trend. I appreciate the sense of “immersion” one gets in the world of the story, like in the case of “Life of Pi”, but at the same time 3D can enhance and excite the action of a movie like “Transformers 3”. Both work approaches work fantastically well in the hands of master craftsmen and storytellers.
3. You have been very successful in the film festival circuit. In our experience 3D is still not accepted by many festivals, the projectors aren’t 3D enabled, there are no 3D categories, and few 3D festivals. Do you have any advice for 3D filmmakers to get their film into festivals?
I would agree that there aren’t many 3D film festivals out there. Even in our own experience the only 3D-only event we participated in was the Los Angeles 3D Film Festival last year, where we won the “Best 3D Animated Feature” Award. That said, we have screened “Goliath” at the Sitges Festival Internacional de Cinema Fantàstic de Catalunya 2012, Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival 2013, Sci-Fi London Film Festival 2013 and Seoul International Youth Film Festival 2013 – all in stereoscopic 3D.
So while there are few 3D-only film festivals, most other film festivals are happy to play movies in stereoscopic 3D, thanks to stereoscopic-ready cinema screening venues worldwide. If anything, you stand out in a crowd, and sets you apart. So if you’re a 3D filmmaker wanting to reach a wider audience, don’t hesitate to engage the many film festivals of the world and push for your stereoscopic version to be screened. However, if you’re looking for stereoscopic-centric festivals and events, I would highly recommend to speak to specialized 3D distributors like 3D Content Hub.
“War of the Worlds: Goliath” was the first time agencies of the Malaysian government invested in an animated stereoscopic 3D movie made by a Malaysian company for global markets. It was also the first project featuring a deep collaboration between US and Malaysian producers, including industry icons such as Kevin Eastman and David Abramowitz.
5. Which parts of the film are ‘made in Malaysia”?Investors being investors are of course driven by the commercial opportunities of taking a movie global. However, since the investor was also the Malaysian government, the motivation also had an industry development angle: to encourage Malaysian producers to build partnerships with international producers, and add to the enrichment of our film industry.
All stereoscopic 3D was done in Malaysia, at BaseCamp Films, supervised by Tripod – and for both of us, “Goliath” was our first ever stereoscopic effort. So it was especially sweet when we got the “Best 3D Animated Feature” at the Los Angeles 3D Film Festival last year. All audio work – music scoring, sound design/foley and final mix was done in Malaysia, at Imaginex Studios. Sound design was especially challenging as we had to create an entire steampunk world and throw in Martian invasion at the same time with mechanical battle walkers, biplanes, zeppelins and heat rays. The voice direction was also done at Imaginex Studios, with a cast of US and Malaysian actors. It was also the first time a Malaysian audio house directed a US cast which included sci-fi stars such as Adrian Paul, Adam Baldwin, Mark Sheppard, Peter Wingfield, Elizabeth Gracen, Jim Byrnes and Beau Billingslea. Finally, the bulk of the pre-production design for the movie, including conceptualising the steampunk world of “War of the Worlds: Goliath” down to the last rivet, as well as the sets, layout, props and vehicles, were done at Malaysia’s Studio Climb.
Well we’re busy pushing “War of the Worlds: Goliath” worldwide, as well as tap licensing opportunities – and that’s taking up a lot of Tripod’s time right now. But we’re also prepping projects of our slate of titles – a mix of animation and live-action – and talking to potential co-production partners. So watch this space!
Today, Malaysia is actively promoting itself as an international hub for co-productions and global content creation. It has a Film In Malaysia Incentive (FIMI) which offers a 30% rebate for all in-country spend, targeting both international and Malaysian productions embarking on projects for global audiences. Infrastructure and support services have also received a boost. This year, Pinewood opened its Malaysian studios, with a state-of-the-art facility for TV and features, also backed by the FIMI 30% rebate.
And holding up the foundation is the Malaysian government with its many investment funds, loans and grants to help Malaysian producers build bridges with the international filmmaking community. The Malaysian proposition would not be complete without its key “stars” – the many creative and technical talents in this country eager to make their mark on international projects. As mentioned earlier, “Goliath”’s stereoscopic 3D was done entirely in Malaysia
at BaseCamp Films and won critical acclaim. Rhythm & Hues’ Malaysian studios played a significant role in the Oscar-winning “Life of Pi”, and Imaginex Studios has a strong reputation as a world-class audio post house. So we are not short on talent, but we are hungry for recognition through projects. This is where Tripod is uniquely positioned – on the one had to tap the opportunities and resources inherent in Malaysia, and on the other hand to work with international partners on equal footing to create projects for global markets.
Trailer and Behind the Scenes Video: http://wotw-goliath.com/