Encounter -- The Interview
Ross Anthony interviews Ben Stassen right across the street from Stassen's alma mater, USC, and probes the Big Movie director's mind about his self-described "ground-breaking film," ENCOUNTER IN THE THIRD DIMENSION.
Just after lunch, Ben and Charlotte (the producer) greeted me with smiles at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. I thought it quite an appropriate place for the interview, the IMAX® theater just outside the door and Ben's Alma Mater (USC) adjacent to the museum grounds. In fact, I'd overheard Charlotte expressing her delight when this IMAX theater opened last year, "It meant we could finally view our dailies (daily footage of "Encounter") nearby! I didn't have to go driving an hour and a half in the rain at midnight."
Ross: What got you interested in filmmaking?
Ben: Actually I studied Political Science in Belgium you know, but I'm French- speaking and this was a Dutch college. So I decided to make my essay with a camera. Although, my motive was only to avoid writing and speaking in Dutch, I enjoyed the medium and since the school also happened to have a very good audio/visual facility, I switched my major to communications.
Ross: Here we are at the California Science Center shortly after a screening of Encounter "a ground breaking film" in your own words and you, a USC alum -- just across the street -- did you invite any of your old professors to the viewing?
Ben: No, I didn't. But that would have been fun.
Ross: Perhaps you can set up a special screening for USC film prof's and selected students?
Ben: That's not a bad idea.
Ross: In the production notes, you talk about integrating the computer generated world with real life. In the film, I remember the Professor (Stuart Pankin) in his fantastic studio lab with his machine pal Max buzzing around him ... was Max completely computer generated, or was there a ball or something on a string for the actor to watch?
Ben: There was nothing in that room but Stuart and a stool. Max was 100% computer created.
Ross: Wow! What was it like directing Stuart under those circumstances?
Ben: Well, Stuart is a fantastic actor with lots of green screen experience. He just had to trust me. There was one time though, when he moved his eyes too fast for Max, so I just invented something else for him to look at in the computer -- it was seamless. Oh, and then when Max comes out of the simulator and hits Stuart -- I did a poor job of directing him then, I should have had Stuart put his hands up to protect himself or something -- but it's a small thing.
Ross: You must be aware that the "absent minded professor" plus floating sidekick idea is quite similar to that in Flubber.
Ben: Oh is it? I haven't seen that picture.
Charlotte: That's right. But the sidekick was a female in Flubber.
Ben: Actually, I'd first imagined Max as a flying camera. Then after I talked it over with the art director, he evolved into all these gadgets -- it was great.
Ross: You also mentioned in the notes, that when creating the footage from CGI you first developed the frames from one eye's perspective then re-rendered them all again for the second eye's perspective ... just how long did that take for say 10 seconds of film?
Ben: Forget 10 seconds of film. Let's talk about one frame.
Ross: Okay...one frame?
Ben: An hour and a half -- every frame. The total was over 200,000 hours of re- rendering.
Ross: Wow! I'm glad I asked.
Ben: Yeah, there were 114,000 frames.
Charlotte: 114,000 times 2?
Ben: No, 57k times 2.
Ross: Let's talk about fun vs. education...
Ben: Yeah, most of these large format films start with a scientific idea and then try to make it entertaining. We started with an entertaining subject matter and played with it in an educational, but fun way. Another thing is, so often people produce 3D films to be released in 2D also. That's no way to make a 3D film, because if it works in 3D it simply cannot work in 2D. "Encounter" is the only one being released in 3D. You know, all those films, they're sponsored at least in part by a consortium of theaters. We were the first to produce such a picture without that funding. I mean there are other teams out there doing this kind of thing, but our team ... well, we're having the most fun.
Ben Stassen has a long list of large format and "Ride" film credits. He was excited to tell me to look out for "Alien Adventure" which is being presented at the LA IMAX convention May 18th at the Cal Sci Center. In this next large format film, space gypsies looking for a comfortable corner of the universe to relax in, drop unknowingly into a Theme Park.
Copyright (C) 2000.
Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit: RossAnthony.com
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