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The Polar Express - Steve Starkey Q&A (Producer)



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. Mr Starkey, once you go down this route is there always a fear that you’ll end up with something akin to, dare I say it, a film that didn’t work so well like Final Fantasy?
Tom Hanks: You guys are harsh on Final Fantasy aren’t you?
Zemeckis: Yeah, what’s the matter with Final Fantasy? Did anybody see Final Fantasy?
Hanks: I saw Final Fantasy, it was ok, it was like a video game story for a movie. I don’t know how great that is but it’s not like they were diabolical geniuses. They took a shot, it didn’t work, what are you gonna do?
Steve Starkey: It was a video game wasn’t it?
Hanks: I think it was.
Starkey: Any time you try something new it’s a big risk, but hey, you’ve got Bob and Tom and the risk is minimised. At the same time it’s exciting, challenging, it’s the only we way we know to make movies around here actually.

Q. This was released in America in IMAX format and it’s coming out very soon here also. Tell us a little bit about that...
A.
One of the great things is when you make a movie in 3D is that for IMAX normally you have to plan in advance, you have to film for IMAX 3D. In this particular case the 3D material existed in the computer and so we could go ahead and create that version, if you will, in post production. So, it’s a completely different experience. It’s the first time actually that a feature length film has been done in IMAX.

Q. What would you like for Christmas?
A.
Time off round a warm fire.

Q. During the course of the film each of the main children learns a valuable life lesson. I was wondering if you could tell me what the most valuable lesson you learned making the film was?
A.
Well I took my grandson to see the movie and I asked him: "What do you think it’s about?"
And he said: "It’s about believing. See, the children they believed and they could hear the bell."
And strangely enough that’s what I took away from it when I first read it.

Q. I see Alan Horne said that he was going to put the film up for Best Picture nomination for an Oscar and Tom Hanks as Best Actor nomination. I wondered how you felt about this seeing as an animated film has only once ever been nominated?
A:
We’re appreciative of that though again this isn’t an animated film, it’s digitally rendered. The acting is all acting, the directing is all directing so I think aside from the academy creating a new category, which I don’t think they’re going to do, I see no reason why it shouldn’t be considered for best picture so yeah, I think it’s great.
Hanks: I think anybody that’s released a movie offers up their picture for Best Picture and any actor who’s in any movie wants to be nominated for Best Actor. But that’s just a matter of buying some ads and the Academy has to decide.
Starkey: But there is a distinction in an animated movie there isn’t really an actor’s performance, it’s a voice performance and then it’s an interpretation of it.
Hanks: Why are you arguing with me Steve? [laughs]
Starkey: I’m explaining to them that’s there’s a real human performance…
Hanks: You’re looking at me like, 'what’s the matter with you, you moron?' [Audience laughter]

Q. The film is very magical, do you remember seeing any movies when you were younger that you found very enchanting?
A.
The Wizard of Oz. It was terrifying and enchanting and heart warming all at the same time. It was a movie that was a tradition in my household and was probably the one that affected me most as a child.

Q. You’re already working on another film Mr. Starkey that’s shot in a similar way. Is that true?
A:
Yeah the boundaries of performance capture are already expanded. The next big leap will be when photo real characters can be created in the computer and they can stand side by side with real actors. At that stage you can have any performer in any role you wish with the likeness of anyone you wish. That’s coming soon but no, there’s no boundaries at all.
Hanks: Peter Jackson is remaking King Kong right now with the same actor who played Gollum, whose name is Andy Serkis and I believe Andy Serkis is playing King Kong.
There’s an example of what you can do with this and again the possibilities are endless but it’s always going to be defined by the story you need to tell. No optical way of making a movie or digitally rendering it is going to supersede the importance of what the story is. It’s just going to be what is that story and is it gonna be best rendered in this fashion as opposed to as a standard movie.

Q. What does Christmas Spirit mean to you and do you still believe in Santa?
A: I think it’s a time for reflection. You just need to pause and gather together and reflect what you’ve been doing and what you’ve been thinking and how you’re going to move forward. So I think that it’s an important time as I think people often act without reflecting and we need more of that.

Q.It is interesting, Mr Starkey, that you were saying earlier that Mr Hanks owns his own image rights and that you had to return these files you shot to him...
A:
I’ve said in the past that in the end you retain the files of your own image, your own likeness.
Hanks: Which is the way it should be!
Zemeckis: Years from now, if the heirs of Tom’s estate want to sell his image to say, a vacuum cleaner company so that he could you know, dance with it or act with it or something they’ll probably be able to take these files and do that if they chose to. And they’ll probably be able to get some other actor who’ll be able to interpret Tom as best that he could but the image will look exactly like Tom looked say in The Polar Express, or something like that.
Once you’re cyber scanned, that’s something you can do right now. So I think what’s going to happen is that everyone’s gonna have to figure out what they want to do with this technology.
We were talking earlier about Steve McQueen being in a new Mustang commercial. Well, that’s gonna be a cut and paste version of taking his 2D images from probably Bullitt, or something, and cutting them out basically and pasting him into new images where he’ll fit in perfectly cos they don’t have 3D scans of Steve McQueen to do it any other way.
And there’s going to be other ethical question at hat come up to like taking images from a movie that a director directs and using them as part of other movies. It’s going to be like wonderful music that’s made now by sampling old records and creating whole new songs around these samples that come out.
It’s all going to be part of the same mix, some of it will be abused and some of it might actually be really very cool, it’s just something that we can do now.

Q. On that mind boggling thought we’re nearly out of time but can I just ask you that given that this book has obviously meant so much to you through the years, how it feels to have made something that other people will cherish and think of as part of as the whole Christmas festivities?
A. I’m just excited that the illustrations in the book had so much emotion that we were able to create a moving image of those paintings for everybody to share. I think that was the highlight of making the film for me.

 

 

 

 


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