The trailer footage has some people scratching their heads. Sure, the digital world, and the 3-D effects are amazing, but are we ready for "Lord of the Owls’? Director Zack Snyder is extremely confident that we are. He discussed the film at length in a recent presentation in Sydney where he showed 20 minutes of stunning footage that transports the question of ‘maybe’ to ‘when’ to see Ga’hoole.
In between clips that showcased the film’s 3-D effects and stunning detail, he spoke about bringing a completely new world to life.
How did he get lured into something so far outside his usual purview (300, Watchmen)?
"When I talk about this movie to people they’re ‘you made this family film?’. Sure. An animated owl film – that’s totally me!"
"It was through a series of paintings that I saw in Animal Logic. I saw them and said ‘that’s cool, what’s that?’. That turned out to be some of the original concept art for this owl film. These incredible images of owls flying through fire with embers and battle claws and helmets. I thought – that could be fun for a family – and me."
But Snyder wasn’t interested in making a ‘kids’ movie.
"I wasn’t going to try to make a movie that I thought kids would like. I just wanted to make an adventure film that I took as seriously as they would. I guess, I’m a child, anyway, so it wasn’t hard"
"I wanted it to be like those adventure films that I loved when I was a kid going to the movies, like Star Wars. In the animated world, we are most of the time dealing with pretty hard comedy. This is going to be a full-on adventure. It’s stuff you’ve never seen before."
"What Kathryn Lasky created in her books was real Joseph Campbellian hero’s journey. The bad guys, the pure ones were Nazis in the book. We thought it was thematically important. In the end, the good versus evil aspect of the book comes across incredibly strongly in the film.
One of the big questions raised by footage seen by most is the Australian accents.
"The idea that we were going to use Australian landscapes and sensibilities was something we wanted to do from the beginning. We wanted to use Australia as the Ga’hoole world similar to the way that Peter Jackson used New Zealand to create Middle Earth. It’s been awesome to find all these landscapes that are impossibly fantastical, used in the film almost directly from location photos."
It’s got quite a line up of Australian talent, and Snyder sees the use of Australian accents as key to the film.
"I’ve worked with David Wenhem in the past, (on 300) he plays Digger, Hugo Weaving, Geoffrey Rush, just to name a few. If I could work with those guys on every movie, I would. Helen Mirren plays Nira, the queen of the Barn Owls, who are the Pure Ones."
"American accents is something we talked about. I think to an American ear, and to a world audience, the Australian accent creates ‘another world’ accent. By the way, if the owls had American accents, it would really be weird. I’m sorry. These guys have battle claws and helmets on and they’re in a giant tree – and they speaking in American accents? The Australian accent, mixed with British accents, it’s kind of cool, to my ear, any way, it supports the mythology of the movie."
Obviously, having worked with Animal Logic a great deal in the past, Snyder is no stranger to digital effects. But this is the first time he’s made a film where the entire film is ‘effects’ from the ground up.
"I’ve made films with a lot of effects in it, but not an animated film. Developing a visual style, the camerawork, for me, as I’m watching it, I forget that you don’t get anything for free. It’s fun to see the level of detail, and the insane artistry that it takes to make a movie like this.
Even in the short presentation, David Wenham’s Burrowing Owl, Digger, proved to be a real crowd pleaser.
"David Wenham from day one, he just went crazy. Over the course of three years, whether he was in Bulgaria or Antarctica, he would have to come into a studio and go crazy."
"My favourite character though is Ezylryb, the Geoffrey Rush character. Use your gizzard, is using your instinct, your soul, your gut, that which makes you who you are. A reference to instinctual knowledge. He’s very into ‘living by your gizzard’.
Of course, technical questions arrive for such a complex film. The film isn’t just a stunt 3-D film, rather, as you’d expect with a world of three-dimensional flying, it’s one that 3-D is embedded into the fabric of the storytelling.
"One of the early conversations we had, it was going to be a short-focus film. Because owls are nocturnal. It has a very skinny depth of field. We tried to use a philosophy of what is the expressive cinematic language that we want to use, and then make the 3-D fit that, rather than do it in reverse, where ‘it’s a 3-D movie, let’s shoot it like that’. Those things crash into each other, often.
How complex is the film?
"Almost a hundred person years of effort went into developing the technology that made the film work."
"3-D conceptually, is baked into the movie. It’s been planned for since the beginning of production in 2007, but is now realised with the latest and greatest technology."
Working with Animal Logic is no longer about hiring a company to make an effect work. Legend of the Guardians is a film that is produced by Animal Logic with Warner Bros.
"Animal Logic’s DNA is in this movie. Sucker Punch I have a sequence with them. You have a relationship, a shorthand. The R&D, the attention to detail and the love, that’s how a shot gets better."
"Animal Logic is working in a partnership as filmmakers, rather than a special effects house for hire. It shows a maturing special effects and digital effects industry around the world."
"It’s an animated movie – but it’s not a cartoon. It’s impossible to describe until you’ve seen it."