Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was filmed entirely in front of a blue screen, with all of the backgrounds, environments and effects added in digitally. The only things that are "real" are the actors and the objects the actors touch. Director Kerry Conran talks about the homegrown short film that started it all, and his contribution to the digital revolution.
Street: When you started putting this together on your home computer 10 years ago, was it already a filmmaking venture or more in the spirit of technological experimentation?
Conran: It was always a filmmaking venture. The computer thing was more of a hobbyist interest. I had kind of grown up as a dorky little kid making super-8 movies out in the back yard, and I went to a film school and that sort of thing, so it was just recognizing where technology was headed and what it could do for me. I always looked at anything like that as how it could help me make a film.
So nobody ever said to you, Kerry, why don't you sell this technology and become an effects technician, it might be easier that way?
Since it was done in anonymity, there was nobody really to say that there might be some money in this. There were certainly plenty of people to suggest that after the fact.
It's interesting that you've done something that's never been done before with something that 's been around for a very long time [blue screen]. Do you consider your work revolutionary or evolutionary?
There was never any interest or desire to do anything of a revolutionary sort. To some extent, it doesn't matter what the footnote is on this movie -- whether we did something that was different or the same or otherwise -- the footnote is that we got to make the movie. I see the film more as evolutionary, because you're right, it does draw on things that have been around forever. But perhaps we took it to an extreme conclusion that might not otherwise have been so intuitive. Some of the stuff we did was crazy.
At what point did you "cast" Sir Laurence Olivier?
That was one of the things that Jude [Law] brought to it. I think Jude always thought, "I want to play opposite Olivier."
Can you talk about making the original six minute short film?
My machine at the time was a Mac IICi, and I think it had a slower processor than these tape recorders have right now. It was painstaking ... it took four years to create six minutes, because for every frame that I operated on, it took two to five minutes just for that frame to render so I could do the next frame. Then to play it back was an overnight process, and if it didn't crash, you got to see it, and if you liked it, you kept it. If not, you went back. And there were crashes.
Is doing something like that cheap?
Yeah, especially now. I think that maybe the greatest thing about what we did on this film is what it represents for independent filmmakers. Hollywood's got money, and they'll be fine forever, but the people that have a quirky idea that's not necessarily mainstream, they're not going to have that opportunity to make something on a large scale -- not every independent filmmaker thinks small. But with an iMac, and maybe a copy of Final Cut and a handful of other tools, there's almost nothing you can't do anymore. And we're very close to the consumer level high definition cameras coming out, which means you can almost do film quality resolution on your desktop PC.