Monday, April 20, 2009

How to Make a Low Budget Indie 3D CG Flick [Starfest]

Battle for Terra director Aristomenis Tsirbas

Another highlight of Starfest this weekend was the Battle for Terra panel, featuring director, stay with me here, Aristomenis Tsirbas. Quite possibly the coolest, craziest name I've ever heard. But that's neither her nor there.

What IS here AND there is this movie, when it opens wide! Get it? Here's a synopsis,

A peaceful alien planet faces annihilation, as the homeless remainder of the human race sets its eyes on Terra. Mala, a rebellious Terrian teenager, will do everything she can to stop it.

The film basically takes the idea of an alien invasion and "flips it 180 degrees." In this universe, Earth is no longer habitable, so the humans aim to colonize Terra. The voice actors include Evan Rachel Wood, Chris Evans, Justin Long, Brian Cox, James Garner, Danny Glover, Amanda Peet, David Cross, David Quaid & Luke Wilson. Damn.

During the panel we were treated to a couple of short clips & the trailer, so before I go into what was revealed at the panel, here's the official trailer for you,

The first clip we saw focused mainly on establishing this alien world - Terra, as the humans call it. We see cute turtle-like alien creatures racing through the air, interacting with other creatures - overall very serene & lovely.

The second clip takes place after the humans invade Terra. Mala, Evan Rachel Wood's character, tricks a human that's chasing her into crashing his ship, so she can attempt to get some information from him regarding her kidnapped father. The human, voiced by Luke Wilson, tells her "Get away from me, Monster."

The environments in the clips, as well as the trailer, looked absolutely gorgeous. My only complaint watching these clips would be related to the character design, and how simplistic it is, but Tsirbas actually explained why this, which I'll get into later. But I've always loved stories that make the apparent enemy sympathetic, letting us see every side to something. So that plus 3D? I'll see it. Here's some interesting stuff we learned at the panel,

- This movie is a low budget indie 3D CG animated sci fi picture. It can be done!

- Tsirbas is of Brad Bird's belief that "Animation isn't a genre, it's an art form" and he wanted to do something different with this movie, not just make another family comedy. But it was definitely a hard sell to get investors & distribution.

- Opening wide May 1st thanks to Lionsgate & Roadside Attractions!

- The trailer is currently playing with Monsters vs Aliens 3D, which I wouldn't know, cause I didn't see Monsters vs Aliens. Oops.

- That voice cast is amazing! That's from me, not the panel. I wish I had asked what got the actors to sign on to such a low budget project.

- The film explores both sides, human & alien. There is no one evil race. Humans are initially presented as evil, but their motivations become clear later on and it isn't so black and white. The film is mainly about choices & difficult decisions. Is it just kill or be killed or is there a third choice, an alternate option?

- Took 3 years to make

- Only had 20 artists

- Screened at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival before it was completed

- Tsirbas had always wanted to do a 3D film and when he mentioned it as an option, Lionsgate & Roadside jumped

- To make it 3D, they re-rendered the entire film from a 2nd perspective. Is immersive 3D, not gimmicky 3D. On that subject, Tsirbas believes that 3D is "Here to stay. It's not a gimmick"

- Conceived initially as a live action film, and they also played around with having live action humans in a CG environment, but ultimately it was too expensive

- Ways to cut costs when making a low budget CG film:
1. Eliminate the hair. Only 2 humans have hair & the aliens were designed with none
2. Eliminate the legs. The aliens have no legs & float instead of walk because having tons of walking characters are way more difficult & expensive - not condusive to a low budget.
3. Aerial when possible. For the final battle, having an air fight over a land fight ended up being much less expensive

- Tsirbas CLEARLY loves animation as a whole. Kept mentioning favorite animators of his (including Miyazaki because he "puts his own personal stamp on each film." He is an influence on Tsirbas because Miyazaki "doesn't compromise his vision"

And that about does it! Overall, a pretty cool panel. I haven't really heard much about this film, so I don't know how well it will do at the box office, which is a shame, cause Tsirbas seems like an awesome guy and this movie seems incredibly important to him. Hopefully some more buzz will build before it opens in a couple weeks.

Update: Tsirbas is on Twitter!! Click here to follow him!