Andrew Adamson, the director of the first two Shrek and Narnia films, tells Tom Seymour about Cirque du Soleil in 3D, animating by accident and live-action energy...
Oscar-nominated for directing Shrek 2, New Zealand-born animator-turned-filmmaker Andrew Adamson has partnered with Avatar visionary James Cameron for Cirque du Soleil’s first 3D film, Worlds Away, comprising sequences from seven productions: O, Mystère, Kà, The Beatles’ Love, Zumanity, Viva Elvis and Criss Angel: Believe.
You first started out in computer animation. How did that help with becoming a director?
I became a computer animator by accident; I wanted to be an architect but missed the enrolment at university... Animation is technology-driven, but there’s also a level of mathematics and the creation of aesthetic. Filmmaking involves the same skills.
How does directing animation compare with live-action films?
Animation is very predictable and reliable. You don’t have to worry about the weather, or the quality of light; you can go to work every day. But you have to think about every action in a very minute way; live action has an energy and randomness to it that’s very difficult to recreate. But your responsibilities as a director are the same: you’re there to fill the gaps. The most important jobs of a director are empathy and tenacity – the empathy to understand the character, and the cast and crew, and the tenacity to keep on going no matter what.
How did you get involved with Cirque du Soleil?
I was approached through one of the producers I worked with on Narnia. Cirque du Soleil were interested in making a 3D adaption, given where the technology is now. Initially I thought, “No”. I wasn’t sure there was a good way to transfer the show to film or if it would be a lesser experience. It’s only when we talked about the equipment, cameras and technology available that I thought it would be worthwhile.
Was working in 3D for the first time intimidating?
I did research before making the film and realised it’s not a whole different language but a slightly different dialect. You don’t compose or light scenes the same, neither can you use proximity in the same way; 3D provides you with separation and depth but you have to be careful not to make people look like cardboard cut-outs. James Cameron, who’s spent forever experimenting with these things, was able to tell me straight off the bat how to shoot the film.
How does your production company for young filmmakers, Strange Weather, work?
It’s a reaction to my personal experience of how difficult it is to get something made. I once developed a project with a studio and they had something similar that conflicted with mine so my project was shelved, even though it was ready to go. That was very frustrating. Strange Weather is designed to develop people and products that may otherwise have struggled. I want ideas to be able to stand on their own two feet before they’re rejected. This is a platform for the development of ideas so they can be communicated properly.
What kind of challenges do young filmmakers face today?
It’s a difficult time in the film industry. People are more cautious during a recession, therefore a new idea has to be able to sell itself, because investors are more interested in tried and tested ideas. So if you can show something that they can understand straight away, that will help spark interest.
So what’s your advice to young people pursuing careers in the creative industries?
My parents struggled with the fact I was pretty tenacious growing up, and I now have a very stubborn child. But if you have the frame of mind that will allow you to break down walls and get something done, that can be a very powerful thing. If you’re convinced it’s something you want to do, then just don’t take no for an answer.
Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D is out now.
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