Visual effects supervisor and second unit director, Charles Gibson talks about this new blockbuster, the possibility of present-day time-travel in the next film and much more
Charles Gibson may be the Oscar-winning son of an actor, but he didn't win those little gold men in front of the camera. Gibson, son of longtime actor Henry Gibson, has made his mark in the special effects industry for over 20 years. Gibson was one of the co-founders of top effects house Rhythm and Hues and has leant his brand of artistry to a number of blockbuster features throughout the years like Babe (for which he won his first Oscar for visual effects), The Green Mile, The Ring and all three Pirates of the Caribbean films, the second of which, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, he won his second Oscar for. Gibson was also the second unit director on all three Pirates films and he served as the visual effects supervisor and second unit director on the first of another potential blockbuster franchise, Terminator Salvation, which hits theaters today, May 21. I had the chance to speak with Gibson earlier today about his work on the film, and here's what he had to say.
Can you talk a little about how you first came on the project and what your initial thoughts were when you heard about a new Terminator film being produced?
Charles Gibson: I definitely wanted to hear what McG's take was. I was actually working with McG on another project that went down and he signed on to Terminator Salvation and asked if I wanted to come on. I read the draft that had been floating around, and I wasn't in love with it. He said he was going to change it. I liked that he basically wanted to make an action film, a state-of-the-art action film and that was his number one goal. I liked that. I liked the challenge of weaving visual effects into that fabric and that's what attracted me to it.
The effects for the original series were so revolutionary, so was it a bit of a daunting task to try to one-up that whole series?
Charles Gibson: Well, yes and no. It's interesting because I think every one of those films tried to have sort of an "Oh my God" moment, whether it was liquid metal or the endoskeleton or the Terminatrix. There wasn't so much that in this film. I mean we had the Arnold and all that, but I think, to me, it was a little more subtle in that we were taking all this and transporting it to, in my mind, a much more plausible version of our world and realizing it in a more realistic way with a longer runtime and more direction. I feel like sometimes, in science-fiction films, there's kind of a sterility. There's never the sense that you're going to get your hands dirty, that something is going to scrape your hand on the ground and get bruised. This film has that, which I really appreciated and we worked hard to make sure all the elements maintain that velocity and energy and preserve it.
I actually interviewed the DVD producer for Terminator 2. The whole franchise is rather interesting because no one really owns it. There are different studios and they're all separated and together at the same time, since you can't incorporate elements of previous films because different people own them, so was that part of the challenge of this film as well?
Charles Gibson: Not really. It definitely wanted to be its own animal. I think McG really liked what Chris Nolan did with Batman Begins. It was preserved in a way that it was the origin story and you have the element of the suit, Alfred, the Batcave and all that. It was as revolutionary, in a way, I guess, as what Tim Burton had done. If he would've done another Tim Burton-style Batman, it would've been a mistake, you know, so I think McG was thinking along those lines. One of the things that somebody pointed out to me, which was really interesting, was, for all intents and purposes, this is the first Terminator movie that really didn't star Arnold Schwarzenegger. That probably surprised everybody initially, but it's quite liberating too, because it's a very very different kind of movie.
You're not only the visual effects supervisor but also the second unit director.
Charles Gibson: That's right.
So how do both of those play off each other? Does the directing help in the visual effects area, or vice versa?
Charles Gibson: Well, very specifically with this film, the sequences that I directed were things with the Terminators, the Terminator factory, helicopter crash, the hydrobots and all that. There are a lot of components of those sequences that were going to be added in post-production anyway, just knowing what was going to be there, and knowing what to shoot and how to shoot it for the visual effects, of course, was a big win. Also, being the person that also pre-vized all that up front, it was kind of natural for me to move forward and just direct the live-action part of it as well. It was very organic. McG's take on the film was the blend of action and visual effects should be seamless, so it just seemed so perfect, and it really worked out well.
McG isn't necessarily known for his "effects films" but it seemed like he took really well to this sort of big-budgeted scope of a movie, so how did you enjoy working with him on this movie?
Charles Gibson: He was great. He's very open to ideas, you know. He gives you bullet points of what's really key and we need to hit and gives you a lot of leeway. It's just great. He had a certain vision in terms of the energy he wanted and the way he wanted things to move and the presence he wanted to have. He really informed our approach, in terms of how big we wanted to make things, what kind of rigs they would shoot with, so it was really good. He certainly is very very technically savvy. He gets it and when he looks at a visual effects shot when he comes in, he knows what's wrong with it and he understands if something's not lit right or composited improperly and all that. He gets it. He's a very very sharp guy.
So I believe this film was originally slated for a three-film series, so are you on board for the whole run, and is there anything you can tell us about the next possible film?
Charles Gibson: I haven't talked to anybody about the next film. McG, I know, is working on the time-travel scenario, for something that might take place present-day with John Connor. That's all I've heard. It would be something very cool that's as different again as this one is.
You've also worked on all of the Pirates of the Caribbean films and they said there was a fourth film coming, so is there anything you can say about those?
Charles Gibson: (Laughs) The ones in the past, or the ones coming up?
The ones coming up.
Charles Gibson: They are under lock and key right now. I haven't been called in. I know they are a priority for Disney and they want to move forward. It was definitely published that Johnny Depp has signed on for Pirates of the Caribbean 4, which is cool. They do want it to happen in the next few summers, so they're very serious about it and it's going to happen.
You were also the second unit director on all the Pirates films too, so is there anything you want to jump forward with and direct in the near future?
Charles Gibson: Definitely. I'm definitely working on a few things and have a few things in development at some studios, so yeah. I hope one of those will break soon.
You're the son of actor Henry Gibson, so is there any kind of acting bug that you have?
Charles Gibson: That I don't have, no (Laughs). I'm definitely sympathetic to the needs of actors, but I've never wanted to be in front of the camera. I'm much comfortable behind.
So, finally, the film hits theaters today and it's been a long six years since the last film, so what would you like to say to fans of the franchise about what we can expect from this new film?
Charles Gibson: It's designed to be something different. It's a glimpse into a time period that we haven't explored before. I think we did a great job flushing out this world in real life, and I hope they appreciate all the time, energy and detail that we put into it. There's just so much craft that went into every aspect of it, from costumes to cinematography to visual effects - I'm biased, but I just think there's a lot of great work there. Just check in and watch because there's a lot going on.
Excellent. Well that's about all I have for you, Charles. Thanks so much for your time and the best of luck with your new films.
Charles Gibson: Thank you. Bye.
Terminator Salvation opens in theaters today, May 21.