The Adventures of Tintin

Visual effects supervisor Wayne Stables discusses The Adventures of Tintin, which debuts on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, and DVD March 13

Visual effects guru Wayne Stables has been working in the effects industry for over 15 years, after making his debut on Peter Jackson's The Frighteners. He went onto work on Contact, Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Shrek 2, Shrek the Third, and Avatar. Wayne Stables most recently served as the visual effects supervisor for the New Zealand effects house Weta on Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin, which debuts on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, and DVD March 13. I recently had the chance to speak with Wayne Stables over the phone about his experiences working on The Adventures of Tintin. Here's what he had to say below.

First off, I'm curious about how early you come onto a huge endeavor like this. Were you brought on before they were shooting the motion-capture stuff?

Wayne Stables: I first came on, myself, before we did motion-capture, but only in a limited capacity. I came on when we were doing some tests, if you like, some visual tests to try some things out with early motion-capture. Then myself and the other supervisors, when they went off and did the actual motion-capture, we were busy doing other things. We came back on once the bulk of the motion-capture was done.

What was the early mandate from Steven about visual style? There is such a breadth of material from the Hergé novels. Did he want it, early on, to stand alone from those visuals?

Wayne Stables: That's actually a pretty good question. He kind of didn't give us a mandate for visual style, and that was kind of interesting for us, early on. What we ended up doing was we went and explored a bunch of things ourselves. One of the early tests we did, which was Captain Haddock going through the corridor on the Karaboudjan, we actually went back and looked at movies like Das Boot, these dank, confined corridors like in that film. We would present ideas to Steven, and say, 'Hey, we kind of did this, and we're going for this film, for this look.' We weren't trying to replicate Das Boot or anything, but we were just saying that maybe this type of scene might be good. Another thing we did is we actually went back and watched a lot of Steven's films, everything from Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, War of the Worlds, to see how he treated different scenes, and different feelings. We really tried to understand the visual language that he's comfortable with using the most.

I believe they only shot the motion-capture stuff for 30 or 40 days. Can you talk about any time you spent on the set, before working on the effects?

Wayne Stables: I wasn't on set, but I did see some of the visual things, like that corridor scene. I was on that for a bit before they actually shot. Those tests are not necessarily something that will usually make it in the film, but in this case, it actually did end up making it in the film. It's the kind of thing to just get people's thoughts flowing about different ways and treatments. I think that probably helps when Steven is shooting stuff, because he can also think a little bit about the visual style he will want to achieve at that point.

I remember during the awards season, with the two separate categories for live-action and animation, there was talk that maybe this shouldn't be considered an animated movie, with all of the motion-capture work that goes on. It did win the Golden Globe for animated feature, but I was wondering what your take on that is?

Wayne Stables: I absolutely think it should be considered an animated feature, especially for the fact that we had hundreds of animators here who worked really hard on it and put a lot of work into it. I think it's interesting, because if you look at the Oscars, it didn't go through for animation, and it didn't go through for visual effects, whereas in the BAFTA's, it went through for both. I think that alone says that people are still trying to make up their minds. I would definitely consider it to be an animated film. There is a huge amount of animation inside it. I know the whole performance-capture thing, obviously, tends to throw people a little bit. I guess I can't see it any other way. I'd need to hear a compelling argument about why it wasn't an animated film.

I was kind of surprised that it didn't get as much acclaim for the visuals as it did. I really loved the whole look, and there are so many epic scenes, like the boat going through the dessert, the motorcycle chases. Were there really hallmark moments that you thought would really stand out while you were working on the effects, that you knew would be huge moments in the film?

Wayne Stables: Yeah, there were definitely big moments for me inside the film. I agree with you. I think the pirate ship coming through the sand is amazing. I think a lot of those transition shots, when the story is going backwards and forwards, I think they worked really well. I did work on the big motorcycle chase, and I actually wanted to do that from the word go, just because it's a four and a half minute shot. It sounded so audacious, that I just really wanted to do it. I have some personal favorite moments. I love the pirate stuff, which is great for me to watch.

Can you talk a bit about how hands-on Steven was? The motion-capture shoot wasn't really that long, so how hands-on was he with the visuals? I know he had War Horse going on around the same time as well.

Wayne Stables: He was extremely hands-on. Obviously, he was around the world and we were here in New Zealand, but we would have conference calls with him most days, where we would play back the material and he would see it both in stereo and in 2D. Steven had a very strong visual sense, and a very strong sense of lighting and camera. He was extremely hands-on, in terms of his feedback and direction.

Did you have any personal connection to these Tintin stories? Did you follow the novels?

Wayne Stables: I did. I grew up with Tintin, because in the 1970s and 1980s, they were very prominent in New Zealand, which is where I grew up. For me, it was a great thing. If you would look at my room here, I have all the books inside. It was a great thing for me to work on, and I had a very strong connection to it. I think a lot of the other designers here grew up with it as well.

The plan is supposed to be for Peter Jackson to direct Tintin 2. We haven't heard much about when that is moving forward. Do you know any sort of timeline of when that might get started? Are there any discussions for that yet?

Wayne Stables: No, there is nothing we've heard, in terms of any sequels. I probably know as much about it as you do. I know Steven has said in the press that he really wants to do another one, and Peter is supposed to direct the second one. I assume, like many of these things, it will be in the hands of the studio, when they think it's the right time to do that.

Are you working on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey right now? Is there anything else you're currently working on?

Wayne Stables: No, I'm not working on The Hobbit. I'm just having a look at the technology we've used on movies like The Adventures of Tintin, and a little about where we want to go in the next couple of years. I'm helping to develop some of that, then I'll go on to another project at some point this year, when the right one comes up.

Can you talk about your experience actually seeing this film with an audience? What was the one thing that really stood out for you after seeing it in a theater full of people?

Wayne Stables: I visually enjoyed all of the film. For me, when I watch it with an audience, the biggest gauge I have with a film like this, is my wife. It's something that isn't in her usual demographic, but it's funny because I watched it with her, and we really enjoyed it, then we watched it again in the theater. She pointed out afterward that she noticed the sheer amount of detail in the world. I was really pleased to hear that, because there was so much work put into that. I was actually really pleased to hear that had been noticed, not as much for me, but for all the artists who put so much love and care and attention into it.

I have only seen it once, and I'm really looking forward to watching it again on Blu-ray. I had that feeling it would be one of those movies where, every time you watch it, you pick up something new. I'm really curious to see what else I'll discover. Finally, what would you like to say to anyone who might not have seen The Adventures of Tintin in theaters about why they should pick up the Blu-ray and DVD on March 13?

Wayne Stables: I think Tintin is just a great, old-fashioned adventure film. I think it's a movie well worth seeing in theaters and on Blu-ray, just for the sheer amount of detail inside. We're really proud of the world we created, and I think it's something you want to see on the biggest screen with the highest resolution you possibly can.

Great. That's my time. It was great talking to you, Wayne.

Wayne Stables: It was great talking to you too, man. Have a good day.

You can pick up The Adventures of Tintin on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, and DVD starting March 13.