92nd Oscars Backstage Interview Transcript: VISUAL EFFECTS

SPEECH BY: Guillaume Rocheron, Dominic Tuohy, Greg Butler

FILM: "1917"

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Q. Congratulations, everybody. Guillaume, we talked. We did an interview for the credits after you were shortlisted, and at that time, you talked a lot about -- besides all the artists you thanked during your acceptance speech, the additional contributions about Roger Deakins, who joined you in the winner's circle tonight, and Dennis who -- for production design who could not. So could you maybe expound on that here about their contributions to your work that you did as you told me at the time stitching all this together?
A. (Guillaume Rocheron) Well, making a one-shot movie like this requires the collaboration of all the departments. And we know we always collaborate on movies, but this time around, we had to collaborate very precisely because, obviously, we are, with visual effects, connecting all the shots together and, you know, stitching the whole movie to make it appear as if it's one long shot. But it only works if everybody is very diligent in doing the best they can ahead of time. So, you know, the production designer, for example, had to -- Dennis had to build the sets to the exact length of, you know, every single scene because if the sets were too short or too long, then we couldn't go into the next one. And then with Roger it's the same. You know, obviously, he's the master of lighting and camera moves. And in our exercise to stitch the whole movie together, you have to make sure that you never betray his, you know, creative intent of, you know, having the camera as being, you know, not a third character, but that's just observing the two young heros through their journey. So it's really making sure that the audience can never identify, you know, whether things have been done practically, have been done with visual effects so you can completely immerse them into the experience.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about -- I'm assuming that none of you served in a war. So I'm curious what kind of research process did you do to really understand what that look and feel would be? And talk a little bit about your process working with Roger on that, and what you -- also with the director.
A. (Greg Butler) A lot of the hard work of the historical  accuracy had come before with the historical advisor, the art department. The few times that we had to deal with anything is when we introduced something new. For example, we brought in the Mark II World War I tank. And so we quickly had to look up, sort of, what is the unique differences of those things because we didn't want to be the one department caught out in putting something historically inaccurate in, and luckily there was a museum that had the last one of the world that's still in one piece. So we took photos and scanned. And then Sam ended up picking a photo -- his favorite photo of a World War I tank in a particularly destroyed state.  So the short version is a lot of the historical research came before us, but we just needed to make sure we didn't make a false move when we put a tank in the movie.
A. (Dominic Tuohy) I mean, for myself, from the practical side of it, it was very important that we kept true to 1917. We didn't want to go over the top, which is very kind of film-like, that we do when we make blockbusters. I mean, you do it. You blow up a car, and it's a great big explosion. Sam was very much keeping it true to what it was going to be. So we did lots of tests. We saw lots of footage of explosions and stuff like that, and then Sam ultimately had the final say. So we did do a lot of research.

Q. A massive congratulations. I'm a massive fan of visual effects. My question for this movie is, was there a special process that you used that was unique to the film, something that hasn't been used before technology-wise?
A. (Guillaume Rocheron) Yeah, I think it's, you know, visual effects, I've been working for 20 years in visual effects. And over 20 years, you learn the tricks to work in the cuts, right? Because our job is to suspend disbelief. It's to make sure that the audience thinks that what they see is real, right? And you learn all your tricks, and you make shots that are 4 seconds, 10 seconds, 20 seconds if you are, like, extremely ambitious.  I've done shots that were one minute long, you know, in other movies, but they are really rare, and in the case of 1917, it just never stops, right?  There is no cut, right? So you have to really rethink your bag of tricks and you have to rethink how you are going to design your work and how you approach it. And, you know, how to make sure that the audience never feels that they are watching something that feels digital, right?  Especially on a movie like this that is not a visual effects movie. It's a movie where if the audience feels that they are watching the visual effects, you are breaking the film, right? So doing that and all the stitching, I wish that we could have written a software that would have made all the stitching for us. Unfortunately, it was not possible. It was literally every single transition in the movie is that handcrafted by a team of artists. And, you know, some transitions, you know, the one in no man's land, it's like, you know, took, like, two and a half months to get, like, four seconds of movie right. Because it's all about the movements, all about the camera, the lighting. So it's really not a movie about, you know, I would say, the technology, but I think it's a movie that I see as being the realization that you can truly rely on craftsmen and artists to realize something that is new.
A. (Dominic Tuohy) I mean, one of the things that we did that I don't think that has been done in a film before is the flares that you see when George is in Écoust and he starts
to -- he starts off with the gunfire, and we go to darkness. So as he goes up the stairs, he goes into the room, you see both soldiers fire at one another, and then it goes black. And then that whole sequence started with a magnesium flare that we had on winches, and we had to sync them with the movement of the camera. And they had to last 18 seconds. And the set was specially designed so that when you see that reveal, I don't know if you remember, you come up the stairs, you come into the room, you go through the window, and all of that was while the flare was traveling above. And the set was designed so that this shadow moved across the floor. And something like that, I don't think it's ever been done before in a film, and I think it came across really well.

Q. Hi. Congratulations. This year there's been so much talk about visual effects and where it's continuing to advance from de-aging to virtual production, and we've been still talking a lot about invisible effects, like what you did. We've been talking about practical effects. Where do you see your craft going in the next two years, let's say?
A. (Guillaume Rocheron) I think it's really about being able to tell new stories. I don't think it's about necessarily a specific technology. You know, you can make, you know -- now, I really do think that you can pretty much make anything if you, you know, put a lot of talented people at it. I think it really is about the opportunity and the ability to tell stories like they haven't been done before, you know? And all the nominees this year are doing that somehow, you know, all in their very own different way. So I don't -- I don't think it's going to go in a very specific direction. I don't think that all the movies are going to have invisible effects or are going to be virtual production or will have de-aged actors. But I think that the toolsets is more accessible than ever for people and directors and producers to really be bold with their storytelling.
A. (Dominic Tuohy) I think it's about keeping it real. I think that's the trick.  It's so easy for these guys to be able to do almost anything.  To trick the audience is really what it's all about. It's about smoke and mirrors, and it's about how good we get at smoke and mirrors.
A. (Greg Butler) I just would say that I hope that now that visual effects has kind of tried everything at least once or twice, directors will focus more on doing it right. Did somebody just -- we don't know who is winning anything right now.

Q. Thank you. Congratulations.

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