All this week, during MTV News' investigation of the world of 3-D movies, we've been talking to the minds behind the biggest upcoming CG-animated films. This genre, after all, has embraced 3-D technology like no other, partly because kids are among the most receptive audience and partly because creating three dimensions in a computer is in many ways easier than shooting with 3-D cameras in the real world. Thus far we've chatted with the filmmakers of "Shrek Forever", "Yogi Bear,""Despicable Me" and "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax."
Wrapping up of week of animated coverage is a chat with "Toy Story 3" director Lee Unkrich. Driving down the winding road from George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch north of San Francisco, Unkrich gave MTV News a call to talk about the development of CG technology from the first "Toy Story" until now, why Pixar has gotten ahead of the 3-D curve and what we can expect in terms of 3-D thrills from "Toy Story 3" (out June 18).
MTV: Was "Toy Story 3" always planned as a 3-D release?
Lee Unkrich: We knew from the get-go it was going to be released in 3-D. Everything was shifting that way, and we already knew we were going to release "Up" in 3-D. That being said, we didn't design anything specifically to use 3-D in a gimmicky way. When Pete Docter directed "Up," he just tried to make a good movie. We found the conversion into 3-D made it very rich and dimensional, and that's very much been the case for us on "Toy Story 3."
MTV: So, you didn't do anything different creatively, knowing it'd be in 3-D?
Unkrich: When we made the first "Toy Story" films a decade ago, those films were not designed to be 3-D. But as you know, last year we re-rendered and re-created both those films in 3-D. What that showed us is that, if you watch them, they feel like they were designed to be in 3-D. They really take advantage of the depth and spatial possibilities. I think that's a testament to how, as filmmakers, we try and create very visually rich imagery and we stage our action in depth. Since I played a big part in staging the first two films, that told me I could just stay the course on telling a great story and filming it in a dynamic way and trust the process that when our 3-D did the conversion, we'd end up with something pretty remarkable. The movie is six reels long and I've seen three-quarters of the movie in 3-D now, and it looks really amazing. We'll be totally done in about five weeks.
MTV: When you say "conversion," do you mean "Toy Story 3" is authored in 3-D or that it was converted after the fact?
Unkrich: In live-action filmmaking, if you do the conversion after the fact, they have to scan the flat image into the computer and cut it into all these layers and create the sense of depth. In our world, because we're creating a movie on these virtual sets with virtual cameras in the computer, you basically just need to set up a second camera to provide that second eye view. You get a true 3-D, as if you were on a set with a 3-D camera shooting a movie. The other benefit to doing it in the computer as opposed to the real world is that there are more variables that we can adjust and control. In live-action, you have to make decisions on set that then get baked into the image. In CG, it's just another thing we can manipulate to give the coolest possible 3-D without giving anyone eye strain.
MTV: Is there one scene in particular that really shows off the 3-D capabilities?
Unkrich: Honestly, I have to say all of it! No, I will say we have a really fun action sequence at the beginning of the movie. It's unlike anything we've seen in the "Toy Story" world before. It's this crazy opening to the film. At this point, though, so long before the movie opens, I can't give many specifics.
MTV: What has 3-D allowed you to do that you couldn't do in the first two "Toy Story" movies?
Unkrich: From a storytelling standpoint, we've tried very hard to not feel like we're rehashing anything. We want to give people a whole new experience, but at the same time embrace the nostalgia of the first two movies. From a 3-D standpoint, people had already seen the first two "Toy Story" movies, and seeing them in 3-D was a whole new way of experiencing them. In the case of "Toy Story 3," it'll enhance their experience that much more. Not only are they returning to these characters, but they'll see it right out of the gate — not only in 3-D, but just visually, it's exponentially more complex than the first two. Technologically, we're at a much more advanced place. And artistically, the artists at Pixar have been making movies for 15 years, and they're at the top of their game.
MTV: Now that "Up" and "Avatar" have done so well, in addition to the 3-D releases of 2010, has everyone at Pixar celebrated the fact that they made the right call in terms of jumping on the 3-D bandwagon?
Unkrich: A lot of this comes down from [Pixar COO] John Lasseter. John has always been interested in 3-D. One of his short films, "Knick Knack," he made in 3-D. And even "Luxo Jr." he made a 3-D version of way back when. We've been exploring for years doing 3-D. We did a bunch of tests with "Toy Story 2" to turn it into 3-D IMAX. The problem for everybody has been the exhibition of it. The technology of doing 3-D on film has been subpar, and it wasn't until digital cinema started getting a foothold that 3-D became a viable option. We've wanted digital projection for years. Theater owners were resistant because of the cost, but now with 3-D, they have a way to recoup their investment. It's been win-win for everybody.
MTV: Do you think 3-D is a fad, or is it here to stay?
Unkrich: I don't know. This is not the first time we've had 3-D. It was big in the '50s as a way to combat the threat of television. The problem then was no one was doing anything interesting with it. It was all about the gimmick. I suppose there's some component to that now with the resurgence of 3-D. The more interesting thing now is you've got filmmakers like James Cameron, like us at Pixar, like Spielberg and Peter Jackson, who are embracing it as another color in their palette of filmmaking. The thing I'm most interested in is seeing what great filmmakers do with it — other ways they make use of it other than as a gimmick. We have a short film at the front of "Toy Story" called "Day and Night." It's a cool short that was designed to be in 3-D. I think it's one of the most innovative uses of 3-D I've ever seen. People are going to be blown away.
Do not adjust your glasses! It's 3-D week at MTV News. All week long, we're looking at the biggest and boldest upcoming movies set to reach out and grab you with the wonders of 3-D technology. We've got exclusive sneak peeks at "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," "Tron Legacy," "Clash of the Titans" and many more.
Check out everything we've got on "Toy Story 3."
For breaking news, celebrity columns, humor and more — updated around the clock — visit MTVMoviesBlog.com.
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