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How Filming Technique Helped Tim Burton to Realize his Vision of "Alice in Wonderland"

Green Screen Filming and CGI Technique in the Film

Hausarbeit 2013 17 Seiten



Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The director Tim Burton

3. Overview of the plot

4. Technique of film making
4.1. History of mixing live-action and animation and uprising of CGI
4.2. How green screen filming works
4.3. Implementation

5. Analysis of scenes
5.1. Scene: Entering Underland
5.2. Scene: Off with his head
5.3. Scene: Tweedledee and Tweedledum

6. Conclusion

Works Cited

1. Introduction

The novels Alice's adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass written by the English author Lewis Carroll in 1865 and 1871 (cf. Carroll) have fascinated kids and adults for over a century. They also inspired numerous film makers to put their adaption of the novel into a movie. In 42 results on Alice in Wonderland in the Internet Movie Database - there are many more which are inspired and/or differently named – the 2010 Tim Burton´s interpretation of Alice is one of the most recent ones (cf. IMDb: Results for "Alice in Wonderland"). In fact Burton´s interpretation is no adaptation, he just took the story of Caroll´s weird and dark creatures from both novels and the Jabberwocky poem, mixed it and retold it, which more make it a new story then an adaptation (cf. Rice). Although the movie was released by Disney, it is also not a remake of the well-known Disney animated version from 1951. Actually it was always Walt Disney´s idea to merge live-acting and animation for Alice´s adventures, but it was technically too challenging at this time (cf. Braun; see also 4.1). Burton´s Alice is now 19 years old and accidentally returns to desolated, dark and surreal “Underland” (which she misheard and called Wonderland the first time) where she has to slay the dragon of the Red Queen Jabberwocky.

Burton admitted that he never felt an emotional connection to the material of the other versions of Alice in Wonderland. For him it was always a girl wandering from one weird character to another. He wanted to make the movie more feel like a story than a series of events (cf. Rice). Despite its mixed reviews, the movie earned over $1.02 billion worldwide and made it the fourteenth highest-grossing film and Burton´s biggest box office success (cf. IMDb: Alice in Wonderland (2010) Critic Reviews; Box Office Mojo).

Except of working with it for a few scenes in Sweeney Todd, it was Burton´s first time shooting a movie almost entirely in front of a green screen. The mix of live-action, animation and 3-D effects aimed to pull the audience into Burton´s Underland. The senior visual effects supervisor on the film, Ken Ralston, is a legend on special effects. His work included blockbusters like Star Wars, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Polar Express and Beowulf (cf. Hart). The four times Oscar winner was responsible for shooting the actors in front of a green screen, compositing it with the digital background and adding thousands of digital effects. After spending 45 days on live-action shooting, his team had only nine month for the post-production (cf. Hurst). Despite the box office hit, Tim Burton´s Alice in Wonderland reinvigorated the fairy tale genre in live-action.

This term paper focuses on the application of film making techniques and how they helped Burton to realize his vision of Alice in Wonderland. In order to introduce the techniques in the movie this paper gives background information on the director Tim Burton and an overview of the plot. The technical part starts with an introduction of film making and leads to green screen filming and how it works. To show how Burton realized his vision these techniques are explained and analysed on certain scenes of Alice in Wonderland. Finally all the impacts are concluded in the last part of this term paper.

2. The director Tim Burton

Born in 1958 in Burbank, California, Burton grew up in an area neighbouring many Hollywood studios like Warner Bros, Disney, Columbia and NBC. But despite its location in the Los Angeles County and as an outpost of Hollywood, Burbank was a typical working-class American suburb from which Burton felt alienated at an early age. A situation what he later portray in one of his first films Edward Scissorhands. He often sought refuge from this surrounding in one of Burbank´s movie theatres or sitting at home and watching horror movies. He never red, his fairy tales were monster movies. Especially he loved movies like King Kong, Frankenstein or Godzilla, felling that monsters basically misperceived and have more heartfelt souls than humans. Looking back he sees it at a kind of reaction against his stiff environment dictating things exactly as they are. For this reason Burton liked the idea of Fairy tales, because they are open to interpretation (cf. Burton: 1ff). Talking about his childhood in Burbank, he recalls I was always a loner and spent a lot of time by myself, making up stories and that kind of thing. We lived near a cemetery, so I'd like to go there and wonder about the scary guy who dug graves. I never really hung out with other kids and always found it difficult to really connect with people, in particular, girls. Looking back, it's kinda scary how solitary I was. I think if you've ever had that feeling of loneliness, of being an outsider, it never quite leaves you. You can be happy or successful or whatever, but that thing still stays within you.” (The Independent)

When Burton was eighteen he won a scholarship of the nearby Disney Studios to attend the California Institute of the Arts. After graduation from college he started to work as an animator for Disney working on The Fox and the Hound. He really struggled with drawing those Disney characters and could not “even fake the Disney style”, his foxes “looked like road kills” (Burton: 9). Burton said that he was probably more depressed than he have ever been in his life, he called himself being very strange and always were perceived as weird. Luckily he worked him in a position of a conceptual artist, where he had much more freedom on drawing. From then on he could draw whatever he wanted to draw. The head of his department saw his talent in his work and gave him $60,000 to produce the 5-minute stop-motion film Vincent. The movie was about a seven year old disturbed boy called Vincent Malloy who fantasizes that he is Vincent Price, a horror movie actor Burton liked as a child. After good critics on Vincent Burton´s next project was live-action adaption of Hansel and Gretel for the Disney Channel. It again showed Burton´s outré imagination: deviating from the original Grimm´s tale Burton got inspired by Godzilla and filmed it in a Japanese theme, with a kung fu fight between Hansel and Gretel and the witch at the end. Again inspired by one of his favourite movies Frankenstein, Burton produced the live-action short movie Frankenweenie in 1984. With a budget of almost $1 million had worked the first time with a professional cast (cf. Burton: 9ff).

With positive reviews on Frankenweenie Burton left Disney and was looking for a full-lengh movie to direct. Warner Bros asked him to direct Pee-wee´s Big Adventure. He took the offer and produced his first full-lengh movie grossing $40 million at the box office with a budget of $7 million. This enormous box office hit led to the “ghoulish, bizarre [and] highly imaginative […] feel-good movie about death” (Burton: 54) Beetlejuice. The success of his last movies entrusted Burton with the reins of the hugely expensive Batman. Starred with Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger and Michael Keaton and backed with the biggest marketing campaign in film history at that time, it became one of the biggest box office hits of all time grossing more than $400 million. Although his least personal film, due to its success, he was given the freedom to unleash his creativity in Edward Scissorhands, his arguably “most emotional, esteemed and artistic films to date” (IMDb, Biography for Tim Burton). For Jonny Depp, who played Edward and was a former teen idol who felt like “a loser, an outcast just another piece of expendable Hollywood meat” (Burton: xii) at this time, it was his breakthrough as an actor in Hollywood and also the beginning of a long lasting friendship between Burton and him. It was also the beginning of a long lasting work collaboration, they worked together in eight movies (cf. Burton: 42ff)

After Edward Scissorhands Burton turned to the Batman series again and issused Batman Returns in 1992. The most renown following blockbusters were Batman Forever (1995), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Planet of the Apes (2001), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and Alice in Wonderland (2010). Fitting to Burton´s dark movies his screenwriter for Alice in Wonderland wrote the script at a very dark time in her life where a lot of bad things like death and divorce had happened.

Today Burton´s is one of the most popular directors in Hollywood and “revered as an artistic visionary”. The movies of this “quirky film-maker” are “pervaded by darkness and peopled by outsiders” (The Independent). Reading his biography it becomes obvious what he admits “I´ve always felt close to all the characters in my films. […] [T]here has to be aspects to all the characters that are either a part of you, or something you can relate to, or something that is symbolic of something inside you.” (Burton: 43).

3. Overview of the plot

Their story begins with the 6 year old Alice telling her father about the reoccurring nightmare of a “wonderland”. Thirteen years later, after her father died, Alice (played by Mia Wasikowska) is sitting in a carriage with her mother on their way to a garden party somewhere in Victorian England. This party turns out to be her engagement party with Hamish, a young man Alice dislike. During Hamish´s proposal Alice sees the White Rabbit in a waistcoat and decides to chase it. Familiar from the book she falls down the rabbit hole to find her entering the world called Underland, a dark and surreal world.

While exploring Underland she meets well-known characters like the White Rabbit, Tweedldum and Tweedledee and the Hatter (played by Jonny Depp) who tell her that it has been foreseen than an Alice will slay the dragon Jabberwocky in order to give Underworld´s ruling back from the cruel Red Queen (played by Burton´s domestic partner Helena Bonham Carter) to the good White Queen (played by (Anne Hathaway). On her quest she finds out that her nightmares were real memories of her visit to Underland as a kid to which she now returned physically for the purpose of slaying the dragon of the Red Queen. On the epic day of battle both sides, the army of the Red Queen and White Queen, meet on a chess board battlefield. After slaying the Jabberwocky and giving the power back to the White Queen, Alice drinks the blood of the Dragon and returns home as a changed woman. Grown self-confidence she decides to stand up for a self-determined life where she declines Hamish´s proposal and choose to sail to China to expand her dead father´s trading company.

4. Technique of film making

4.1. History of mixing live-action and animation and uprising of CGI

To investigate on green screen film making we have to go back into history of film making. At the beginning of the 20th century there were just animated cartoons and silent movies in live-action existing separately. One of the first attempts was done by the legendary Walt Disney in the 1920s. His fascination for Caroll´s books inspired him to create a short film called Alice Comedies. He shot an actress in front of a white background and let the film run through an animation camera for a second time to merge it with the animated characters and backgrounds. But just adding cartoons to an existing film was not enough for Walt Disney, he wanted to put into an imaginary world and created a full-length film called Alice´s Wonderland (cf. Foster: 4). Unfortunately this film was never released for public due to bankruptcy of the studio Disney was collaborating with (cf. Kirk).

It was until 1951 he realized his dream of putting his story of Alice´s adventures into an animated film. Walt Disney chose animation because at this time it was technically too challenging to merge live-acting and animation, he thought he could only do justice to the novel by making a full animated film (cf. Geronimi). While the Disney Studios were producing several mixed live-action like Mary Poppins and Pete´s Dragon, and animation films the technically breakthrough came in the 1970s with the advance to wholly computer-generated imagery (called CGI) for use in movie productions. CGI made special effects more controllable and less costly than physically based processes, such as constructing miniatures for effects shots or hiring thousands of people for crowd scenes. CGI special effects scenes were included in Westworld (1973), Futureworld (1976) and Star Wars (1977). The technically challenge showed the fact that one special effects men of George Lucas Star Wars devoted three months to creating a 90-second sequence in CGI (cf. Computer images: 76).

1982 it was again the Disney Studios pushing CGI to another level: their sci-fi movie TRON included 15 minutes of full CGI and 15 combined CGI with live-action. The director Steven Lisberger shot actors in black and white costumes in front of neutral backgrounds and added the computer images to these areas later. This process was an enormous effort which let the movie went over budget. Because of the dominance of technology over the plot and characters the movie brought disappointing box office success. Although Hollywood stepped back from CGI because of TRON ´s poor performance and high costs it marked the beginning of a technical renaissance in the film industry. With the help of a new super computer, the Cray X-MP, a young studio called Digital Productions was determined not to make the same mistake that Lisberger had made with TRON. This computer could process images 700 times more complex than the TRON ´s images. In 1984 The Last Starfigher was not a big box office success but was fighting Hollywood´s sceptical voices against CGI (cf. Computer images: 82ff).

George Lucas, the head of Lucasfilm and director of the outstanding successful series of Star War movies, formed a division called Pixar within his company with the mandate to develop high technology for the film industry. In spring 1985 this division launched the Pixar Image Computer with innovative software for about $100,000, which was about 10-15 times less the price than the Cray X-MP. But just one year later Pixar announced a 1,000 times faster computer, the Reyes (cf. Computer images: 90). In 1986 Apple co-founder Steve Jobs saw a bright future for Pixar and invested $10 million after forced out his own company. With Jobs, later as CEO, Pixar produced box office hits like Toy Story (1995), A Bug´s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monster Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004) making it the world leading animation studio (cf. Pixar Animation Studios). All of these blockbusters were distributed by the Disney Studios, which later in 2006 bought Pixar for $7.4 billion in an all-stock-exchange turning Steve Jobs into a billionaire and Disney´s largest shareholder (cf. La Monica).

Today almost all movies work with CGI effects and some are completely made of CGI. But CGI is not as developed to omit live-action. While CGI character can look humanlike in an unsettling way, it is clear to the audience it is not a human. Expert say that when “simulated humans grow more realistic, viewers become more aware of - and disconcerted by - the subtle ways the characters don't seem human” (Hicks). The current CGI technology seems best at creating non-human characters and fantasy world like in the Toy Story. Instead of equipping an actor time- and work-consuming with makeup or prosthetics CGI can also be used to mix it with live-action shots. The most successful example of a live-action and CGI hybrid is James Cameron´s Avatar, making it the greatest box office hit with over §2,78 billion (cf. Box Office Mojo).



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
475 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg – Institute of English Studies
Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland Film Techniques Green Screen



Titel: How Filming Technique Helped Tim Burton to Realize his Vision of "Alice in Wonderland"