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Masters of SciFi – Journey to the Center of the Earth Director Eric Brevig Trailblazes Into 3D

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Eric Brevig knows the power of spectacle. For the past 23 years he’s overseen the visual effects in some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters, from Total Recall to The Abyss to Pearl Harbor. With Journey to the Center of the Earth — the first dramatic film to be shot completely in 3D — he sits in the director’s chair for the first time.

Q: What balance did you have to strike for a dramatic movie to work in 3D?

A: My goal was to make a good 2D movie that actually was a lot of fun in 3D. I didn’t want it to seem like it was lacking, so at the beginning I put in a couple of blatant, stop the show, we’re having fun in 3D moments, because people are expecting it. As the story takes over, I stop doing that and integrate the 3D effects into the story. To me, it’s really magical to see the whole scene in depth; I really feel like I’m transported into wherever the scene is. I wanted the whole movie to play like that, but not short-change the story. I’ve certainly done my share of high-end visual effects where there was no dramatic support in the movie. It’s like, ugh. You worked so hard and it looks completely real and nobody cares.

Q: First the ’50s, then the ’80s, and now. What will make 3D stick this time?

A: In the ’50s people said it was the answer to TV. But the problem was they had to use two different projectors that were synchronized in the theaters. And the ability for a projectionist to perfectly sync them without causing eye strain to the viewers is almost impossible. In the ’80s the same thing happened again — exhibition killed it. This time around, I think we have a chance because of digital projection, which projects both eyes through the same projector. 

Q: Is 3D the future of cinema?

A: There’s no one tool that’s the future of movies. But it’s another arrow in the quiver, and if directors use it in a way that’s compelling and audiences really enjoy it, then it’s worth the extra expense.

Q: Your film takes an almost Da Vinci Code-like approach to Jules Verne’s novel. Why did you choose to adapt it this way?

A: Our knowledge of science is so different now, initially, the book wasn’t going to be referenced in the story at all. We were going to have them go through basically a parallel journey, but [the producers] Walden Media wanted us to mention it by name as part of their educational outreach. Then I came up with the idea of using it as a guide — I realized that as long as we embrace it and really make a deal out of it from the beginning, and incorporate it, like you say in a Da Vinci Code-esque manner, it’s not a mistake, it’s part of the story.

Q: As a visual effect supervisor, is it easier to create a fantastical setting than something realistic like Pearl Harbor?

A: It’s actually much more difficult because if you create a synthetic Japanese flying plane, well those things really existed. As long as you do texture and lighting well, nobody is going to complain. If you make something completely imaginary, then not only can they complain about the technical expertise, but they can also say, “Well that would never happen.” But the one nice thing about scifi is that you get credit for it. Audiences know that you’ve manufactured the object out of an imagination, whereas if you add 40 realistic looking airplanes to an airfield, they just assume you rented 40 airplanes.

Q: What is the best effect you’ve ever created?

A: The hardest and most complex shots in films are the ones that are establishing shots. In Total Recall, there’s the sequence when the train comes out and you see all of Mars. All that had to be built as layers of miniatures and look like it was all being shot by the same camera, but it was about 40 different camera elements. The complexity of that shot for its day I don’t think has been matched. But everybody just remembers Arnold’s head popping open.

Q: You worked on James Cameron’s upcoming 3D film Avatar. What can you tell us about it?

A: Before Journey started up, Jim was doing a proof-of-concept which was going to be a short sequence from the script. So I worked on that for about six months, then Journey became a real project so I excused myself from it. I think it’s going to be amazing: The stuff I’ve seen looks like Aliens in terms of the camera work and excitement level, but it’s all going to be synthetic and photorealistic with characters that are not all human. By the time it comes out, I think what will happen is people will have accepted 3D and this will just blow them away. It’s like, “Yeah, the motion picture camera works, now here’s suddenly Lawrence of Arabia.”

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