Epic sci-fi tales never come cheap, with Walt Disney Pictures reportedly spending $250 million on John Carter, the new Martian odyssey set on the mysterious and exotic planet of Barsoom (Mars) and based on a classic novel by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.
“It’s an epic, sci-fi action-adventure with romance, action and political intrigue,” says director Andrew Stanton, who won Oscars® for his work on the Pixar hits WALL-E and Finding Nemo. “In a nutshell, the story follows the adventures of John Carter (Friday Night Lights’ Taylor Kitsch), a disillusioned Civil War veteran who miraculously finds himself on the surface of Mars. In his attempts to try to get back to Earth, he finds a second purpose for himself in life.” Stanton goes on to note that because Burroughs’ story was written 100 years ago, “it became an origin of those kinds of stories in the last century. It was sort of a comic book before there were comic books or an adventure story before it became a whole genre of its own. It was difficult to go back into this book and not look like you were being derivative of everything else because it has been either literally ripped off or used as an inspiration for things for the past 100 years.”
Hiring animation wiz Stanton to helm the huge live-action production was a calculated risk on Disney’s part. But for the director, the transition from animation to live action wasn’t as extreme as he expected. “I knew that the stamina demand would be incredible and that there would be incredibly long days,” admits Stanton, “but the translation from animation to live action has mainly been taking everything that I’m used to doing in about 21?2 to 3 years and concentrating it into 6 months. But it’s not as hard as you think, as the conversations I have with my live-action crew are extremely similar to the ones I have with my team at Pixar. I have a DP at Pixar. I have a costume designer. I have props. I have sets built. The roles are basically the same in each medium; it’s how they execute their jobs that’s different. I don’t work with computers at Pixar. I work with 200 craftsmen who are the best at their job. And it’s really the same with live action. The luxury in live action is that I can have the conversation with all of the crew in the same room, and we can actually see the result on the same day instead of six weeks later.”
To help create the visual style and look of the film, Stanton turned to two key collaborators—experienced DP Dan Mindel, ASC, BSC, whose credits include Mission: Impossible 3 and Domino, and VFX supervisor Peter Chiang, who runs Double Negative, the acclaimed London-based effects house whose credits include Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Parts 1 and 2, Iron Man 2, Inception and the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises.