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Space Ships, Robots And Zorgons, Oh My!
To create the film's robots and Zorgons, Favreau called upon multiple Oscar® winner Stan Winston. With more than 40 years of experience and a treasure trove of memorable screen creatures from the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park to the to title character of Edward Scissorhands, Winston claims, "Zathura had everything I always say is most important about any motion picture: First and foremost is a good script. I read the script and loved it. It was a chance to do something special and it was fun family fare. Secondly, is the importance of the director. And Jon Favreau is one of the most imaginative directors I've ever worked with. He's come up with some exciting concepts and ideas. Not only is he a fan of new technology, but also of the kind of work we're known for here at the studio."

Crucial to the success of a film of this scale is mutual understanding and a shared philosophy among all of the participants. The filmmakers, Winston along with the various department heads Jon G. Belyeu (special effects), Joe Bauer (visual effects) and J. Michael Riva (production designer) all shared a similar viewpoint. Everyone agreed that whenever possible, the creatures and other scifi elements should be real. After further discussions and meetings the production outlined specifically which elements would be real, which would be added later using computer generated images (CGI) and which would utilize miniatures.

"We storyboarded a great deal,” remembers Favreau. "We built models. We went back and forth and had meeting after meeting about how each shot in each scene was going to be shot.”

According to Favreau, "We used digital effects here and there to help move the story along and help smooth out the rough edges. But at its core, we wanted the main set pieces to be based in the real world, in a practical environment. It feels more realistic to people of my generation who grew up before digital effects were so pervasive. To me, movies with too many digital effects look a bit like a video game.”

Co-producer Peter Billingsley agrees that the inventiveness of digital effects has its place, but in a limited way. "It's pretty amazing what you can do with CGI,” he explains. "But at the end of the day, you don't always connect with what you're seeing in CGI, because your brain can sometimes register it as fake and the movements don't seem completely real. In this film, anytime there's an explosion, it's real. Anytime something is set on fire, it's really on fire. We've burned things, we've blown things up, we've pulled off roofs and walls and shot at miniatures. Jon has used a very smart combination of old and new technologies to create a very inspired and nostalgic look for the movie.”

"Jon (Favreau) wanted to do as much in camera as we could,” asserts specialeffects supervisor Jon G. Belyeu. "He wanted it up front and personal, so it seemed physically possible. In the real world, things have a real look. In the digital world, if you see it for too long, it doesn't have the saturation, the depth and the quality of what we're doing in camera.”

Adds Winston: "I embrace the (CGI) technology, but I like to use it so that it is magic. I always say that if you can do it live, do it live. When you can't, do it digitally.”

Favreau's vision was consistent throughout, whether it was for live action or any of the film's various other elements. He wanted the film to reflect and pay homage to some of the most innovative and meaningful films and art of the past. "If you look at the robot,” he explains, "It's very derivative of early sci-fi. And the Zorgons remind me a lot of Frank Frazetta's paintings from the John Carter Of Mars serial books. We screened a lot of movies, like Forbidden Planet and other early sci-fi classics.”

Production designer Riva also cites the animated Iron Giant as an in

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