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Reimagining 2-D In 3D
Although the digital process plays a major role in generating the film, Zemeckis notes that traditional filmmaking still informs the art and provides its structure. "There's cinematic feel to it because I do move the camera the way I would in a normal two-dimensional movie. We actually operate every final camera with human hands, director of photographer Robert Presley's the camera operator. When we finally get the shot down the way we wanted it, we'd hook a remote camera head system to the computers and he actually moves the digital cameras with his hands,” Zemeckis notes.

That cinematic sensibility ultimately lends a realistic look to the film, as Zemeckis explains: "If you watch a lot of the cartoons that are made today, the cameras are just hooked to the characters; where the character moves, ZIP, the camera is right there. It doesn't have any sort of elegance to it. It's just like a click. I call it click and drag camera. Whereas, when you see a movie, the audience isn't aware of it but the camera is always slightly behind the subject, it always moves a little bit and is somewhat late. It follows the actor, which makes you feel comfortable because you are not ahead of the action. That can make a viewer feel jittery and nervous. Ideally, the audience feels like a voyeur enjoying the scene as it plays out and those few frames of lag puts the audience in that comfort zone. That's another reason we need a person to operate that camera. If it was all computerized, there would be no reason for it to be late, it's a computer program that can hit within a millisecond. With the human hand-eye coordination, you get that little bit of lag, that slight imperfection that reads as real.”

This ephemeral je ne sais quoi that describes filmmaking, of course, is a foreign language to the performance capture folks, like the layout team that assembles the shots in the computer. Indeed, they have their own arcane lexicon, fondly called The Mocabulary.

"I learned on ‘Beowulf' that they come from a different discipline and have a different terminology, so we all had to get on the same page. I use a lot of slang that comes from making movies for 25 years. I'd say something like, ‘We'll slide the camera over' or ‘Drop it down,' or ‘We'll hinge it to the right,' stuff like that. And they would look at me blankly. So we brought them all out to the parking lot one day during lunch and basically gave them a lesson in 2-D camera operation, and what we call different shots, all the slang terms. We showed them techniques that we might take for granted, like if we're doing a dolly shot to the right, you have to also pan back to the left to keep the subject in the frame. Ultimately, we spoke the same language,” Zemeckis says.

Traditional filmmaking disciplines, like costumes and production design, while not utilized the same way as they would be in a conventional film, also called for some innovative changes. According to producer Starkey, "when I first started doing films of this nature, I quickly recognized that my foundation was in traditional filmmaking.

Whether it be costumes or production design, I felt much more comfortable doing that in the real world and then bringing it into the computer rather than inventing it in the computer. So, what happens is that we design the movie very much like we would a traditional film and then it gets built in the computer at Imageworks. The complicated aspect on ‘Polar Express' was figuring out, well, how do we then take that information and bring it back to the stage for our performers? So we did the research and development and set up an elaborate system that now seems like an everyday thing. The same thing happens with costume design. We hire our costume designer, Gabriella Pescucci, to create the wardrobe and end up building every c

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