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HUGO

Filming Hugo's World In 3D
Martin Scorsese is not shy about professing his affection for 3D filmmaking, having spent his formative years attending the cinema at the same time that 3D was being utilized for films across every genre. He says, "It was 1953, and the first one I saw was ‘House of Wax,' directed by André de Toth—it's probably the best 3D film ever made.”

It was, however, a film released the following year that Scorsese cites as having a truly lasting effect on the argument for a ‘smart use' of 3D in service to the story. He offers, "Alfred Hitchcock's use of 3D in ‘Dial M for Murder' was really intelligent. Rather than as an effect, it deals with the story, and it utilizes space as an element in the narrative. What I discovered working in 3D is that it enhances the actor, like watching a sculpture that moves. It's no longer flat. With the right performances and the right moves, it becomes a mixture of theater and film, but different from both. That is something that has always been exciting to me…I've always dreamed about doing a film in 3D.”

As part of a primer in 3D filmmaking, crew members were shown both "House of Wax” and "Dial M for Murder.” For Scorsese's cinematographer, Robert Richardson, it was also the first time working in the format. Per the director/producer: "Bob's a wonderful artist, and he had never done 3D, so we were always pushing each other. We wanted to try it, and so we were both discovering more about it as we went along.

"Probably the first images I saw in my head when I began working on ‘Hugo,'" continues Scorsese, "were images of Hugo running and looking over his shoulder, and there was this longing in his eyes. Faces are given a special intimacy with 3D. We see people in a different way. They are closer to us. I felt that 3D would help create a stronger bond between the audience and the characters.”

Robert Richardson states, "'Hugo' provided an unparalleled challenge. My hope was to evoke the romance of Paris in the 1930's and yet not divorce the present. French cinema has always had a special place in my heart and with the vast potential of 3D, I hoped to sample the magic with which Melies created his body of work.”

To help with the challenges of filming in an added dimension, 3D stereographer Demetri Portelli was hired. During shooting, he could always be found working from a special monitor, using a remote control to adjust each camera's 'eye' on the 3D rig. Portelli elaborates, "3D enhances the viewing experience. It creates a physical world closer to reality than ever before, intensifying the audience's involvement in the story.”

For the scene where Hugo and Isabelle venture to the library, location filming took place at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève. Richardson had prepared lighting cranes outside the windows to simulate sunshine, but when it was time to film, the sun came cascading into the voluminous library, one window at a time. Portelli describes, "Some atmosphere was added with a white smoke, so we could define the rays of light. On my 3D screen, they looked like solid beams of platinum. In my experience this can only be achieved by shooting in 3D. Filming native 3D—capturing 3D on set with a motorized rig—I can move each camera's lens around an object from two different positions, like the eyes in your head ‘see' from different angles. This process enables us to build objects with volume and gives all the images in the film a wonderful physical tangibility.”

The air of the train station received similar treatment—to give viewers the impression of the age and feel of the place. ‘Dust' was created from tiny bits of goose down, and dry ice ‘smoke' was also added.

"Hugo” was also the 3D maiden voyage of the film's editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, who felt the format a rich addition to the project. She says, "Scorsese's and Richardson's use of 3D in ‘Hugo' seems to embrace the actors. It has a powerful effect on the emotion in the film."

But "Hugo” is about more than an adventurous boy on a hopeful mission—it is also about the discovery and reaffirmation of a true artist of early cinema. In flashback, audiences are shown the entire arc of Méliès' career…from magician to filmmaker and then, shopkeeper. Scenes of him actually filming are key. As he is credited with more than 500 films, Scorsese faced the challenge of winnowing down such a lengthy list of movie titles to just a handful. Finally, he chose the one for the full ‘behind-the-scenes' treatment—his 1903 "Kingdom of the Fairies.” Per Scorsese: "I wanted to show three or four scenes from it, but actually I wound up with one that takes place under the sea. We thought that would be interesting to show how he accomplished his underwater sequences—how simple it is, and how charming.”

Méliès' original glass studio was rebuilt on the backlot of Shepperton Studios in England, constructed from existing designs, measurements and photos of the original building. Cinémathèque Française provided Méliès' diagram for filming ‘underwater'—Scorsese's team could re-create the placement of the fish tank and the camera in order to reproduce Méliès' effect.

Visual effects supervisor Rob Legato was charged with figuring out how to achieve the litany of filmic effects Méliès first created using only the available tools and techniques of the time. Legato offers, "This was a magic project, having the opportunity to go back to the very beginnings of the film business with someone like Marty at the helm. To a large degree, what I do in my profession is visual effects, and here is essentially the ‘father of visual effects.' He created this in-camera trickery and had such love for the art form—it's so much a part of this movie.”

Scorsese also features more of Méliès' work as "films within the film,” such as "A Thousand and One Nights,” which features a group of dancing skeletons that appear to vanish when confronted by sword-wielding adventurers. The filmmaker himself appeared as Satan in multiple projects, and Kingsley appears in perfect imitation, down to the costume and the ‘disappearance' through a trap door in the floor. Other scenes are representative of several similar ones from multiple films, and the dragon is one such multi-sourced creation.

Whenever any Méliès film was ‘directly' quoted onscreen by Scorsese, hours of work went in to authentically reproducing every aspect of the film—from the appearances of the performers and their movements, to the costumes, lighting and effects. Footage was re-created frame by frame, in painstaking detail. Legato confirms, "I can't describe enough the lengths to which we went to create the spirit of Méliès in his studio—the costumes, the makeup, the lighting, the assistant directors working out the blocking and expressions of the actors exactly as they looked in the original films. It's as accurate as we could get matching the clips, beat for beat.”

Authenticity and accuracy were indeed the mandate, and filmmakers went above and beyond to keep the vision ‘true'…for example, the period seamstresses shown working on Georges Méliès' films are actually the crew seamstresses from "Hugo.” Scorsese confesses, "It was an enormous undertaking, and we didn't fully realize how challenging it would be. But it was enjoyable. We really felt, when we were working in the Méliès Studio, that it was a celebration for all of us and an honor to be making our versions of these lasting works.”

While Kingsley was duly inspired from watching all of the existing films of Méliès, he found a more direct character inspiration much nearer to hand: "I watched all of Georges' films, but it's not a question for me of preparation and research

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