THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN
Designing The World Of Tintin
Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson share not only fertile imaginations but
also a drive to venture into frontier realms. From extra-terrestrials to Middle
Earth, they have forged unforgettable characters and worlds so breathtakingly
original they could never have been experienced outside a movie theatre. And
yet, neither had ever applied their skills and artistry to a 3D animated motion
Spielberg and Jackson's fealty was first and foremost to the Tintin legacy -
and their shared passion for Herge's transporting drawing style inspired the
visual design into a fully animated CG film from day one.
Early on, while the script was still being written, the art department and
animation team were set up, and collaborators on both sides of the Pacific began
brainstorming ideas for the quirk-filled characters and spicy settings for
Tintin. One of the first big decisions they made, one that would inform
everything that followed, was to keep the period and texture of the story
unmoored in time - set in a kind of eternal noir universe, with dark shadows
lurking around every corner.
"These stories could take place in the `30s, the `50s, the `80s or now,"
notes Spielberg, "and that's part of their beauty that we wanted to preserve.
What we didn't want in our movie were cell phones, television sets or modern
automobiles. Our design cues came first from Herge, and not from any presumed
period or setting."
Adds Jackson: "We wanted the film to have the retro, edgy feel of a crime
drama. That's not Tintin himself, but the world that Tintin lives in. There's so
much suspense in the story that we felt we could incorporate people with trench
coats, hats down in the rain, street lights casting shadows on the wet pavement
-- that's the world we've created for our Tintin to live in."
Next, the artists, designers and animators started envisioning what Herge's
art would look like if it existed in three-dimensional space. Despite having
been drawn decades ago, the artwork lent itself organically to this, says
Richard Taylor, Weta Workshop's co-owner and the film's design and effects
supervisor. "When you look at Herge's black pen drawings with watercolor washed
in flat on the page, all you have to do is close your eyes and begin to imagine
the world of Tintin. You can't help but see it in 3D," he muses.
It worked so well in part because Herge had left behind the rules of pure
reality when drawing Tintin's escapades in the first place. "The lines of what
Herge drew were not necessarily accurate," says senior visual effects
supervisor Joe Letteri. "He wasn't trying to draft exactly what he saw - and we
wanted to maintain those exaggerated qualities in the same way that he did. A
big part of the design study was to look at what he did, but then to imagine it
from different points of view. And that allowed us to start building up a
vocabulary of how you would construct his worlds in a wholly 3D animated realm."
To bring Herge's world alive so audiences can sense the very wind whipping
through the virtual air, the art department researched imagery and locations
that might represent the various environments where Tintin, Snowy and Haddock
find themselves, from the boiling high seas of a stormy ocean to the shifting
pink sands of the Sahara Desert. A favorite of the designers was Herge's
imaginary city of Bagghar, Morocco, a seductive realm of Far East intrigue.
"We looked at many different styles of North African structures, patterns and
archways," says conceptual designer Rebekah Tisch, "and were able to use
fascinating shapes and colors to create Bagghar. It left me with a real passion
to go see the world - and I hope that people watching Tintin will feel that same
fusion of excitement and color."
On an invitation from Fanny and Nick Rodwell of the Herge Foundation, lead
conceptual designer Chris Guise traveled to Brussels to conduct close-up
research into Tintin's native locale, soaking in the atmosphere that led to the
creation of his apartment at 26 Labrador Road and the silhouette of Captain
Haddocks's country home at Marlinspike Hall.
"Chris immersed himself completely in Herge's world and looked for his early
inspirational images, then came back just bubbling over with a fully rounded
sense of place," remarks Richard Taylor.
Digital model supervisor Marco Revelant further added to the process with his
passion for model ships, which are so key to the adventure. Revelant traveled to
the Musee de la Marin in Paris to visually dissect the ships on which Herge
based the Brilliant and The Unicorn. "Herge's designs are a bit more elaborate
yet reduced in size," says Revelant. "We applied those same adjustments to
our digital models."
Visual effects art director Kim Sinclair looked high and low for authentic
vehicles, such as the 1937 Ford seen in the books that were then scanned into
the computer to be re-created digitally. "Herge did some meticulous research
into the vehicles, like the Ford and the sea plane, and we were able to know the
model and year, and even find the original manufacturer's color charts," he
But the most critical design element of all, from the start, was the
characters themselves. From Haddock's humor-spiked poses to the sky-ward texture
of Tintin's hair to the distinguishing shapes of detectives Thompson and
Thomson's moustaches to the emotions crossing Snowy's snout, every nuance was
debated, imagined, re-imagined and then fine-tuned during their intensive
"We looked at ever character from every angle to make sure they had the Herge
facsimile," Spielberg recounts. "We were never afraid to say, `Well, that
particular mold of Captain Haddock's face doesn't look like we're on key with
the Herge art.'"
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