SDCC 2011: 'The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn' Press Conference with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson

Monday, 25 July 2011 13:59 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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SDCC 2011: 'The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn' Press Conference with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson

Iconic filmmaker Steven Spielberg (Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) made his first ever appearance at Comic-Con International in San Diego on Friday, along with equally impressive director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the upcoming Hobbit films), to discuss their new performance capture 3D film The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn. The movie is based on the beloved comic books created by Belgian artist Georges “Herge” Remi, and is helmed by Spielberg with Jackson producing, based on a script by Steven Moffat (Doctor Who), Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block).

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn also features an excellent cast of actors such as Jamie Bell (Jumper), Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Simon Pegg (Paul), Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz), Toby Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger), Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride), and Daniel Craig (Cowboys & Aliens). The 3D spectacular is adapted from three of Remi’s famous stories including The Crab with the Golden Claw, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s Treasure, while the screenplay depicts Tintin’s (Bell) first encounter with Captain Haddock (Serkis) and the discovery of a clue to the treasure of his ancestor Sir Francis Haddock.

After their standing room only panel in Hall H Friday morning, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson held a special press conference to answer questions about The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, and IAR was lucky enough to attend. All the usual online entertainment reporters were on hand but it felt more like a gathering of the White House press corps preparing to interview the President of the United States than your average feature film press conference. When Mr. Spielberg, and Mr. Jackson entered the room, they did so to a loud round of applause and an immense amount of respect and admiration from the press.

The two Oscar winning directors both began by discussing why they decide to develop The Adventures of Tintin as a motion capture film as apposed to a live-action movie. “What we were trying to do was use both motion capture and traditional animation,” explained Jackson. “Steven and I wanted to be able to walk into this virtual world we created and be able to shoot a live-action movie inside this strange hybrid photo-real world. It wasn’t the photo-real world that excited us it was shooting a movie inside that world.”

“I think five minutes into watching this movie everyone will see that the medium is not the message but the characters, the story and the plot is,” added Spielberg. “When movies generally don’t work is when people begin to pick apart whatever contributed to that and any movie that is working, hopefully how it was made is of no concern and you will only have a good time,” he continued. “It may be a digital era, but it’s still an analog era in terms of telling a good story. There’s nothing of greater importance than the story.”

In the past, motion capture acting has been used to create fantastical creatures or photo real animals like in The Lord of the Rings movies or the upcoming Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but in this film it is being used to create a realistic environment and Spielberg discussed those challenges. “It all comes down to the actor’s looking each other in the eyes and that is where the truth is told. That is where all the drama or the comedy happens. When you see Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot and they’re dressed outlandishly, the truth of those performances is when they are looking at each other so actors just need to act together,” he explained. “They’re just performing characters and I think that is the secret of great acting, you have to bring your imagination to the party. You have to have a great imagination and you have to bring it to the day when you are working.”


When you’re casting and shooting, that’s the most important thing, any great actor knows how to use their eyes and as a filmmaker I love those huge close ups,” Jackson continued. “When I was doing The Lord of the Rings in New Zealand, we built the eyes that we used in a scientific way but with King Kong his eyes told you everything. Then with Avatar the eyes were critical there but with Tintin, our cast had to be as expressive as they would be in any live action film.”

An important character in the Tintin folklore is Professor Calculus and one of the journalists, who is also clearly a big fan of the original source material, asked Spielberg and Jackson specifically if the pivotal character would be appearing in the upcoming film. “He is not,” said Jackson. “Calculus doesn’t make his appearance in this one but if we are lucky enough to make more movies, there are lots of stories in the comic books and I look forward to seeing him in the future,” the producer answered. “I’m just really happy to know that you know who Professor Calculus is,” added Spielberg.

While Spielberg helmed this first film and Jackson was the producer, the director discussed his hope to reverse that process with future sequels. “Peter is scheduled to direct the next film, which does include Professor Calculus and I look forward to working with him just as he worked with me. He supported me in every creative decision I made.”

Spielberg also discussed why he loves the character of Tintin so much. “Tintin is a intrepid, tenacious reporter who often becomes part if the story. I identify with Tintin in the sense that he does not take no for an answer, and that has been the story of my life. This movie I’m making for all of you,” he declared. “Some movies I make for myself, when the subject matter is very sensitive and very personal. But there are other kinds of genre films that I need to make for the audience and Tintin is such a movie.”

Both Spielberg and Jackson were asked to talk about their thoughts on the future of 3D and just how much they think the technology really enhances the cinematic experience. “I’m hoping that 3D gets to the point where people stop noticing, and then ticket prices will drop to the level of 2D. Hopefully the price will come down, which will be fair to the consumer. Not all films should be shot in 3D. I wouldn’t shoot a romantic type film with it,” said Spielberg. “The last great (3D movie) that I saw, which I’ll mention even though I was a part of it, was Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which was the most amazing experience I’ve had since Avatar. People who do it just to commercialize should care how to do it better, and bring collaborators and other directors in who know how to use it, to help teach them because it takes a lot of very careful consideration.”


“Obviously after Avatar it survived for a while, but audiences have realized that there are bad movies in 3D, which are more expensive then the ones in 2D,” continued Jackson. “There’s a natural human response, which has to do with the increased ticket prices. With the right movie it can enhance the experience. It can make a great film really amazing to see but something has to be done about the experience.”

Finally, the two acclaimed directors talked about what they learned from working with each other on this project. “The thing that surprised me is given Steven’s huge body of work and the incredible films that he’s made, I thought Steven would have a kind of a process, and I was looking forward to seeing it,” explained Jackson. “But what I discovered is that Steven walks onto the set and, it’s like the first time he’s walked on to a film set. It’s a childish … and I mean that in a positive way … excitement and enthusiasm that I wasn’t expecting, and its very inspiring.”

“I was surprised at how patient and thoughtful Peter is. He doesn’t let anything rattle him. He’s a problem solver; he likes to look at a challenge from different angles and makes the best choice to solve a problem,” said Spielberg. “We were in a way like two code breakers trying to figure this movie out together. Like two scientists in a lab trying to make something work. No ego, no competition. We’re both on the same page: two Tintin fan-boys trying bring this movie to life.”

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn opens in theaters on December 28th. 

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