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G.I. Joe movie sequel goes 3-D

It took one year and a team of 700 to do the job. SHERWIN LOH talks to the man behind the massive effort
The Straits Times - April 3, 2013
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G.I. Joe movie sequel goes 3-D

He did not direct the original movie, but director Jon M. Chu got to helm its upcoming sequel, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, twice.

First, he directed its filming, which was completed in regular 2-D last year. Then he was involved again when Paramount Pictures decided to release the movie in 3-D, and the film was reworked manually, frame by frame, to convert it into the stereoscopic format, using a process also known in Hollywood as dimensionalising.

Paramount delayed the release from last July to this month.

Instead of sitting back and relying primarily on automated software for the conversion process, the 33-year-old, who made his name with dance movies such as Step Up 2: The Streets (2008) and Step Up 3D (2010), had a team of more than 700 work on each frame of film.

Explaining the year-long conversion process, he said: "There are different phases to dimensionalising a scene. We had teams and teams of artists rotoscoping it. They had to literally cut out every single shape in each frame, at 24 frames per second, for the whole movie. These aren't machines doing it."

The team then added depth to each frame, which Mr Chu oversaw and adjusted accordingly.

The next step was filling in all the blank spaces left by the cut-outs.

"We painted in all the gaps that we cut out and they made several versions of that. We put it into a movie, and saw how each scene balanced the others out."

After the movie was put together, the team started colouring it.

"We then adjusted those colours and overall depth. Basically, the whole movie became a special effect at that point, because we had to cut out every scene."

But he enjoyed every moment of the process, he said, because it was reminiscent of his childhood, when he played with his G.I. Joe figurines in the playground, pitting the forces of good against the Cobra terrorists.

It also gave him the chance to get things right.

"When I signed on, I thought it was for 3-D, but the timing was off. We had certain resources but there was no time to shoot in 3-D so we said, let's make the best movie first."

He acknowledged that as recently as three years ago, the dimensionalising process did not give very good results, but pointed to more recent results that showed just how much the technology has improved.

"If you look at Thor, Captain America and The Avengers, they shot some parts in 3-D and dimensionalised other parts, which resulted in different textures for sure, and we had to massage what each texture was."

Having gone through the experience, he now thinks that hybrid 3-D productions provide the best solution for filmmakers, because it gives the director control of more stereoscopic elements.

"If that foreground is bothering me, we can now control it, whereas if I had shot in 3-D, I would not be able to change the depth or the relationship between objects once it had been shot in that way."

Now that he has mastered the technical elements, his next task, if he should make another G.I. Joe sequel, would be to iron out the kinks for his favourite ninja couple, Scarlett and Snake Eyes.

The director of the first movie paired Scarlett with a character other than the popular ninja assassin.

"As of right now, it is too complicated. She had a romance with a different character that was not in the storyline that I knew. Hopefully, we will get into the Scarlett story one day."

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