Robert Stromberg

Robert Stromberg

AS: On Alice in Wonderland, how did you overcome the difficulties of the actors mainly working with greenscreen?
RS: I had walls full of artwork every day on the set related to what scene we were shooting. I had a full digital MotionBuilder set with which we could do an instant composite. I had a whole crew of SONY Imageworks guys who had a command center that was feeding in and doing real-time composites. We were tracking camera and everything. That was what I invented on Avatar- we call it Simulcam. We used it again on Alice. But at a certain point Tim actually preferred to just stare at the actors. It was interesting because Jim wanted every detail of the background whereas Tim wanted to focus on the performance.

And the third thing I did was I hired four model builders. We had a miniature set of every scene in the movie. So if there was a question of what was going to be there, Tim could go over to the model with Johnny Depp and say you’re going from here to here. Then you could go to the physical set and you could see a playback with the composite. That was not possible during the times of Skycaptain and the World of Tomorrow and I think the performances are better now because of things like that.

AS: Do you plan on continuing to do production design alongside visual effects?
RS: For me personally there will be more design and more matte painting. I like to mix it up. I don’t want to be just one thing. I just find it’s an exciting time and with my knowledge of what’s possible I’m also trying to push into directing.

AS: Do you have any advice to people just starting out in this business?
RS: You want to be someone who says, I did this, this and this, what do you think? As opposed to the person who says, Is this what you mean? It’s a huge difference because it’s the difference between a free thinker and someone who’s just getting by. Someone who’s contributing and someone who’s just keeping pace.

There’s also an old saying that I always stick to, Luck is being prepared when opportunity arrives. That’s kind of what it is. Also, you can generate your own opportunity by not being overly aggressive, but still by pushing.

AS: The people you want on your team are–
RS: Innovative and pushing the envelope even further out. Because we’re still in the infant stages of all this digital technology. Even after doing what we’ve done, it’s still early on. We’re just really less than twenty years deep into this. If we can do Avatar today just think what we can do fifty years from now. And it’s just increasing exponentially. There’s the success of Avatar and Alice in Wonderland’s box office is through the roof. I honestly feel Avatar changed the game -it’ll be that spike in film history like Star Wars was. That’s the first spike of many coming in the next twenty years. So I’m excited.

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About the Interviewer

Tom Lisowski is a production designer who has designed swamp mazes shot in China, crumbling cliffs in Utah, future arenas in South Central, dilapidated tenements and twisted laboratories under luxurious mansions... William Anthony is a Los Angeles-based commercial and editorial photographer specializing in portraiture, lifestyle and documentary imagery... Guest photographer Nelson Cragg is an award-winning cinematographer who shoots feature films, television, and commercial projects. Contact ArtStars: tom@artstars.us