The last time I spoke to Joe Letteri, it was hot on the heels of the release of James Cameron's “Avatar,” and we covered a lot of ground. It was a two-part interview, and I had a great time talking to him. He's a brilliant guy, and he's able to explain the landmark work he's been doing with the rest of the amazing team at Weta Digital in a way that feels like it's easy to grasp.
At the recent press day at Crissy Field in San Francisco for the new film “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, I talked to Letteri along with the equally-brilliant Dan Lemmon, and I could have spent hours talking to them about the progress they've made in terms of performance capture and simply making their digital creations fit seamlessly into a physical world.
It seemed particularly fitting that the view of the Golden Gate Bridge behind us looked like something that Weta Digital would have done as a matte painting. Gorgeous, wrapped in fog, as iconic as it gets.
Towards the end of our conversation, I brought up the upcoming work they'll be doing on James Cameron's “Avatar 2,” “Avatar 3,” and “Avatar 3,” as well as Zack Snyder's “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and I asked them about how those filmmakers react when they see something like “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes,” where the technical art has been pushed forward to such stunning degree. I asked if it changes the way those guys approach their upcoming projects, or if it's all just part of a continuity, something they expect as the field progresses.
Letteri told me that all of this is what Cameron wanted in the first place. “What Jim's idea was when we created 'Avatar,' the whole idea of the virtual stage, was really to break down the barrier between live action and digital filmmaking. He thought there's no reason to treat one different from the other, and you should be able to go back and forth between the two.” He explained that “Apes” is really an evolution of that idea. “We can take everything we could only do on 'Avatar' on a stage and take it out on location. And that idea is really just to say, 'Use your imagination.'”
I suspect we'll see plenty of imagination on display when the “Avatar” sequels start rolling out in December of 2016, and when “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” starts throwing punches on May 6, 2016.