Cinescape - march 1999 - Three Questions

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3 Questions With Chris Roberts

Believe it or not, you actually might have a reason to stick around for the feature after you're done watching the new Star Wars trailer this month. That's because 20th Century Fox most likely will tie the Episode One preview to prints of Wing Commander, a sci-fi actioner starring Freddie Prinze Jr. that's based on the best-selling computer game series. The game was the brainchild of British-born designer Chris Roberts, who also was given the opportunity to direct the relatively low-budget $27 million film. CINESCAPE recently caught up with Roberts to ask what moviegoers can expect from the film:

Q: How would you describe Wing Commander?

For me, it's sort of like a classic, nautical World War II movie, taking elements of Das Boot, or Tora! Tora! Tora! and sort of updating it and putting it in a science-fiction universe. It's sort of a World War II movie with a sci-fi spin.

Q: Why did you want to give it that World War II-feel?

The original game was sort of based on the war of the Pacific, but it was put in space because putting it in space is more fun. No one can say, 'No that's not the way the plane flies.' In the future you get to create things and take all the good bits and not worry about all the bad bits. That was the original inspiration for the game. But I'm a huge fan of World War II movies anyway and I thought it would be really great to take that concept onto the screen. So in the actual design of the picture, when you're on the ships or you're seeing the fighters flying around they're meant to be very evocative of submarines or World War II battleships or fighters. In the future that's probably not what space ships are going to look like but it was a definite style we wanted to go with to try to set the movie apart from other things like Star Wars. Obviously its a bit difficult to compete with that movie since it's the grandaddy of them all.

Q: You scored a bit of a coup by casting Freddie Prinze Jr. and Matthew Lillard as your leads, because they just had a hit with She's All That. Were they familiar with the game?

Oh, yeah. Freddie is a game player and Matt plays a fair amount of games as well, so that aspect made it a lot of fun.

3 Questions With Visual Effects Supervisor Chris Brown

CINESCAPE: How did you get around the budget restrictions to capture the look you wanted?

Brown: With a space movie there is a temptation to do a lot of model photography because its always been done that way. But we don't have resources to do what Industrial Light & Magic does, so you try to make the best of what you have. We had eight months and a little over $5 million. Because the budget on Wing Commander was so tight, it was a great opportunity to go strictly CG. The amount of flexibility you have in designing the shots and the dynamic you can put into shots because of the opportunity to fly the aircraft in any which way you want makes a big difference.

CINESCAPE: Can you describe how that flexibility makes a difference? What would be something the audience might notice?

Brown: There's a large battle sequence that probably has about 15 spacecraft doing some really dynamic dogfight [maneuvers] that I know we would not have been able to create on a model stage only with models--we would have added in CG aircraft to enhance it. We were able to push how close we get to a digital model and also how close we can run along the side of that model. We could also show the enemy aircraft diving and taking hits at it and having explosions go off right in your face.

CINESCAPE: Sounds exciting.

Brown: What we were able to do was really build this sequence based on true aerial photography because we could create our own background plates. Then we could fly the digital models in any [configuration] we want. It was a great opportunity to push the limit on the look of everything