Steven Spielberg on ‘Tintin’: ‘It made me more like a painter than ever before’

Feb. 19, 2010 | 3:54 p.m.

Rachel Abramowitz had a front-page story in the Los Angeles Times this week on the angst among Hollywood actors as they watch more major filmmakers embrace performance-capture techniques and animation approaches.  Here’s a great follow-up as she talks to Steven Spielberg about the making of “Tintin.”

   Steven Spielberg says there was only one reason to make his new “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” with the cutting-edge performance-capture technology that James Cameron used on “Avatar.

“It was based on my respect for the art of Hergé and wanting to get as close to that art as I could,” says the director, referring to Tintin’s author-illustrator, who created the international blockbuster graphic novel series (200 million copies in print) starring intrepid cub reporter Tintin, and his irrepressible canine companion, Snowy, as they venture through the pre-WWII world.

 “Hergé wrote about fictional people in a real world, not in a fantasy universe,” Spielberg said. “It was the real universe he was working with, and he used National Geographic to research his adventure stories. It just seemed that live action would be too stylized for an audience to relate to. You’d have to have costumes that are a little outrageous when you see actors wearing them. The costumes seem to fit better when the medium chosen is a digital one.”

“Tintin” stars Jamie Bell (“King Kong”) as the title character, Andy Serkis (Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy) as his buddy Captain Haddock, and Daniel Craig (Bond, James Bond)  as the evil Red Rackham. Produced by Peter Jackson, with the animation done by Jackson’s Weta wizards, the film is due in theaters in 2011. 

Like Cameron, Spielberg shot the actors on a special performance-capture stage. The performers donned lycra suits, covered in reflective markers, and their every movement was tracked by more than 100 cameras. They also wore a head-rigging with a camera near their jawline that recorded intensely detailed data of their faces — enough detail to avoid the “dead eye” faces that had an unsettling lack of movement or emotion in many previous motion-capture films. Ultimately, all the camera data was fed into a computer to create a 3-D replica of the actor. The digital document of the actor and the performance is so all-enveloping that the director, in this case Spielberg, can go back and change the “camera” movement and orientation long after the actor has left the set.   


For the director of such films as “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List,” the new experience was transporting. 

“I just adored it,“ he says. “It made me more like a painter than ever before. I got a chance to do so many jobs that I don’t often do as a director. You get to paint with this device that puts you into a virtual world, and allows you to make your shots and block all the actors with a small hand-held device only three times as large as an Xbox game controller.” 

With that small monitor, Spielberg could look down and watch what the actors were doing — in real time — on a screen that showed them in the film universe. Working on the motion-capture stage — which is called the volume — Spielberg was routinely dazzled by the liberating artistic value of the new science. 

 “When Captain Haddock runs across the volume, the cameras capture all the information of his physical and emotional moves,” the director said. “So as Andy Serkis runs across the stage, there’s Captain Haddock on the monitor, in full anime, running along the streets of Belgium. Not only are the actors represented in real time, they enter into a three-dimensional world.”

So though Jamie Bell will be digitally made to look exactly like Hergé’s classic renderings of Tintin, “it will be Jamie Bell’s complete physical and emotional performance,” Spielberg said. He added: “If Tintin makes you feel something, it’s Jamie Bell’s soul you’re sensing.”

— Rachel Abramowitz


John Dykstra

John Dykstra talks about his fav scene in “Star Wars”

Cameron as cinema prophet: ‘Moving a mountain is nothing’

“Wonderland” left cinematographer feeling green

Ken Ralston’s favorite effects enterprise? It wasn’t “Trek”

Stan Winston and the tricky business of Legacy


Photos: Steven Spielberg in 2008. Credit: Bebeto Matthews / Associated Press. John Dykstra on the set of “Star Wars,” photo courtesy of Dykstra. Tintin image: Casterman/Le Lombard


26 Responses to Steven Spielberg on ‘Tintin’: ‘It made me more like a painter than ever before’

  1. Jesse M says:

    It's going to be interested to see how this shifts industry focus away from independent features and toward studio blockbusters. If all respectable movie-making is displaced out of the live set/studio production and into the virtual set, seen on a monitor by a director, then we'll find that wealthy studios again have a monopoly on the leading filmmaking technology.
    Then again, don't forget that even though the directors can see the actors within the scene, the actors themselves only see green screens and markers. I'm sure there will always be some irreducible value in having an actor who can actually interact with the set, and fully immerse themselves in the world of the film and the character.

  2. Simon Doyle says:

    Although it’s a minor point, Tintin isn’t a character who exists in a “pre-WW II” world at all – his world was the world of “today” (when ever the books came out). Some of that obviously was pre-war, but only a part, and Hergé was very keen to show him in a “modern” setting: so the first book is 1929 in character, politics and thought, but the last is definitively in the South America of the seventies.
    While there is a certain charm now in the books as period pieces, it would be all too easy to set the characters in the aspic of a never-intended faux-old fashioned time-frame, and miss the dynamic which runs through all the books of Tintin being of a generation which can break the boundaries of their surroundings and make their way round the world (and indeed into space), precisely because they have the technology and advances to do so.
    It would be even more ironic if this was done using cutting-edge film techniques, which themselves have yet to show to us that they can recreate the world of Hergé (especially as they will make a 3D world out of art which is specifically and stylistically defiantly flat).

  3. GFT says:

    as I always say, STEVEN SPIELBERG is the BEST DIRECTOR working in HOLLYWOOD today . . . close to 40 YEARS of OUTSTANDING involvement in quality films!!!!
    concerning painting and film: JAMES CAMERON really "OPENED THE DOORS of 21st CENTURY PERCEPTION"
    too bad JIM MORRISON (and THE DOORS) aren't still around.
    DOORS OF PERCEPTION . . . dig it dude.
    come visit me:

  4. Ken says:

    I never understood the reasoning behind the production of "TinTin." Why would a film based on caricatured line drawings be utilized with 3D performance capture? Why not make the film in traditional 2D animation, the way it was originally conceived? Is it because the filmmakers are jumping the mo-cap bandwagon? Or is it becauase 2D animation is "outdated"?
    If this were a Zemeckis film (who invented performance capture and coined the phrase)with no connections with Peter Jackson or Spielberg, I suspect there would be twice as many haters as there are currently.

  5. Flashfilms says:

    There have been live-action and cel animation adaptations of Tintin before, and certainly the cel animation was the more successful of the two. But I'd disagree with Mr. Doyle's observation, above, that the original Tintin artwork was 'specifically and stylistically defiantly flat.'
    I think Hergé's artwork is well suited to 3D digital animation because his line drawings, in fact, drew on many three-dimensional disciplines. There was an interesting Tintin exhibition that toured museums a few years ago and showed the little models Georges Remi used to build as reference for his drawings — he clearly had an architectural eye and envisioned his characters and environments in great detail, with photo-real perspectives. As long as Spielberg's animators can capture the feeling of the hand-drawn line-art in the way they render the imagery — as Pixar did quite well in "The Incredibles" and "Up" — I think digital animation could be an interesting interpretation.
    Weta Digital has certainly done some amazing work before, with Gollum and the Na'vi. I'm looking forward to their interpretation of Tintin.

  6. Nix says:

    Reacting to Jesse M: 1 – since it is clear that independent features are not necessarily good, or studio pictures necessarily bad, your worry is arbitrary. You need not be reminded how many excellent movies were made under the old studio system.
    2 – actors perform with minimum sets and vague suggestions of costumes in an utterly artificial environment all the time: the theatrical stage. They get by.

  7. Joanna says:


    So though Jamie Bell will be digitally made to look exactly like Hergé’s classic renderings of Tintin, “it will be Jamie Bell’s complete physical and emotional performance,” Spielberg said. He added: “If Tintin makes you feel something, it’s Jamie Bell’s soul you’re sensing.”

    i love that.

  8. inge says:

    I look forward to see the movie in Indonesia. I like Tintin and Snowy/Milo.

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  11. […] or an equivalent, Abrams said. Abrams visited Spielberg almost weekly on the Los Angeles set of his upcoming film, “Tintin,” and the pair debated the best way to “find a big audience,” as Spielberg said, […]

  12. […] or an equivalent, Abrams said. Abrams visited Spielberg almost weekly on the Los Angeles set of his upcoming film, “Tintin,” and the pair debated the best way to “find a big audience,” as Spielberg said, […]

  13. […] or an equivalent, Abrams said. Abrams visited Spielberg roughly weekly on a Los Angeles set of his arriving film, “Tintin,” and a span debated a best approach to “find a large audience,” as Spielberg […]

  14. […] “Die Entscheidung basiert auf meinem Respekt gegenüber der Kunst von Hergé und dem Willen, möglichst nahe an seine Kunst heranzukommen. Hergé schrieb über fiktive Menschen in einer realen Welt, nicht in einem Fantasy-Universum. Er arbeitete mit dem realen Universum und er benutzte National Geographic für die Recherche seiner Abenteuer-Geschichten. Es schien mir ganz einfach, dass Realfilm schlussendlich fürs Publikum zu stilisiert wirken würde. Man hätte Kostüme machen müssen, die an den Schauspielern etwas lächerlich gewirkt hätten. Die Kostüme passen besser, wenn das Medium ein digitales ist.” – Quelle […]

  15. Farsighted99 says:

    Steven Moffat, who writes and showruns Doctor Who and Sherlock for the BBC, wrote the original screenplay for TinTin and even though others have had their hands in it since he left to go work on Dotor Who, you will be looking at his work. He's a wonderful writer and a lot of the success of this film will truly be due to him. You can see his work even in the previews… Moffat's amazing. Spielberg may be more like a painter, but only because of Steven Moffat's brilliant script.

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  18. Ian Rosen says:

    Sorry but I think the 3D performance capture looks so fake that I worry it will ruin the Tintin movie. I can appreciate what Spielberg is trying to do, but I think live action is the way to go on this. Better a "stylized" live action method, than a distractingly phony-looking performance capture. This was the problem with Speed Racer, Sin City, and all the Robert Zemekis movies where he tried this out. Tintin is such a classic, timeless series. I wish they'd just shoot it in real-life, try to make it colorful and dynamic and not monkey around with it.

  19. […] d’une interview pour le Los Angeles times , Steven Spielberg commenta son choix . « Hergé a écrit et créé des personnages de fiction […]

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