There are no less than 25 3-D animated films coming down the cinematic pipeline between now and the end of 2012 — with many more sure to be added to the backlog before then. The first to arrive in theaters following the #1 box-office opening of “How to Train Your Dragon” will be “Shrek Forever After” (May 21), the fourth and final installment of DreamWorks’ loveable green-ogre franchise.
Calling from London where he’s working on the film’s score, director Mike Mitchell spoke with MTV News as part of our weeklong look at the proliferation of 3-D feature films. With just two months to go until “Shrek” hits theaters, Mitchell revealed his movie’s finest 3-D scenes, why DreamWorks is like a “hippie commune” and his lack of faith in films converted to 3-D during post-production.
MTV: Was “Shrek Forever After” always planned as 3-D?
Mike Mitchell: It was actually early in development that we decided we wanted to do it in 3-D. DreamWorks decided all the rest of the films at the studio would be 3-D, so they made “Monster vs. Aliens” and then they made “How to Train Your Dragon.” I lucked out. [DreamWorks chief] Jeffrey [Katzenberg] put us in contact with James Cameron, and we got to see a lot of early footage from “Avatar.” There were also the two films before “Shrek” that were going on at the studio. The DreamWorks studio is really like a big hippie commune. Everyone kind of cross-pollinates and learns from each other. I really got a handle on the 3-D.
MTV: What was it you took away from conversations with Cameron and the “Avatar” folks?
Mitchell: We had a meeting at the Directors Guild with Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Jeffrey Katzenberg. It was just for everyone to get together to talk about 3-D. At that time, I don’t think any theaters had [digital] 3-D. They were just starting to think about putting 3-D into the theaters. That meeting was the first time I thought, “This isn’t just a gimmick. It’s a tool for filmmaking and it feels like it’s here to stay.”
MTV: Is there one scene in particular that you’re really happy with the 3-D, something you think fans should be particularly excited about?
Mitchell: 3-D is really good for these roller-coaster moments, and Shrek is being chased by a thousand witches on broomsticks and it’s like a roller-coaster ride. When we show it to an audience in 3-D, the whole audience just goes “Woo!” when Shrek dives down, and it leaves your heart in your throat. But we also discovered we could use 3-D for storytelling. Our story is like “Shrek” meets “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and so [the question is]: “What’s a world like where Shrek was never born?” There’s a scene when Donkey runs away from him, and he’s left all alone, and what we did was push him into the deep space of the 3-D, and it feels like Shrek is more lonely. You feel the loneliness. There’s another scene when Shrek bursts into his house, and his house doesn’t have doors and windows; it’s just this empty husk. And he’s yelling for his wife and his kids, and he kind of breaks through the wall, and he falls into this dark space and there are shafts of light coming through and you can see the dust in the room. You can almost taste the dust in the room. I’d have to say out of the whole movie, instead of the broom chases and the dragon flying and the dragon breathing fire into the camera, I would say that one shot of Shrek busting into his house and then lifting himself up off the ground and standing up and looking around his empty house is one of my favorite, favorite 3-D moments.
MTV: There are so many ways to use 3-D. There’s the subtle use that Cameron had in “Avatar,” and then I’ve spoken with the director of “Piranha 3-D,” who talked a lot about stuff popping out at you. Where is “Shrek” at in terms of that 3-D spectrum?
Mitchell: Well, here’s the thing. We never pop. We don’t want to take you out of the picture, so nothing ever comes right into the middle of the lens. There’s a way to have stuff pop out where it’s not cheesy and you’re not giggling and you’re not brought out of the film. That being said, we do have tons and tons of 3-D. Sometimes it’s subtle, and sometimes it’s in-your-face, but again we use the storytelling to dictate when that’s happening. I just go back to Shrek on a broomstick being chased by tons of witches. Man, we crank out the 3-D, and it’s a roller-coaster ride, and it looks like he’s floating in the screen right out at you. And all of these witches are coming out towards you, and you see their broomsticks poking out at you, but it’s action-oriented. We don’t want you to notice the broomstick is sticking in your face as a joke. We want it to be part of the action.
MTV: There’s a big debate going on right now about shooting with 3-D cameras versus converting to 3-D in post-production. As a CG-animated film, “Shrek” was authored in the computer in 3-D, right?
Mitchell: Yeah, it’s authored in 3-D, which is a big difference. In animation, I think we can cheat a little more, because if there’s any [flaw], we can go back and fix it anytime and constantly tweak and improve anything. You can always change stuff in animation to a certain point, and that’s what we did with the 3-D.
MTV: So there’s native 3-D and there’s converted 3-D. Do you think there’s a right way and a wrong way to do 3-D?
Mitchell:Yeah, there is. Anytime I’ve been around James Cameron and someone mentions the conversion, he makes a stinky face. He goes, “Ew!” To him, that’s like colorizing a movie. I don’t think 3-D is a gimmick that you slap on. You have to decide how to use it in your storytelling, and it seems like if the director or the writers or the producers aren’t all involved in that process, it doesn’t feel the same. If I do another film, I want it to be authored in 3-D. For live-action films, I guess studios are still considering the risk it takes in filming a movie in 3-D and the cost involved, but it’s something they’re going to figure out pretty soon. I’m not so sure if an audience notices, but I know that people who work in the movies and reviewers are starting to notice the difference between [shooting in 3-D and converting to 3-D].
MTV: Reviews of the 3-D in “Clash of the Titans,” which was quickly converted, haven’t been very positive.
Mitchell: Yeah, it’s rushed. You want to do it at the time that the story’s being told. I’ve been really invested in making “Shrek” for the past three years, and I’ve really invested in the 3-D, so I guess I have gotten kind of snobby about it.
MTV: Now that “Avatar” has done so well, have you and the DreamWorks people high-fived each other and said, “Sweet, we made the right choice”?
Mitchell: I personally make it a rule never to high-five anyone, but there was a giant sigh of relief like, “Yes! Good! Now we’ll have a lot of theaters.” Because I really think you need to see this film in 3-D. There’s a big sigh of relief, because now these theaters are going to have 3-D theaters, and you get to show “Shrek” the way it should be seen. But then the next worry is, “Oh no! Everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon and we’re going to be fighting other 3-D movies for this theater space, right?” So I stay worried constantly. As soon as I celebrate something, I figure out something to worry about.
MTV: Are there plans to re-release the old “Shrek” films in 3-D?
Mitchell: I have no idea. That would certainly go against everything I said about authoring in 3-D.
Do not adjust your glasses! It’s 3-D week at MTV News. All week long, we’re looking at the biggest and boldest upcoming movies set to reach out and grab you with the wonders of 3-D technology. We’ve got exclusive sneak peeks at “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” “Tron Legacy,” “Clash of the Titans” and many more.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Shrek Forever After.”
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