The plastic pioneer
Director Robert Zemeckis explains how he created the unique toy-based look and feel of Welcome To Marwen
FROM BACK TO The Future to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump to The Polar Express, filmmaker Robert Zemeckis has always blazed trails, creating innovative visuals to tell magical stories. Welcome To Marwen promises to continue the tradition, dramatising the true story of Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell), who built an alternate universe of World War II dolls in his backyard to deal with the trauma of being violently assaulted. Here, Zemeckis tells us how he brought it all to life.
“I came across the Marwencol documentary in 2010. It speaks to the healing power of art and imagination. I think that’s the whole point of art, to make sense of emotionally complex things. Mark Hogancamp spoke about these elaborate stories that took place in his mind between the photographs he took, and I thought, ‘You can only do that as a movie.’ That’s what really excited me.”
“Before Universal greenlit the movie, they gave us money to shoot a test where Steve Carell performs as the doll, as proof of concept. Atomic Fiction, the [VFX] guys I use, developed this process. And when we all saw how spectacular this system was gonna be, they greenlit the movie. It’s enhanced performance capture. In terms of bringing virtual characters to life, it’s a step beyond what anyone has done before.”
“The only problems you have are how much things are gonna cost and how long it’s gonna take. But how we were gonna do it, what was the final product gonna look like? I had a good idea of how I was supposed to do this. From a visual effects standpoint, everything I’ve done in my career prepared me for this movie.”
“They’re supposed to look like dolls, but evoke human emotion. That was the balance. It’s not like we’re trying to create humans, it’s something in-between. I never decide to make movies because of a technique, it’s always story first. But that goes hand in glove with technique. The spectacle of movies is rooted in this idea of seeing something you can’t see in real life.”
“The film is realised infinitely better than I thought it was gonna be when I first decided to make it, because I’ve had eight years of technological advancement. Human emotion has been completely injected into these dolls. You can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s physical. It’s a technique I’m very proud of.”
WELCOME TO MARWEN IS IN CINEMAS FROM 1 JANUARY 2019
Top: Toy story: Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) and Nicol (Leslie Mann) come to life in the form of dolls. Above: Meanwhile, the human Hogancamp (Carell) photographs some dolls from his collection.
Empire spoke to Robert Zemeckis on 24 August, during his final throes of post-production.