With the film now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital HD everywhere, Paramount Home Media Distribution recently granted me an exclusive opportunity to sit down with the film’s technical supervisor Ben Gervais and talk all things Gemini Man, including how they used cutting edge technology to create Junior and thrust him into high octane action sequences against his older self, the present and future of 120fps films, what film Ang Lee may be tackling next and a whole lot more.
ROHAN:Just to inform our readers, could you just briefly describe your responsibilities on the film? .
BEN GERVAIS: Sure, My job as the technical supervisor is to oversee all of the sort of high technology elements of the movie. So, from everything, from the cameras that we used to photograph the movie to working with them and delivering special effects to WETA for them to make Junior to the post-production workflow and then finally, even exhibiting the movie in high-frame rate theaters that we showed the movie in.
ROHAN: I really wanted to see the movie in 120fps, but unfortunately there weren’t any theaters playing the movie in 120fps near me, so I only just saw the movie this past weekend on 4K, where it’s been adjusted to 60fps, which I thought still worked really well and made the action look and feel very next-level.
What sequence was the most difficult sequence to realize between the motorcycle chase to the catacombs fight or the explosive finale?
BEN: From a shooting point of view, it was stuff like that motorcycle sequence. There’s that one super long shot from behind Will on the motorcycle where we go down a bunch of alleys and make a bunch of turns, all in one shot. That shot by itselftook me several months to plan, how and where I put cameras – the special cameras on the motorcycle – make it all wireless, have him be able to do the turns that he was doing and pull focus and do things like that.
So, the motorcycle chase was definitely the most intense, especially in terms of the technical act of shooting the movie.Obviously, there’s the whole CGI element that plays into different parts of the movie as well, which is what I was more responsible for, but that’s just a monumental challenge, making the Junior character and putting him into the action stuff is actually easier for the WETA people. It’s the drama, where you’re looking at the human face, that was really the map they had to plot.
ROHAN:It’s a really awesome sequence and surprisingly longer than I was expecting because it starts in the bungalow before heading to the rooftops and finally making it out on the street.
When creating Junior – Will Smith’s one of those rare actors where you can go back and look at his actual work from twenty-five years ago – did you look to back to stuff like Fresh Prince, Bad Boys, Independence Day, Men in Black or something else as a reference point when creating Junior. Or did you just use how he looks today and work backwards from there?
BEN: The hero reference for Junior was really Six Degrees of Separation and Bad Boys, that sort of era with Will and then, we pulled every piece of reference we could. The visual effects team spent a lot of time building Junior, they went to every studio Will had worked with ad pulled as much reference that they could, they dug up almost every press photograph they could find from that time period, they really dug into it, so they had this giant library that the artists canrefer to whenever they were working on a shot.
The interesting thing is that we all think we know what Will Smith looks like, but then, we went back and rewatched Bad Boys, for example, and there’s angles in Bad Boys, that, even though they didn’t use CGI or anything like that, where he doesn’t look like how you’d remember Will to look. We’d be like “Oh, that doesn’t really look like Will,” but it was him. So, you kind of have to put aside what’s in your head. That’s the advantage – and disadvantage – of having an actor that you know, from when they were that age is because they sort of change in your mind a little bit, you have this idea of what they look like, which isn’t actually what they look like.
ROHAN: Yeah, and then for the finale, you have a third Will Smith and it was kind of hard to tell but did you just recreate Junior or did you create a different model?
BEN: Yeah, you mean the Junior 2?
ROHAN: Yeah, the super-advanced Terminator one.
BEN: Yeah, they basically made a third asset with this 14-15 year old looking version to have that impact of what this Gemini organization would do or the lengths they would go to accomplish their goals. And Will acted that part as well, so he didthe motion capture for face of that character as well.
ROHAN: Will Smith can pretty much do anything, but fighting himself close combat had to be among the most difficult. When you’re making this film and creating a character like Junior and putting him in sequences like the catacombs fight and a number of other really intense action scenes where they’re interacting so closely. How do you utilize the stunt doubles and arrange Will so he can play both parts seamlessly? How many stunt doubles are even required for such an arduous task?
BEN: We have to use a variety of different approaches and sometimes some stunt people can only do certain things like we had one guy who’s really good with knives and then, we had another guy who is much better at doing the punches and the grappling and that kind of stuff and, you know, we can’t really beat up Will Smith and we can’t really be up stuntman because insurance won’t let us do that.
So, we’ve got a variety of people who play both characters, both the old Will and the young Will, and then what we do and what Ang really wanted to achieve with this is not hide stuff. It was really about – you know, typically when you’re in an action movie and one character throws a punch, the camera’s behind a guy throwing a punch and the guy getting the punch is in the background and because of the angle of the camera, you don’t see that the punch didn’t connect. It’s just all acting and it’s just in the camera. Ang said “I don’t want to do that. Instead, let’s take the camera from behind that actor and let’s put them both in profile and let’s see that connect.”
Well, we can’t actually do that, so what we have to do is we take those two guys who, again, neither of them are Will Smith and we have to replace their heads or sometimes their whole bodies with CGI and then, we have to take that punch that we photographed and we have to redo it and actually make it connect with the face.
Ang called it “messy fighting” because you look at action in a movie and it’s choreographed, it’s like a dance, but it doesn’t resemble what you watch like MMA, because that’s not choreographed. They haven’t rehearsed it, the pace is all over the place whereas in a movie, there’s a pace to it and the reason there’s pace because they know what’s coming and when. So, Ang wanted to sort of make a more realistic type of fighting and the only way to do that is to use these CGI elements and really kind of have a punch that doesn’t completely land all the time and to have missed punches and have this kind of nasty, sort of rough feel to it that we’re able to achieve here.
ROHAN: Yeah, some of those punches looked like they really hurt. I really enjoyed all the action sequences.
This the second time you’ve filmed a movie in 120fps, after Billy Lynn. How did your experience working on Billy Lynn influence and inform your decision making on Gemini Man?
BEN: A lot of Billy Lynn was sort of proving that it was possible to do a movie that way, and Gemini Man was really about iterating and trying to get it as perfect as you could and they actually did it. So, in the confines of a genre action movie,one of the big technical challenges for my job is trying to say, “Well, how do we make this” – On Billy Lynn, the camera weighed over a hundred pounds. – “How do you put that on a motorcycle? How do you put it on a Steadicam. How do you make it with handhelds?”
So, from a technical standpoint, a lot of the challenge of Gemini Man was really about finding faster, lighter, smaller technology that we can use to do the same thing, but then, it’s really about trying to make the craft as good as we can and make as few mistakes and learn, from the experience on Billy Lynn, what worked and what didn’t. It’s very much like going back to film school for all these technicians, as much as they might have Oscars, as much as they’re really experts in their field, but as soon as you go to 120fps, everybody has to learn what they do over again.
They’ve got to really sort of be a little bit humble and go back to the drawing board and go like, “Oh, you know, that thing that I’ve been doing for the last 30 years that works perfectly on most films doesn’t work here anymore and we need to figure out new tricks to make it work the same way or find a new way to make it work better.” So, I think that was really the progression to Gemini Man, which was, “Now let’s use this knowledge and figure out what’s possible and try and push boundaries and learn something and really try and iterate and make a new experience for people to view that is enjoyable, that also changes the way you watch films.
ROHAN: Would you say 120fps is the future of action movies? I know Gemini Man had some trouble in theaters because most weren’t equipped to properly screen the movie in 120fps and instead had to show it in 24fps, which is a considerable drop. I saw it myself in 60fps on 4K and it looked and felt great, but you can still notice the difference at some spots here and there?
Do you think it’s possible that 120fps will become more normalized for action movies in the future?
BEN: I think it’ll actually become more normalized for all movies. As much as it’s very useful in action, Ang feels equally that it’s just as compelling when you’re just looking at the drama part of the human face and it’s actually the harder part to get right. We fundamentally believe that our eyes love detail and the extra frame rate provides more detail.
Obviously, there’s a certain amount of catch up that has to happen with the technology in cinemas and in a way that would make the films, in terms of post-production systems, easier and cheaper to do a movie this way. Should every movie be made this way? No,but I think a lot of them could be. To put that tool in the hands of filmmakers, in a way that’s not hard for them to use, that’ll take a little bit of time, but I think we’ll get there.
ROHAN: Since so many weren’t able to see the movie how it was meant to be seen, was there ever a discussion to maybe release it in 120fps on the 4K Blu-ray? Or is that just not possible yet? Could we ever see that version of the film released?
BEN: Yeah, at the moment, I actually don’t believe it’s part of the UHD standard to do 120fps. I might be mistaken, but I think the home video equipment just hasn’t evolved to that point, just like a lot of the theatre equipment couldn’t do 120fps. The material is definitely there, so once the technology and everybody’s homes catches up, there’s definitely the possibility that, at some future point, it could be reissued in 120fps. So, I think that’s a possibility, but right now, it’s just not really possible to give people that experience at at home.
ROHAN: Last question, you’ve now worked with Ang on both Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and Gemini Man and I think this will be his next film – I’m not 100% certain – but I’m assuming it’ll be Thrilla in Manila. Have you talked to him about that at all? I’d imagine filming those boxing scenes with this kind of technology would be really something we’ve never seen before.
BEN: It would be absolutely amazing. Hopefully, we get to make that movie. I can’t say that we are or that we aren’t, but I knowAng would desperately love to make it and he would love to make it in this format. So, we’ll see if a studio feels generous at some point and decides to give us the money to make that movie.
To check out hi-res photos from GEMINI MAN, simply click on the VIEW LIST (ONE PAGE) button below!
Gemini Man is an innovative action-thriller starring Will Smith as Henry Brogan, an elite assassin, who is suddenly targeted and pursued by a mysterious young operative that seemingly can predict his every move. The film is directed by Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Ang Lee and produced by renown producers Jerry Bruckheimer, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg and Don Granger. Also starring are Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen and Benedict Wong.
Gemini Man features:
Will Smith as Henry Brogen/Junior
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Danny Zakarweski
Clive Owen as Clayton “Clay” Varris
Benedict Wong as Baron
Linda Emond as Janet Lassiter
Theodora Miranne as Kitty
Douglas Hodge as Jack Willis
Gemini Man hits theaters October 11
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