Seen at the Movies Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow makes a very good argument for digital design. For those who don’t know, Kerry Conran’s retro fantasy film, which stars Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, is almost entirely composed of sets and backgrounds created in the computer; the actors went through their paces on bluescreen stages, using a minimum of live-action props, and Conran’s huge crew of designers and visual effects artists then went to work—for several years—bringing to life the wondrous world around them. The movie is set in 1939, and takes its stylistic cues from various cultural benchmarks of that point in time, including The Wizard of Oz, Buck Rogers, art deco design, and most of all, perhaps, the New York World’s Fair. It presents a vision, also rooted in H.G. Wells, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and Machine Age fantasies/fears, of the past’s take on a possible future, one in which World War II has not been imagined yet robots as tall as mountains terrorize midtown Manhattan.


Sky Captain

From the opening shots of the Hindenburg dirigible docking at the top of the Empire State Building, Sky Captain casts a visual spell with its soft-focus, hand-tinted-style imagery. The director’s brother Kevin Conran gets credit for production/costume design, but the Conrans are probably equally to be credited for the concept, which is at its most stunning in the New York sequences, with its juxtapositions of streamlined realistic skyscapes and streamlined fantasy machines. The story, in which Law as the fighter pilot title character and Paltrow as an intrepid reporter struggle to save the world from a garden-variety crazed madman (personified as a Oz-like floating head by the very late and eerily digitized Laurence Olivier), isn’t much to speak of, and the movie even loses some visual interest in the battles towards the end. But it’s a remarkable piece of work, acted with period-perfect panache by Law, Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, and Giovanni Ribisi, who were photographed by DP Eric Adkins, but given a luminous, unearthly glow by the digital lighting team. Visual effects houses that contributed to Sky Captain include ILM, Stan Winston Digital, CafeFX, Hybride, The Orphanage, Rising Sun Pictures, R!ot Pictures, The Farm West, Luma Pictures, and Pacific Title. Senior visual effects supervisor was Scott E. Anderson.

Wimbledon is a predictable love story starring Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst as besotted tennis champs, but it’s an okay time passer thanks largely to the charm of its two leads (especially Bettany), and the grace with which Richard Loncraine directs the proceedings. The tennis footage is dynamically photographed by DP Darius Khondji, though there are a few gimmicky shots from the ball’s point of view and such. Production design is by Brian Morris and the costumes are designed by Louise Stjernsward


It’s Love All in Wimbledon

Walter Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries arrives anointed as serious, award-worthy cinema, so it’s something of a surprise how lightweight it seems. The film means to portray the birth of a revolutionary—and no less fabled a revolutionary than Che Guevara, who was martyred to the cause in 1967—but this agenda could almost be mistaken for an awkward afterthought appended to what is chiefly a stunning travelogue. Set in 1952, when Guevara (who is played by Mexican heartthrob Gael Garcia Bernal) was a 23-year-old medical student known by his given name of Ernesto, The Motorcycle Diaries portrays the 8,000-mile trip across South America the young man embarked upon with biochemist friend Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna). At first traveling on dilapidated motorbike, then hitching rides, the two cut a considerable swath through South America’s extraordinarily varied terrain, from the Argentine pampas into the Chilean Andes, up the west side of the continent to Peru, and finally into the Amazon. Here lies their ultimate destination, a leper colony where they intend to volunteer their services.


The Motorcycle Diaries Photos: Focus Features

Retracing the two young men’s journey of half a century ago, The Motorcycle Diaries is a visually vibrant portrait of the South American landscape, stunningly photographed by Eric Gautier. (The contributions of production designer Carlos Conti in recreating the period should also not be overlooked.) Shooting mostly on Super 16 film stock, which lends the images a slightly grainy, homespun quality, Gautier achieves an almost painterly saturation in some scenes, and uses mobile cameras to convey the exhilarating freedom of the motorcycling sequences. Though the DP and Salles generally take care to split the frame between the scenery and their two protagonists, in truth the characters—who, after all, are first and foremost horny young men looking for adventure and sex—are dwarfed by the majesty of their surroundings. In the second half, peasants and working people start dropping in to deliver little Marxist lessons to Guevara, moments that repeatedly bring the movie to a full stop. Beautiful and charismatic as he is, Bernal can’t begin to suggest the fire being stirred in Guevara’s soul by the misery and social injustice he witnesses. The movie fades to a wan conclusion, hoping that the viewer’s knowledge of what’s to come will supply a missing dramatic flourish.--John Calhoun

Seen In London After the world premiere of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s new musical, The Woman In White, in London on September 15, theatre in the West End, or anywhere else for that matter, may never be the same. Based on a popular Victorian novel by the same name, The Woman In White is the story of two half-sisters who live in a remote mansion with their elderly uncle. While both sisters, Marian and Laura, flirt with their handsome art tutor, he is quite in love with Laura, who is in turn engaged to Percival Glyde. A strange woman in white appears and tries to warn them about Glyde, but it is too late and Laura is married off to him, and immediately discovers his true nature as well as his villainous friend, Count Fosco (played brilliantly by Michael Crawford). It’s a tale of love, betrayal, greed, murder, and revenge.


All's not exactly fair in love in The Woman In White

This highly unusual production was directed by Trevor Nunn, and designed by William Dudley, with lighting by Paul Pyant, and sound by Simon Lee. Nunn, Dudley and Pyant collaborated two years ago on Tom Stoppard’s trilogy, The Coast of Utopia at The National Theatre, where video projection was a major set element. The triumvirate has gone one step further this time, using 8 Barco video projectors to project the majority of the scenery onto a curved wall on a turntable. Dick Straker and Sven Ortel of Mesmer in the UK (and their PC-based software Mesmerist) worked with Dudley to create the show’s seamless images that move rapidly from location to location, from room to room, from indoor to outdoor, from above and below, making it all look very easy when in fact it must be one of the most complicated projection projects ever seen on stage. XL Video provides the equipment and technical solutions for making it all come together. Damian Ridge and Patrick Achegani are the projection operators on the show.

This production will be covered in depth in a future issue of Entertainment Design but suffice it to say that anyone who has not noticed that projection is now an almost ubiquitous element in scenic/lighting design, had better sit up and take note immediately. Whether this full-tilt projection style will take hold is still open to debate, but you read it here first: projection is here to stay!---Ellen Lampert-Gréaux