Andrew Stanton Discusses John Carter; First Concept Art Revealed
06.20.11 by BJSprecher
Andrew Stanton is a jack-of-all-trades in the film industry. He's been various combinations of producer, director, screenwriter, and voice actor on all eleven Pixar Animation features, earning Academy Awards for Finding Nemo and WALL-E. His next project, John Carter, an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' first novel in his 11-volume Barsoom (Mars) series about a Civil War veteran who gains super powers after being mysteriously transported to Mars, marks a big departure for Stanton, both in terms of the more mature subject matter and becaus it is his first movie in which he will blend live action with CGI. Stanton, who wrote and is directing John Carter, recently discussed the movie in an interview with the L.A. Times, calling it a "long journey" and describing his approach — both in concept and in execution — to adapting Burroughs' classic book. The article also included two pieces of concept art used in the making of the movie, which offer the first look at how Stanton envisions Barsoom.
Burroughs' series is revered by many sci-fi aficionados and informs many popular sci-fi movies today, but it isn't as well known to the masses because it's never had a successful adaptation. Rather than a hindrance, Stanton found this liberating because it freed him to play around with the story in Burroughs' original novel, A Princess of Mars, which he felt suffered a lack of "grand design."
The bones of it were strong, the sediment, the soil of it, was really fertile and ready to have built from it. I felt like the more history I delved into, too, informed my view of the material; that first book was really episodic chapters he did for a magazine and then put together in book form, so it really was like a serial with a cliffhanger on each chapter. It was more like putting train cars together instead of something with a grand design. I feel like looking for that grand design was the next logical step, the thing that maybe never got done by the original author. So then the question became: How do you find the one big conceit that has a beginning, middle and end instead of these little individual train cars of episodes. ... If it had been a perfect piece of literature I would have been a little too intimidated to tweak it. I had every desire to make it feel on the screen like how it made me feel reading the book, and to me that’s the most important thing.
Stanton said that his approach to designing the world of Barsoom and its myriad of races and cultures was to treat it as if it was a "period film," rather than simply as a "fantasy being fulfilled by a fan."
There are so many times and places in history in our world that I just don’t know anything about, and when I learn about them they’re always fascinating. I don’t need a predisposed interest in them if they are presented well. So we said, "We’ll treat it this way, we won’t treat it like some fantasy being fulfilled by a fan." We tried to make it feel like we’re going with the story of what really happened. This is how it was, this is how those cultures really existed. That was one of the many levels, for instance, that I enjoyed The Lord of the Rings on. One of the similarities between Tolkien and Burroughs is that they came across to the reader as if they had done so much travel research; they seemed like they had gone to these places and documented the flora and the fauna and the architecture and the culture and the rules. They did it in ways that someone who visited those places would have done it. That made it much easier to treat the film as history in a weird way because I had this encyclopedia of all the aspects of Mars
He went on to say that the idea of it being a period movie meant that eveything had to look "authentic" or "historical" in detail, the sort of "used" world that really set George Lucas' Star Wars — a movie heavily influenced by Burroughs' work — apart from other sci-fi movies when it first came out.
I kept using the word "authentic" when I was out on set or doing art in development. I just wanted things to look like they had been through weather and use. I wanted things to look beat-up and old. ... People on my set could not distress things enough for me. Everything was pre-industrial; I wanted it to look made by hand. I wanted the pre-revolution days of Mars to look like tall ships on the skyline. And to get that to come across through the lens and then up on the screen, you just couldn’t beat stuff up enough. I remember once we had this great big deck gun and my weapons guy made this beautiful object. In his mind it looks weathered but I stepped back about 20 feet and said from here it looks brand new. I told him he should go take an ax to it and get it some really big nicks to it. He said, "You’re kidding me?" But he did it, he took the ax to it, he wouldn’t let anybody else do it to his baby. But that’s how we wanted everything, dirty, used, distressed and, hopefully, historical.
Currently in the process of digital principal photography, Stanton said that it is now "just a race to get it all done in time." The movie is slated to open March 9, 2012.