With Alice in Wonderland just around the corner, director Tim Burton sat down with Buzzine to share his thoughts about the use of technology in the film, working with Johnny Depp and his experiences with the source material.
René S. Garcia, Jr: This is a massive project, hermetically sealed for about two years. What was it that made you want to go into the world of Alice in Wonderland in 3D?
Tim Burton: Well, it was that — it was Alice in Wonderland in 3D. It was like this world that Lewis Carroll created and its trippiness…the size, the spatial elements. Then I started thinking about the world…not so much from the films. I learned more about it from listening to music and bands, and other illustrators and artists who incorporated that imagery into their work, and it just made me realize how powerful the material was. If it were written today, it would be mind-blowing today, so the combination of the medium and material just seemed right.
RG: Bringing it and putting your own stamp on this…it’s not the Alice in Wonderland we’re used to…
TB: There have been so many versions, and I didn’t feel like there was a definitive version, to me, that I was fighting against. Also, I like what Linda (Woolverton) did with the script. She almost treated this story like how the Alice material has affected us, at least for me. It’s a story about someone using this kind of imagery and this kind of world to figure out problems and things in their own life, and what’s fantasy & reality and dreams & reality — how they are not separate things but they’re one thing. It’s how we use those issues to deal with our issues in life.
RG: The film looks beautiful in 3D, but you actually shot it in 2D and converted it. What was your reason for doing it that way?
TB: Because of all the techniques we were using, there’s no point in shooting in 3D when there’s nothing to shoot. We’re using so many different techniques. We did live action, we did animation, we had virtual sets… So I looked from when we did the conversion for Nightmare, and Ken Ralston and I looked at things that were shot in 3D and shot in 2D conversion, and it’s like anything. In all these tools, you can see good 3D, bad 3D, good conversion, bad conversion. We always knew it was 3D, so we did all the proper planning so when we got the elements finally together, it was just another piece of the technology. In fact, that was probably some of the easier technology than the other elements we were dealing with.
RG: You’ve collaborated with Johnny Depp before. How did you see your personal and professional relationship grow through Alice in Wonderland?
TB: I don’t know. I couldn’t really look at him during the shoot. He looked like a scary clown. I wouldn’t make much eye contact. I always love working with Johnny…from Scissorhands on…for many reasons. He likes to play a character and be different things. He doesn’t really watch himself, which I love. It makes it a lot easier for me. It’s great, and each time we do something, he’s always trying to do something different – surprises – and it’s great when he does something to surprise you.
RG: Was there something in Alice that you couldn’t do because the technology wasn’t there yet?
TB: We were just using all different technology. They’re all out there, and people go purely motion capture, purely animation. I think everything is a new tool. You’ll always have limitation. You can do more. It’s all great, but I never try to focus too much on the technology. The fun of it, for us, is the artistic thing and feeling like making a movie, and not get too overly in love with technology.
RG: Of all the movies you’ve done, which one is your children’s favorite?
TB: My kids don’t really like my movies. They’re too young. My son’s getting older, but since I don’t really know what I do, I can’t really describe to him what I do…
RG: When did Alice in Wonderland enter your life, and how did the book influence you?
TB: I’m from Burbank, so we never read about Alice in Wonderland. Saw the Disney cartoon. Jefferson Airplane. It was interesting because that’s what made me realize the power of it, because I got my introduction from other illustrators and music and culture and writers, and the imagery would come up in other work. As you start to delve into it, you realize just how powerful it is, and that’s why it sort of remains that way.
Tim Burton's 'Alice In Wonderland' will be released theatrically on March 5, 2010 by Walt Disney Pictures