The Making of Alice in Wonderland

Rotten Tomatoes spoke with Tim Burton, Mia Wasikowska, costume designer Colleen Atwood, and animation supervisor David Schaub to learn more about the making of Alice in Wonderland.

Why did Burton choose to make Alice? Because he was underwhelmed with other cinematic adaptations that he had seen. "All the other versions of Alice I've seen were lacking a narrative dynamic," he tells RT. "They were just a series of absurdist tales with one weird character after another and not too much of a context. So you watch it thinking, 'Oh, that's weird,' and 'Yeah, that's strange,' without ever paying attention to the story plot points."

How is Burton's Alice going to avoid those pitfalls? "We tried to give all of the characters a bit more of a foundation and a more simple, grounded story to work off all the weird stuff," he explains. "I mean, they're obviously all mad. But we have tried to give each of them a particular madness and a bit more depth."

Burton also explained how much of the effects were done in a trial and error process. One experiment that didn't make the cut was the motion capture technology. "We suited the Tweedles (Matt Lucas) and the Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover, pictured) for motion capture," explains animation supervisor David Schaub. "The Knave is eight feet tall so we thought that motion capture would be the best method. But Crispin had to be on stilts for eye line purposes, so all of the captured images looked like a guy on stilts. It was clunky." Was it frustrating to have to throw away the footage? "It's Tim's choice," shrugs Schaub. "He knows what's out there and he makes choices based on the films he sees and the techniques used."

"We discussed what we like and don't like about motion capture," admits Burton. "Personally, I think it looks weird."

Other technological tricks were more successful, but still challenging. "We basically have three live-action characters," explains David Schaub. "They are Alice (Mia Wasikowska), The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) and The White Queen (Anne Hathaway). The Tweedles and the Knave of Hearts are real heads blended onto animated bodies. That creates a special look that you won't have seen before. It's very cool. Meanwhile, Helena Bonham Carter's character (The Red Queen) is an amalgamation of all kinds of different techniques, which we then distorted." One of the most difficult characters to create was The Cheshire Cat. "That was hard because he actually floats," says Schaub. "So we had to think, if a cat could float, how would a cat float? Then he's got this huge grin the whole time, which causes problems because he's got to have emotions. But how do you make him anything other than happy when he's got this permanent smile? It was intense."

Wonderland itself is almost entirely CGI. "There is one significant prop where Alice steps into Wonderland and goes down some stairs," says Schaub. "That was an amazing piece of architecture. But everything else is a CG environment."

The end result may look incredible, but it was hardly thrilling for Mia Wasikowska. "It was three months of green screen," she sighs. "So I had to try and keep the energy up and remember that there will be an animated character in front of me. But it's hard when you're acting opposite nothing but sticky tape and tennis balls."

While the Red Queen was a technical amalgamation, the Mad Hatter was a creative mix. "It's funny," laughs costume designer Colleen Atwood. "Tim, Johnny and I had all made sketches of what we thought the Mad Hatter should look like. Then, when we sat down to discuss it, we realised they were all really similar!" One intriguing aspect of the Mad Hatter's costume is that it changes colour according to his mood. "It's like a mood ring," explains Atwood. "I made his suits in different colours, with layers of other colours, and then they enhanced it with CGI. It's going to look really fun."

Atwood had great enthusiasm for Wasikowska, as well. "She's just an amazing young woman," Atwood gushes to RT. "Her head is not up in the clouds and she's a really hard worker with a great sense of humour -- something you need on a film as crazy as this. She's definitely channeling Cate Blanchett in the sense that both actresses are extremely talented but very grounded. Plus they're both Australian."

Tim Burton agrees: "Mia has an old soul, but there are elements of her that feel very young and naïve," he explains. "She's perfect to play Alice at this stage of her life because she is at a crossroads, and the film's journey is her finding out who she is and what she wants. Although this is probably the weirdest, most abstract movie that she will ever be in. I mean, it's weird even for me."

Is Wasikowska feeling the pressure? "A little bit," she nervously laughed. "I'm excited to see the finished product but, of course, there is a certain amount of anxiety that comes with it. Having said that, I have such faith in Tim and everybody on this film, so I'm not really worried."

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