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300: FEROCIOUS FILMMAKING AT ITS BEST

Category: 300 News
Article Date: March 8, 2007 | Publication: MusicVideoWire | Author: Carlye Archibeque
Source: http://musicvideowire.com/dynamic/article_view.asp?AID=11982

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Even the super stylized billboards and trailers don�t quite prepare you for the stunning cinematic experience of 300. The story is based on a Frank Miller (Sin City, The Dark Knight) graphic novel, which in turn is based loosely on the ancient Battle of Thermopyle between 300 hard-boiled Spartans defending freedom and democratic thought and what seems like millions of warriors brought together by the Persian army championing idolatry and global domination.

The film looks and feels like a moving graphic novel: saturated, high contrast images of bold action, muscle bound warriors striking bold gladiator poses all highlighted by large panoramic splatters of blood flowing through the air of the battlefield. The collaboration between director Zack Snyder, visual effects supervisor Chris Watt and creator Frank Miller has dragged the sword and sandal genre into the modern era. The final stroke of genius is the score by Tyler Bates, who wrote the score for 2004s Dawn of the Dead redux (also directed by Snyder) which gives the film the sound and feel of an epic in the grand tradition of Lawrence of Arabia or Gone With the Wind if the films had been driven by a Valkire who had listened to a lot of metal. What might have been just a cool video game like film becomes a blood opera due to the efforts of the key contributors to the artistic vision.

The Spartans are a warrior class of freed Greeks slaves who have come to live in a democratic built on reason rather than mysticism. They still have their temple and oracles, lithe young girls held in a drug induced bondage by freak show caliber priests, but the religion is used more by scheming politicians than the more pragmatic warriors. When the reigning god-king of Persia, Xerxes, sends messengers to ask that Sparta kneel to him, Leonidas makes the decision to kill the messengers and keep Sparta free. There is dissention between Spartan law and Leonidas� vision for a free Sparta and the council refuses to allow the Spartan army to defend the city. Leonidas responds by appointing 300 of his best warriors as his personal bodyguards while he takes a walk to the sea to watch the Persian�s arrive and possibly destroy their army in the process. What ensues is a series of battles that is beautiful and grisly.

The idea to make 300 into a film began in 2002 with Snyder acquired the rights to Miller�s graphic novel. His first meeting with Miller was to determine if he thought Snyder was the right tool for the job. �So that's how it started, a meeting with him so he could determine whether I was a cool guy. And we just got along, that's what happened there. And I hadn't made a movie when I met him, I was just some crazy commercial director who wanted to make his graphic novel into a movie. They hadn't even done Sin City yet. I don't know if I would've gotten it if they had done Sin City because it's so particular.�

After the meeting established Snyder�s �cool� factor, he moved on to a proof of concept for how the film would look. �I wanted to prove my methodology about what the film would look like. So I did this 360 degree steadicam shot that basically told the story. One take, started with the the Warner Bros logo, which was actually a shield held by a Persian, then it went all the way around and ended in a shot of the Spartans coming and joining into the phalanx and they fought a little bit. so it was like this whole 360-degree dolly with virtual backgrounds and Animal Logic did the visual effects for it. And it ended up being really cool. And everyone went wow, this really *does* look cool. But you can imagine, I told Jeff, head of production at Warner Bros., �This isn't going to look like any sword and sandals movie you've ever seen.��

Indeed, 300 is not your daddy�s sword and sandal film, and this is due completely to the skilful melding of over 1300 visual effects created by 10 different visual effects houses in several countries overseen by visual effects supervisor Chris Watt (http://bake.org). Watt has supervised and produced the effects on countless music videos and received an award from the Visual Effects Society for the Best Effects in a Music Video in 2004 for Britney Spears �Toxic.� His film credits run from Demolition Man to Pleasantville to The Day After Tomorrow.

The lead houses for the film were Hybrid with the lion�s share, then Hydralux, Animal Logic and Pixel Magic though each of the additional houses, like Screaming Death Monkey, still carried a heavy load including ships at sea, elephants and one sexy dancing oracle. With the exception of two practical sets every bit of scenery in the film is digital. Given the wide variety of people working on the film the major challenge was to create a style guide so that all of the footage meshed into one streamlined work.

According to Watt, �The hardest part of this movie was not the volume, because I�m used to doing that, and it wasn�t really the type of effects even though they were difficult, it was creating this universe from nothing. It had to match the graphic novel, it had to look good, because one man�s �stylized� is another man�s less than perfect, that was a really big challenge. But overall it was a fairly enjoyable task because Zack is an awesome director. He�s got amazing vision. His vision for the movie didn�t really change in any fundamental way from the time that I had my first meeting with him till right now when we delivered the thing. He basically had a consistent pure view of what he wanted this movie to look like and it made my job, not easy, but certainly easier than it could have been with a different director.� But it was not only the clear vision of Snyder that made Watt�s involvement close to a dream job, he also had the help of an artist who was able to mix the visual elements of Millers graphic novel and the concise vision of the director. �We had a guy named Grant Freckelton, who was the visual effects art director, that we borrowed from Animal Logic for the duration of the project and he�s the single guy who contributed the most to the look of the movie. I love to make my creative contributions but my real job is to make sure that the real creative guy, the director, is able to make his vision with as few problems as possible. Grant is the guy who actually drew that stuff and I got to make it move. I�ve been totally spoiled by working with such a great director and art department.�

It�s rare that a film comes together with a near perfect script and cast, a stunning visual design, and blood rushing music. Add to that the fact that the key creators are enthusiastic fans of each other even during the stress of the pre-release press madness and you have a formula for a Hollywood success story. Don�t be surprised if you see 300 on the short list of Best Picture nominations come 2008. Meanwhile, the film opens March 9th in a theater near you on standard screens and IMAX and you should definitely prepare for the glory of 300.

 


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