The first time I talked to Ang Lee was during Hulk's release. Until then, he was known as the author of delicate movies that addressed the family dynamics of people like us, from The Wedding Banquet and Eating, Drinking, Living! Reason and Sensitivity and Ice Storm. The commercial and artistic success of The Tiger and the Dragon, at the turn of the century, revealed an author capable of creating spectacles without losing the human element, and this curious personality translated into a career that sought to see the technological innovation of the tools of making. movies with the art of seeing people living the stories – fantastic as they were! Project Gemini is part of this journey, a science fiction framed in a groundbreaking 3D action movie and crystal clear image definition to show what happens when a man faces himself. It is in this meeting of philosophy and innovation that I talked with Ang Lee, talk that you check now!
Project Gemini has come into your hands after years of circling Hollywood. What was the first thing that caught your attention when reading the script?
David Ellison, owner of Skydance, introduced me to the project and right away I was intrigued. The thought of a man staring at himself younger made me curious. This man being Will Smith, who is a great movie star, made me wonder that his version in his early twenties would have to be entirely digital. You mentioned Hulk, and in my mind it sort of started there. That's when I thought about how to bring a digital creation to life realistically and that had soul and personality. That was the trigger.
There is the technological challenge of accomplishing something like this, and there is a desire to tell a powerful story. As a director, how do you balance the technological demand with the narrative and emotional triggers of the story of a man who basically faces himself?
I agreed to do Project Gemini precisely to show the consequences of a man facing himself! It was actually a privilege to know that they hired me just to see if I could make this gear work. As it is an action movie I also had to create the whole show, which for a filmmaker is a lot of fun. At the end of the day, it's a mix of excitement with responsibility! The plot needs to flow, and the requirement is to have a slightly popular touch to function as entertainment. But above all that, the appeal was the idea of putting a man and his younger version in a single frame, which I think has never been done before.
Could Gemini Project be done five years ago, say?
No, I believe not. It was extremely hard to do today! If we can do it once, that doesn't mean we can do it again. The fact is that human beings judge themselves… There is an instinct that makes us understand that a character like ours, as perfect as it may be, is digital. The challenge is to make it look real, to make someone believe it. This is more complicated than the equations used to build a digital face. It is necessary to have soul. People keep stressing technology, but in fact technology is only a means to artistic achievement.
So how important is it to work with a star the size of Will Smith? After all he grew up in the public eye, just as it was Tom Cruise or Keanu Reeves. Is it harder, therefore, to create a younger digital avatar when we have a picture in our head of what it looked like at 23?
It's a double-edged sword, with good things and bad things. One of the problems is precisely the one you mentioned. By the way you cited the only other actor who could have made this movie! (laughs) We were lucky when Will Smith said yes, because he not only brought the young Will Smith but also brought his luggage. The obstacle, on the other hand, is that we know him, but never filmed in 3D. We know Will in 2D. And he is a better actor today than he was at 23. It's another behavior, another body language, not the one in our memory. I didn't want the character from The Bad Boys. It would be easier, but it wouldn't be what our movie needed, which was someone new, with a specific soul and personality. My care was to create something similar but not identical. So it was a different challenge. But the challenge made us more alert, more careful.
When you drove Hulk in 2003 it was a huge technological leap. I remember you interpreted the creature so that the animators had references. Now we have Will in a costume that translates his performance to a computer generated character. But in Billy Lynn's The Long Walk, the evolution was to shoot using faster frame rates. Why was it so important to further refine this technology for Project Gemini?
I discovered 3D when I filmed The Adventures of Pi, and I learned that the mind operates differently when watching something in 3D. That movie made me very nervous as it is a completely different media. It's not just adding a dimension to the movie we know, but broadening a new vocabulary category. Images are processed in our mind more clearly, and this has led me to explore this kind of language, which cannot be perceived at a speed of 24 frames per second, which is the default. If you shoot real 3D, not fake, converted to post production, it's hard to maintain the illusion. But when you normalize the effect, the immersion in the story is more organic. It takes about 100 frames to enter this world to create the trick. And a higher resolution makes the process easier. So it's like a fresh start for the language of cinema, and it's something I've been looking for over the last decade.
His relationship with digital technology began in Hulk, but in Ice Storm were other superheroes punctuating the narrative, with Tobey Maguire's character reading Fantastic Four comics as a frame for the story. And I remember you commenting that that family dynamic was what really interested you in the universe of superheroes.
I like you have a good memory! (laughs)
Now Marvel must relaunch Fantastic Four from scratch. Was it something that would pique your interest?
I do not know, but my phone has not yet rang! (laughs) I think Marvel has very specific ideas. You know, when I did Hulk none of this was a genre. By the time the movie came out, Spider-Man had already laid a path for what would be a Marvel movie, but it was a bygone era. I don't know if they would have any interest, since I like to do things my way, and Hulk was a psychological drama, not a superhero movie. But they have my number!