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  • An Interview with Geoff Marslett of Swerve Pictures

Describe the role(s) of technologies in your production process(es).

Geoff Marslett:

I do a lot of different things within film production. I am primarily a storyteller, so I guess I would say I am primarily a director, but directing has taken me through traditional film production, digital production, and a lot of animating. The tools of all three endeavors have been changing and evolving (especially in the postproduction realm) extremely quickly over the last ten years, and as such I would say the roles of these technologies have been different each year I have used them.

As far as much of my live-action work is concerned, I have used digital technologies to shoot most of it. Once upon a time it was DV tape, then HDCam, and now it is memory cards and direct-to-hard-drive recording. So the ease of storage and the amount of information that can be processed and stored have continued to change the resolutions and image quality that are readily available and affordable. In this way improved technologies have given me more and more tools to tell stories with.

This isn't relegated to live-action filmmaking either. In order to tell more exotic or fanciful stories, about half of my work has been animated. Though my first animated film was drawn with Sharpies on typing paper, I quickly moved on to using computers for most of my animated work. For my first feature film, I actually shot actors on a green screen in a studio, then used computers to key them out and prepare them to be composited into a fully animated world. We created this world using XSI, a 3D program. I then cowrote software with Tray Duncan to do a combination of image processing and hand animating to the footage of the real actors. This was combined with the backgrounds, additional shadow work, and hand-drawn elements within a computer and rendered out for the finished film. None of this would have been possible on our budget even a few years ago, but advances in technology (and to some degree our innovative use of it) made it a reality. If we were to start again now, instead of in 2007, there are even better and newer technologies we could use to make it a more efficient process.

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Figure 1.

MARS poster (Swerve Pictures, 2010, dir. Geoff Marslett). Source/ Copyright: Geoff Marslett, Swerve Pictures (2010).

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How do you distinguish (or blur the lines) between the stages of preproduction and postproduction in your filmmaking, and at what point do you feel most engaged in the process?


For an animated film, the process is pretty blurry. Preproduction is actually fairly distinct. I had to write a script, cast it, design costumes and sets, schedule and budget the film, and everything else you would need to do for a large-scale production. It did have the added stress of having to figure out how scenes would need to be shot without having any of the actual elements present except the actors. I also had to do a lot of hand-drawn previsualization to figure out what we needed to shoot in order to be able to edit it all together. This essentially involved doing a stick-figure, sloppy, animated version of the film before we began shooting the effects shots (and by effects shots, I basically mean the whole film).

Production involved shooting the scenes themselves in a relatively normal manner . . . but then it bled over into a mix of production and postproduction as we edited, animated, modified, reedited, reanimated, and on and on for the last couple years of MARS.

Because you are still really creating the film all the way through postproduction, the "creative stages" of the production really run right up to the end.


How have innovative technologies and techniques influenced your filmmaking?


The story has to be something that would make sense and could be told regardless of the technology. That hasn't changed. However, in the specific case of my film MARS, I knew...


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