THE INTREPID AND THE TREACHEROUS: The Cast and Characters of The Adventures of Tintin
Behind each of the carefully crafted images is an inspired and skilled performance. A major part of the lure for the actors chosen for the film was Hergé's inimitable characters, each with their own memorable quirks and foibles that had never been so deeply inhabited before. They include:
Tintin and Snowy
To play the iconic role of the intrepid, boyish reporter who has mirrored countless dreams of adventure, the filmmakers chose Jamie Bell. "Jamie's performance in Billy Elliot was astonishing to me, not just the subtlety of his acting, but the tremendous physical performance he gave," Spielberg notes. "Peter and I both thought he had all the right qualities for Tintin."
Growing up in England, Bell had been a Tintin fan since childhood. "There's something about Hergé's art that leaves an imprint on you. It's unforgettable," he muses. But now, he had the chance to imprint the character with tangible, human emotions and that thrilled him.
Screenwriter Joe Cornish says that Bell captures Tintin in the mold of the classic Spielberg Everyman - an ordinary kid who finds how extraordinary he can be when life demands it. "To me, he's like a child's idea of what it's like to be a teenager," Cornish says. "He can do amazing things, yet he maintains an innocence and an insatiable curiosity about the world, a sense that he's looking for a way to do the right thing in any situation. You feel like anyone can aspire to be Tintin because all you need is the knowledge, the interest and the pureness of heart that takes him through these adventures."
For Bell, this aspirational quality was the way into the character, taking him far beyond the forelock quiff in his hair that is his trademark. "When you see a young person who is so fearless and so adventurous the way Tintin is, it's everything you want to be yourself," he says. "Tintin is a very driven character, a very moral character, and I admire that. He will get to the bottom of things no matter what. But sometimes he's wrong and that's when he has to trust in Snowy."
Snowy, of course, is Tintin's trusty terrier and sometimes savior. Cornish calls Snowy "almost an embodiment of Tintin's subconscious" and the trick was animating the character to be both that and just a smart, funny little dog. Though Hergé often ascribed thought bubbles to Tintin's canine friend, Spielberg felt they could bring Snowy to life in a richly expressive way without that textual effect.
"I think sometimes Tintin makes a great sidekick to Snowy, rather than the other way around," Spielberg remarks of the much-loved character. "But we decided that if there's any reality to Tintin at all, it's that the dog doesn't talk."
When Tintin buys a model of the lost ship The Unicorn at a local market, he finds within it a secret that will land him on a hijacked sea freighter called the Karaboudjan, and, ultimately, introduce him to an unlikely but lifelong friend: Captain Haddock, a crusty ocean veteran with seawater in his veins and a bottle of whiskey never far away, who will become at once a foil for Tintin and his rough-and-tumble partner in adventure, through thick and thin.
The Captain has long been a favorite of Tintin fans - the gritty contrast to Tintin's idealism with his endlessly colorful utterances ("Blistering barnacles!" "Thundering typhoons!") and most of all, a generous, die-hard friend to Tintin. "Haddock appears at first to be the last guy in the world you'd want tagging along on a dangerous escapade," says Jackson. "But Tintin sees something else in him. I think Tintin sees the goodness in this man and understands who he can become."
To play Haddock, Jackson suggested an actor he knew had what it would take to embody all the dynamics of the role: Andy Serkis. "Knowing Andy as well as I did, I knew he'd be absolutely terrific, so I arranged for him to meet Steven, who saw right away what he could bring to it," he says.
Spielberg adds: "Andy and Jamie had fantastic chemistry as this iconic pairing of a youthful, moral straight shooter and an old, reprobate sea captain. They're complete opposites, yet Captain Haddock brings many lessons to Tintin's life, and Tintin really gives Haddock a chance to redeem himself."
Serkis, who has been a fan of the comic since childhood, decided to give his character, whose origins are open to interpretation, a Scottish brogue that sets the tone for his journey. "It seemed appropriate that Haddock should have a kind of rawness and emotional availability," Serkis explains. "He's a great seaman and has great potential as a human being, but he's kind of lost in self-pity, and it is Tintin, this boy, who helps him realize that he can connect with other people again."
A Sakharine Villian, Thompson & Thomson and More…
Captain Haddock's turn-about comes as he and Tintin try to evade the threat of the film's irascible villain: Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine, who believes Tintin has unwittingly stolen the secret of The Unicorn and its long-lost treasure. Taking on the nefarious role is Daniel Craig, best known to filmgoers in the role of the far more noble British spy James Bond. Craig, who has garnered equal acclaim for his dramatic work in a wide variety of films, previously collaborated with Spielberg in the political thriller Munich. But he had never taken on a character quite like Sakharine before.
He relished the chance to cut loose with the mercurial bad-man. "I had a lot of fun with Sakharine, and tried to make him as evil and twisted and strange as I possibly could," he says.
Adding further antics to Tintin's adventures are Thompson & Thomson--two detectives distinguishable only by the shapes of their moustaches and the letter "p" in one of their names. To play the pair of ham-handed investigators the filmmakers immediately had one common thought in mind: the comic team of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who have brought their irreverent sensibilities to such hit films as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
"Peter and I knew we wanted to cast a team as Thompson & Thomson," Spielberg says. "Then Peter suggested Simon and Nick, who are uniquely funny together and a wonderful addition to the cast."
Pegg and Frost realized they could have a blast with the detective duo. "We have a certain kind of synchronicity that fed into playing these two bumbling partners," Pegg allows. "They're in the great tradition of silent movie stars like Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin. They're fastidious but ultimately faltering, and though they consider themselves to be the greatest detectives in the world, they're clearly the worst. So, we got to do a lot of silly stuff."
They also had an opportunity to do what they do best: let their natural comic rapport unfold in the moment. "The difficult thing as actors was thinking about what the Thom(p)sons would do in between each panel," Frost explains. "That's where lots of characterization came in for us."
Throughout the film, the Thompson & Thomson are in the throes of what is, for them, hot pursuit of a pickpocket, Aristedes Silk, a role taken by Toby Jones, who played Dobby the House Elf in the Harry Potter series. Silk, says Jones, is in it for love rather than evil. "He's someone who enjoys the art of pickpocketing because he loves wallets. There's something very moving, in a way, about his passion for pickpocketing. He's the classic example of the Hergé idea that someone may look like a terrible person, but not be one at all," he explains.
Also figuring into the plot is Nestor, the loyal butler at the storied manse of Marlinspike Hall, played by character actor Enn Reitel. "Like so many butlers, he knows where all the skeletons are hidden, but also like all butlers, he has incredible loyalty to his master, which, at least for the moment, is Sakharine," says Reitel (who also plays the merchant who sells Tintin a dangerous ship model).
Rounding out the story's cast of criminals are a pair of thugs, Allan and Tom, played by Daniel Mays and Mackenzie Crook, and the wealthy merchant Ben Salaad, played by Moroccan-born actor Gad Elmaleh. The popular French actor/comedian, whose father was a mime, relished the body language Spielberg encouraged him to bring to the role. "It felt, to me, like the Comedia Dell'arte, the great Italian stage comedies," he says. "I grew up in this culture and love it, and Steven wanted me to express Ben Salaad in this tradition. It was a gift."
"Gad brought a great energy to the film," Kathleen Kennedy says. "He's treacherous but, in keeping with Hergé's take on things, funny and strangely loveable at the same time."
Another fixture from the Tintin books -- the imperious, glass-shattering opera singer Bianca Castafiore -- is played by Phantom of the Opera diva Kim Stengel. ""As we developed the script, we weren't deliberately trying to write her into the story," explains Jackson. "It just happened that there was a role that was perfect for her, so she ended up in the movie in a way that is quite delightful."
Other Tintin characters who make appearances in the film include Tintin's landlady Mrs. Finch (Sonja Fortag); Lt. Delacourt (Tony Curran); and the only American character in the film, Barnaby, a detective trying to warn Tintin of the danger he's getting himself into, played by comic actor Joe Starr.
One common thread seemed to run throughout the international cast: a sheer love for the books and a passion to be part of the film. "We all have something in our childhood that touches us," sums up Cary Elwes, who takes on the role of an attacking pilot. "For me, it was Tintin."
IMAGINARY CHARACTERS, TRUE PERFORMANCES: On The Performance Capture Stage
It took two intensive years of research, development, design, pre-production, screenwriting and casting, but at last the time came for the actors, filmmakers and over 200 crew to converge at the performance capture soundstages of Playa Vista, CA-based Giant Studios --- and enter the world of Hergé. Here is where the major alchemy would take place, as the soulful, emotional performances of Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig and the entire cast were recorded in the moment, and transmogrified into faithful renderings of Hergé's ink-and-watercolor stories.
Once on the stage, Spielberg was constantly innovating, matching the performance capture technology to his storytelling instincts, and encouraging his team to think up novel solutions to the most vexing visual problems. He and Jackson ended up driving a mini-revolution in the field with a revolutionary system - dubbed the virtual camera -- that would allow the director a more traditional relationship with the actors and in-the-moment command of the film, all while "seeing" an animated 3D world.
"I didn't want to divest myself of those instinctive moments that occur on traditional sets, so we came up with a new way to make it more seamless," says Spielberg.
Entirely unlike a traditional soundstage set, the performance capture process unfolds on what's called a Volume--a clean, white-and-grey stage featuring up to 100 cameras mounted in a grid on the ceiling, able to capture 360-degree coverage and render that data into three-dimensional space. On the Volume, all the actors (and also the wire-framed props and set dressings) wear reflective dots that are picked up by the camera in less than a 60th of a second, and interpreted into a 3D virtual moving picture.
In addition, another eight HD video cameras captured the raw performances as they unfolded. This was later used as reference for the animators to make sure every grimace, smile, shiver and nuance of emotion, from fear to friendship, came through as the actors' performances were morphed into digital creations.
Operating the virtual camera using a device slightly larger than a video game controller with a monitor attached, Spielberg was able to walk through the Volume, watch the actors' avatars interacting within the film's universe on the virtual camera's monitor, and compose the shots he wanted in real time. The actors, too, could see themselves in the movie's world on monitors positioned throughout the studio, allowing them instant feedback.
"The ability to see the playback in real time was so important to both director and actors," says Joe Letteri. "We worked with Giant Studios very closely to develop that, and that collaboration was very successful because they've understood everything has to be as realistic as possible in the moment."
While the virtual camera could only offer the lower-res picture quality of a video game, it was more than enough to ignite Spielberg's creativity and the new technique clicked immediately for him, allowing the director to paint with light and image in a way he never had before.
In addition, an earlier Weta breakthrough - the process known as "image-based facial performance capture," used to forge the compelling emotional realism of the Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and to create the otherworldly Pandorans in James Cameron's Avatar - was commandeered by Spielberg to add to the rich characterizations of The Adventures of Tintin.
When using this system, the actors wear a football-type helmet rigged with a tiny camera aimed directly at their faces - allowing a digital recording of the slightest, expressive movements of their eyes, lips and facial muscles. For Spielberg this put the emphasis exactly where he wanted it: on the power of emotionally true performances.
"Every single human being represented in Tintin is an actor giving a full performance -- an emotional performance, a villainous performance - and that all shines through the digital makeup," the director comments. "We watched Hergé's characters be reborn as living beings, expressing feelings and displaying souls, and the effect was startling."
The actor with the most performance capture experience of anyone in the world, Andy Serkis, became the group leader, helping the other actors acclimate. For all his experience with the medium, Serkis was inspired by the transformation he saw in Spielberg and Jackson as they worked together. "It was amazing to see them both really bouncing off each other creatively," he says. "They're both so passionate about filmmaking, and it sometimes seemed like this was the first film they'd ever made--they had that kind of energy. They were coming up with ideas at such a quick rate, it was dizzying."
The time-consuming process was also new to many of the actors. Each morning prior to shooting, the actors would go through two "range of motion" scans, one for the face and one for the body. Once these scans were completed, the cameras could identify the actors in the Volume and translate their actions into a moving skeleton, so they could then be layered over with character "makeup" in post-production.
For Jamie Bell, the Volume felt more like a minimalist theater than a movie set, but that aspect, he says, actually enhanced the work. "It's an interesting way to work, because the movie set is in your head," Bell explains. "We were focused on giving these characters life and making them breathe. Then, in this 3D animated world they've created, we could see all of our heart and soul and anger coming through. It was remarkable."
Bell had to act in scenes with a wire frame Snowy, a stuffed Snowy for "stunts," and an articulated Snowy on wheels --- all operated by property master Brad Elliott who also brought with him years of experience in puppetry at Jim Henson's company that he turned into a performance.
"It made sense for the actors to have something to interact with," Elliot explains, "and because Snowy is such a big part of this movie, it was a real privilege for me to do Snowy."
Throughout, Spielberg cultivated an atmosphere where anything could happen on the performance capture stage. The entire cast was often all be in the Volume, performing stunts, acting on custom-made gimbals to represent planes, cars or ships, and, with Spielberg and Jackson's encouragement, improvising.
FROM VIRTUAL TO REALITY: Finalising The Full Film Experience in Post Production
Once the thrilling work with the actors in the Volume was completed, the animation team at Weta began the 18-month process of refining, sculpting and detailing each of the film's 1,240 shots, before putting them through the final rendering process. It was here that filmmakers began playing with visual themes, cinematic moods and tricky lighting effects in each individual scene, finalizing the look of the film.
Using the stylized world created by Hergé as a template, the artists an animators set-out to bring to life the world of Tintin. "Everything Hergé created has a unique look and color," recalls Joe Letteri. "His original works already had an animated feel as if his drawings were just waiting to come to life."
For animation supervisors Jamie Beard and Paul Story, it was the beginning of fully realizing an animated world of Hergé's characters. "The performance capture process is just the first step for us," explains Beard. Because Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis and all the other actors do not resemble their characters in a literal sense, the animation teams lead by Beard and Story began the process of applying the performance captured on stage to the digital character models built by the Weta team.
"What we have to do is look at the actor's performance and ask, 'How does that performance fit into our character design,' " says Beard. "We basically start with a rough skeleton over a low-res geometry form of what that character is and from there we basically go in a refine the body motion," adds Story.
"In a traditional animated film, you would have the actors cast for the voice performance and ultimately how they deliver the lines in the recording booth informs your choices of animation," explains Letteri.
The animation process for 'Tintin' relied heavily on performance capture for the characters' final render. "Having actors in the mix just gives us a quality of life that is hard to achieve any other way," continues Letteri. "An actor's performance underlying all the animation really gives you continuity throughout the film. In traditional animation, that is called 'keeping the character on model.' Here, we have the actors who are the ones essentially keeping the character on model. That's why we like to work with the best actors possible when we're creating a process like this as it gives us the freedom to expand on those performances and to add a heightened sense of realism, drama, comedy or any other ideas that come up along the way."
Throughout the post-production process, many aspects of the characters were also refined, always using additional video reference footage shot in the Volume to assure every moment of digital performance reflected the actor's emotional choices.
Finally, The Adventures of Tintin was rendered a second time to accommodate the digital 3-D process. "Because Tintin was fully rendered in a computer, it made the three-dimensional aspect of the film relatively easy to do," Jackson remarks. "But it's very striking with this film in particular. Just the thought of seeing Tintin on the big screen in 3-D makes me feel like a kid again."
Working in tandem with the team at Weta was longtime Spielberg collaborator and Academy Award® winning editor Michael Kahn. Spielberg and Kahn have been known as being among the last filmmakers in Hollywood to still edit on film -- a medium they both still love in a tactile way. Though Kahn has edited other films digitally, The Adventures of Tintin marks the first time he and Spielberg edited on an Avid. Once Kahn completed his cut of the film, Spielberg showed it to Jackson, and then, earlier in the post-production process than usual, the cut was delivered to legendary maestro John Williams, who has scored all but one of Spielberg's films.
For the director, Williams' music became the final, crucial element of The Adventures of Tintin, the last deeply human touch that helped to combine all the human performances with the digital creations to create a singular experience of adventure and friendship.
"John is the bonding agent that unifies all the disparate, eclectic elements of a movie, and with this score, he captures the energy and spirit of Tintin as only he can," Spielberg concludes.
THE LEGACY OF HERGÉ
In 1929, a 21 year-old Belgian illustrator created a new comic strip featuring a bold cub reporter and his white Fox Terrier traveling in the Soviet Union. The comic, known as Tintin, was an immediate hit with readers -- but the fledgling artist known as Hergé (a play on his given name, Georges Remi, reversing the initials to RG) could not have foreseen the incredible, long-lived adventure his character was about to embark upon.
Five decades and two dozen graphic novels later, Tintin has won millions and millions of hearts of every age group in nearly every country around the world, becoming a fixture of childhood in Europe and Asia, and establishing a cult following in the U.S. Each year, the books continue to find new fans, most recently being translated into Hindi. The phenomenon has spawned toys and collectibles, fan clubs and publications, as well as adaptations on the stage, radio and television - and now, at last, an inventive motion picture that brings the characters to life as they have never been seen before.
What is the source of Tintin's seemingly limitless appeal? For many it comes down to Hergé's original concoction of the simple with the complex: his relatable, recognizable characters with their multi-faceted human foibles, his whirlwind escapades with their elements of intricate mystery, political thrillers and sci-fi, and his drawing style that featured straightforward, line-drawn characters in lavishly detailed, color-filled worlds that could spark every imagination.
Hergé famously said, "I couldn't tell a story except in the form of a drawing" - and it was his artwork that drew so many into Tintin's world. But it was also the core of the character that appealed across language, culture and time, as almost anyone, anywhere, could envision themselves as this young man whose compass through all his wild travels are his friendships and desire to be on the side of good.
As time went on and Hergé published one highly anticipated Tintin book after another, the artist's expressive, uncluttered ligne claire style would influence a growing list pop artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, the latter of whom created a portrait of Hergé at the artist's request.
In 1983, Hergé passed away, leaving his 24th Tintin book (Tintin and the Alpha-Art) unfinished. But it was clear that Tintin's legacy would only grow and that he would continue to inspire and enchant fans around the world.
With The Adventures of Tintin, the filmmakers hope a new generation will have the chance to discover a world as full of inspiration as ever. Sums up Kathleen Kennedy: "For us, it's gratifying that first-time, casual and passionate Tintin lovers can all have an entirely new experience with the characters and the story."