Although there are only two cuts from the side that
show the characters full-body, those shots were among the most arduous
to achieve. Complicating matters was the fact that the angel had
to be naked. Thompson chose a body double whose balletic movements
she liked. "The only way to shoot Kirk and Emma's naked body
double was to have them supported in body pans with the camera above,
shooting down on their profiles against greenscreen," Edlund
details. "With an elaborate rig we had built by our special-effects
coordinator, Stevie Kirshoff, the actors could lie on their sides
in the pan fairly comfortably; the pan cradled them from underarm
to mid-thigh along the side you don't see. As Kirk was playing to
the body double, Emma played to a video camera, and we set up a video
monitor so Kirk could have a peripheral view of Emma's performance
and hear her lines."
To match Thompson's head to her body double, Edlund placed the actress
on a board with a 45-degree incline. "To counter the effect
of gravity, we filmed Emma with a fan to lift her Eighties-style,
big-hair wig. Mike then picked the take he wanted, but Emma's actions
didn't exactly match the double's, so in addition to tracking her
head to the double's body, we had to animate its tilt and sway to
match the double's movements."
But the Frankensteinian operation was just beginning. "Next,
we had to set Emma's hair on fire! We shot a number of fire elements,
then ace composite artist Stefano Trivelli did lots of rotoscoping
to effectively blend and warp the fire with her hair. When we shot
the elements of Kirk and the body double and Emma's head, we had
interactive light on set. We relied on the 'happy accident' for sync,
and it worked." Even the angel's flapping wings were shot separately. "We
had to find the right wing motion, which had to coincide with the
flapping movement of the double's arms, and then graft the wings
onto her back."
Furthermore, the body pans limited the actors' abilities to simulate
copulation, so the effects team had to animate them digitally. "When
we filmed the actors, we separated them a bit so they could move
their arms," says Edlund. "We knew we could bring them
together later, and because they're in profile, you don't notice
any convergence problem with their eyes. In composite, we placed
their bodies as close to each other as possible, with her arms occasionally
crossing over him and his arms crossing over her. Their actions were
pretty much in sync, but we could slip them a few frames and also
use time-correct. With Stefano's help, we used warp-age and stretch-age
to make their bodies undulate. In the close-ups, we could add that
sexual 'to and fro' by using simple zooms."
One of the biggest challenges Edlund faced on Millennium Approaches was
fixing an elaborate traveling shot that covers a lot of ground before
ending on an intimate scene. "My mind was boggled by how some
of the effects shots had been set up," he remarks.
"Many of them had glaring conceptual problems, and we had to
totally reconstruct a number of them."
The traveling shot begins with a close-up of the infamous Roy Cohn
(Al Pacino) talking to his young Mormon law clerk (Patrick Wilson)
in the bar of the Plaza Hotel; the camera then moves across the bar
and through the window, across Central Park South, over the wall
and into the park, past two men masturbating next to a tree and a
third searching for a partner, and then up to a close-up of Prior's
boyfriend soliciting sex with another man. Four shots had to be digitally
connected to create the single, fluid shot Nichols envisioned, but
there were two problems: the elements that had been filmed by the
original effects team were flawed, and the shot simply took too long.
"Mike dreams up shots that are very cine-dramatic, like the
opening shot of The Birdcage," remarks Edlund. "But
he didn't want this shot to be so long that the audience would forget
where it started - you lose track of the dramatic point if it gets
But shortening the shot only exacerbated the problems with the elements.
For starters, the patrons in the background of the Plaza's bar had
been instructed to remain perfectly still. "Everyone was sitting
motionless, like wax figures, as the camera took off across the bar
to go out the window," says Edlund. "It really bugged Mike
that everybody in the bar was like a mannequin, and whenever he saw
a comp, it drove him nuts. So we had to put a natural sense of movement
into the shot; we animated several figures - for example, one leans
forward, another moves her head - but we did it so subtly that it
probably won't be noticed. In one instance, Don Greenberg, the wizened
and experienced compositor working on that shot, was trying to make
one of the women look like she was taking a sip of her drink. He
was using 2-D stretch on her arm, and on video that looked like it
would work, but on film she looked like a crustacean. So we had our
ups and downs."
Unfortunately, it wasn't as easy to fix the traffic problem as the
camera travels across the street and into the park. "When they
filmed those elements, they closed off Central Park South and had
all the cars drive by at 10 miles per hour, and they shot them at
24 fps," says Edlund, still exasperated. "We just couldn't
make that work. When we tried to speed it up, of course, it strobed
like crazy, and the traffic didn't look at all like New York traffic.
So we went out with our crew and Stephen Goldblatt re-lit the area
in question, and we successfully shot it with a Steadicam running
across the street, past the horses and surreys and up to the stone
To give the entire traveling shot a consistent speed, he continues, "We
first had to stabilize the park plate, but when we sped up the action
to link up to the previous two segments, the guys pleasuring each
other next to the tree shook like they were on super-speed! They
were shot 24 fps, but that was one-tenth the speed we needed to be
going. Here was an instance when the actors should have had no motion.
We had to time-correct the shot and re-animate the guys in 3-D against
the tree as the camera sped by."
Even the final element, the shot of Prior's boyfriend propositioning
another man, was fraught with difficulty. "Mike had been advised
not to have the actors say or do anything until the camera stopped
moving," says Edlund. "Of course, Mike was unhappy with
the shot because it just looked clumsy for them to stand there and
wait. I felt the best way to fix that was to start by going through
bushes and branches, letting the camera reveal them just as they
begin their dialogue. We created a group of branches in 2-D and multi-planed
them so we'd catch just a glimpse of the men before the camera comes
through to discover them in the final medium shot.
"Initially, Mike hated the first part and the last part of
the shot, but as the weeks went by, it kept getting better. I was
worried that [compositor] Don Greenberg would reach the end of his
rope. I brought in a bottle of '84 Dom Perignon and left it on his
console as a carrot for all of us. We enjoyed that bottle immensely
when Mike was finally happy with the shot!"
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