When Francisco X. DeJesus, digital effect supervisor for Sony Imageworks, found out his company would be in charge of the computer animation for Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” he didn’t react the way most people would knowing a visionary filmmaker like Burton was entrusting them to help create a entire new cinematic world for him.
DeJesus was actually a bit disappointed.
“When it first came up, my first thought was ‘Darn!’ because I was already working on another project,” DeJesus told me during a phone interview explaining that his work on the guinea pig adventure “G-Force” prevented him from starting the exciting project. “Knowing that [Burton] was going to be here working with Imageworks and that I wasn’t going to be working with him was kind of a bummer.”
Once on vacation after “G-Force” was complete, however, DeJesus received a welcomed phone call.
“It turned out the scope of work on ‘Alice in Wonderland’ had grown and they needed more people,” said DeJesus, who is known to some of his friends as “F.X.” “They wondered if I would be interested and I said, ‘Yeah!’”
DeJesus, who has worked on such films as “Titanic” and the “Spider-Man” franchise, was brought into “Alice in Wonderland” specifically for the final battle sequence where Alice and the White Queen’s army face off against the Jabberwocky and the Red Queen’s army.
During our interview, DeJesus, who was born in Puerto Rico, talked about how the vision behind “Alice in Wonderland” was different from any other movie he’s ever worked on in the past and what types of challenges he faced coming onto the film late in the game.
“Alice in Wonderland” will be available on DVD and Blu-ray June 1.
How were creating the digital effects for “Alice in Wonderland” different from movies you’ve worked on in the past?
It was vastly different. “Alice in Wonderland” was probably the most aesthetic movie that I’ve ever worked on. I’ve worked on a lot of movies that are technical and photo realistic where you could go in a build something digitally based on photos like New York City or the Titanic. But the world of Wonderland and Tim Burton’s vision was quite an artistic challenge.
Was Tim Burton someone you always looked up to in this industry?
I always admired Tim Burton’s work. I also did a movie called “Monster House” years ago and we referenced “A Nightmare Before Christmas” as the gold standard. It was a pleasure watching him work and draw little sketches for us. He comes from this traditional artist background and it shows in everything he does.
Were there any major challenges coming onto a project at the very end instead of starting from the beginning?
This is probably the second time something like this has happened. The first time, I was working on “Monster House” and “Spider-Man 3” was already going on. I came into “Spider-Man 3” at the end to do the final battle sequence of that movie. But I had already worked on “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 2” and I knew the director and the team so it was really easy for me to slide in and do the work. “Alice in Wonderland” was a little more challenging because I had never worked with Tim Burton. Part of the challenge was learning his style. Also, it was a lot of work in a very short amount of time.
Is it important for you as an artist to work with filmmakers who have different visions?
I do like to work on different things because every project can take up to two years to complete. So, when I finish one movie I want to go and try something different. I’ve gone from full computer-generated animation to photo realistic superheroes. You always want to flex your muscles with different projects.
Do you like working more on live-action films or animated films?
I tend to find more work in the live action just because I like the energy and the dynamic of being on the set and being on location. That really drives me.
Do you like working on films that are adapted from other works or is it more rewarding to start on a film with completely original characters and storylines?
The most important thing for me is if there is a clear vision from the director. Sometimes that comes across in concept art. Sometimes it’s in a “Spider-Man” movie where you have other media like comic books that you can draw upon as inspiration. Tim Burton was like that. That made this movie fantastic to work on.