Francisco X. DeJesus – Alice in Wonderland (DVD)

May 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

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.

Alice in Wonderland

March 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by: Tim Burton (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”)
Written by: Linda Woolverton (“The Lion King”)

Director Tim Burton’s visual sensibility is once again at the forefront of another dark spectacle full of big ideas but ultimately hollow at its core. This time it’s “Alice in Wonderland,” a beautifully-realized take on the popular 19th century Lewis Carroll tale, which has been remade numerous times in the past 100 years.

In the newest version, “Alice” takes the best of what Burton does and buries it under an incoherent narrative by animated film screenwriter Linda Woolverton (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King”). It’s not so much that the magic or overall look has been squandered. The twisted tale of a Mad Hatter, a waist-coated white rabbit, and Cheshire Cat is quite stunning with the characters going through a computer-generated makeover. Burton’s version, however, must overcompensate on imagination when the sluggish story sucks all the adventure out of what could have been an epic reimaging of a beloved classic.

Fresh-face Australian actress Mia Wasikowska (“Defiance”) is entrusted with the role of the title character. In a sort of sequel to any of the preceding films, here Alice is actually returning to the fantasy world most people know from the trippy Disney film of 1951. In this adaptation, Alice is an unconventional 19-year-old who visits a place called Underland after she rejects a suitor who has asked for her hand in marriage.

Bothered by nightmares of her first journey down the rabbit hole (an event she hardly remembers), Alice stumbles yet again into a land where flowers talk, frogs are royal servants, and oversized facial features are signs power. Woolverton’s script even finds room for Carroll’s Jabberwocky, a monstrous character first introduced in his novel “Through the Looking Glass.”

Since her last visit, the vile and bulbous-headed Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has taken over. Alice does her best impersonation of the kids from “The Chronicles of Narnia” to try to stop her and her loyal army. A prophetic scroll shown at the beginning of her second coming reveals Alice to be the one who will put an end to the queen’s reign. Most of the characters, however, think she is the “wrong Alice” and won’t be able to help.

Cast near-perfectly especially with Johnny Depp as the eccentric Mad Hatter, Crispin Glover as the sinister Knave of Hearts, and Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry lending their voices for the hooka-smoking Blue Caterpillar and the hypnotic Cheshire Cat respectively, “Alice” definitely transports us to the world we all new Burton could create. It’s unfortunate, however, that the digital enhancements outweigh a story that is more aware of its dreamlike marvels than before. Because Alice is older, that childlike sense of wonderment is absent. Woolverton (off with her head!) compounds the problem by fashioning a whimsical yet convoluted tale that often becomes dull and gaudy all at once.