For two decades (and counting), hyperproductive director Robert Rodriguez has followed in the footsteps of his franchise-making idols George Lucas and James Cameron to become one of Hollywood’s outsider technological pioneers.
“I figured, ‘I’m following Obi-Wan! He knows what time it is!'” the easygoing auteur told Wired.com by phone from his “space station” home studio in Austin, Texas. “He doesn’t wait 10 years to adopt a new technology like everyone else.”
Rodriguez‘s latest clever renovation of the industry arrives Friday in the form of Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, a “4-D” spy-fi blockbuster shot in 3-D and enhanced with Aroma-Scope, which is to say scratch-and-sniff cards in homage to the prankster spirit of schlock cinema icon William Castle and ’60s Smell-O-Vision.
It builds upon the success of its 2003 predecessor Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, the most successful installment of Rodriguez’s franchise, which helped kick-start Hollywood’s 3-D resurgence. Throughout the Spy Kids series, Rodriguez pioneered the use of high-definition digital video and CGI environments.
“I’ve always been an early technology adopter,” Rodriguez said. “I just found it to be freeing. Adopting technology pushes the art form forward.”
Rodriguez’s next projects are even more likely to galvanize geekdom. He’s remaking pioneering animation director Ralph Bakshi and iconic artist Frank Frazetta‘s groundbreaking yet underrated 1983 performance-capture fantasy Fire and Ice. Rodriguez is also assembling an all-star roster of directors to create another film version of Heavy Metal, which has yet to fully live up to its potential, despite the fact that, as Rodriguez explained, “everyone wants to be a part of it.”
Wired.com talked with Rodriguez on all that and more, including his highly anticipated sequel to Sin City and why his frustratingly postponed film adaptation of Mike Allred’s riotous comic Madman has had to dodge The Bourne Identity‘s steamroller.
Robert Rodriguez merges 3-D with watch-and-sniff Aroma-Scope in his latest Spy Kids film, out Friday.
Image courtesy Dimension Films
Wired.com: What’s it feel like to be a digital film pioneer who’s way ahead of the pack?
Robert Rodriguez: Technology plays a big part of what I do, because I try to keep our operation pretty scrappy here in Austin. It bridges the gap between the ideas I have, which can be pretty big sometimes, and the small budget that I have. I really need technology so I can compete, so I can put a movie like Spy Kids 4 out in the summer that doesn’t cost the same price as any other summer movie. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. Knowing how to use technology allows me to stay true to who I am as a filmmaker, and compete with these huge summer films.
Wired.com: Did you learn how to use it out of economic necessity, or have you always been a tech geek?
Rodriguez: Oh, I’m a big tech geek. But even when I was making El Mariachi, I wasn’t cutting up film. I was using digital editing, even back then, to get that movie made for such a low price…. I was the only one on the lot digitally editing Desperado, and I was an early adopter of digital photography.
I just think it helps you creatively move ideas out into the world. There would be no Sin City if I hadn’t shot in digital. Same with 3-D, which is back right now. Early on, I figured I could make a 3-D movie out of digitally putting two cameras together, so I could see what I was doing live in 3-D space. I tried it out for Spy Kids 3D, which was the first 3-D film in the multiplexes in 20 years….
Time and again, I’ve found technology indispensable. There’s a great quote that I always use from Pixar’s John Lasseter: “Technology pushes art, and art pushes technology.” Adopting technology pushes the art form forward. When you think of how to creatively use it, you usually come up with great ideas. And technology isn’t expensive. People tend to think that you need a lot of money to use a lot of technology, but it’s actually the opposite! [Laughs] I use technology so I don’t have to spend any money!
Wired.com: Can you give me a recent example of how you’ve done that?
Rodriguez: I wish I could show you where I am. It’s almost like a one-room loft. But right next to my kitchen is my bed, and right next to my bed is my system. And my system is … well, what is it? It’s got everything! [Laughs] I score the music there, I edit the film there, I use it to work with computer artists from across the country. It’s like a space station! [Laughs] It’s right in front of my bed, so I can roll out of bed and go right to work. And I do it all at home in Austin. It would blow people away if they could see it. The room looks exactly the same as the room I had in high school, except the equipment’s better. I always made my movies out of my bedroom back then, and that is still how I do it today, except that now they go into theaters in the summer in competition with everything else. It’s pretty crazy what you can get away with when it comes to technology. It’s fantastic.
Rodriguez: I didn’t tell anyone I was doing that for Spy Kids 4D. I kept it a secret from everybody; even my actors and crew didn’t even know about it. I was having them smell stuff on camera, and they didn’t know what was going on. They didn’t even find out until a month and a half ago when I announced that it was going to be in 4-D. I like to keep things close to the vest, so I can be very secretive about what I’m working on.
Wired.com: Dude, I must have a picture of your space station for this interview.
Rodriguez: I should take a picture of it! [Laughs] That would be great. But I’d have to put arrows pointing out what everything is, because there’s so much to see. There are five screens on my desk and each one does something different. On one of them, I can remotely talk to the people who are doing the 3-D treatment. Watch it in 3-D and write notes on the screen and send fixes back to them. And I’ve had that technology since the first Spy Kids film, so some of this stuff I’ve been able to do for a good 10 years.
Wired.com: Spy Kids and Sin City share a cool kinship, in that they both exploded full-CGI film environments. What can you tell us about Sin City 2 at this early stage?
Rodriguez: Some of the books we’re doing are prequels, so even if the characters died in Sin City, they would still be able to come back for Sin City 2. So some of the cast members are the same, and then there are some new cast members. But I’m excited about that one. I want to shoot it in a 3-D that audiences haven’t seen before.
Rodriguez: I know! [Laughs] Sin City in Aroma-Scope! That would be pretty funny. And I think it would work great in the Machete sequel, too.
Rodriguez: He was ahead of his time. There’s a behind-the-scenes feature on Fire and Ice that you should check out. It’s pretty hilarious. I visited Jim Cameron when he was making Avatar, and it was similar to the making of Fire and Ice, because they were doing basic performance capture back then. Bakshi was filming guys climbing scaffolding, and then they would trace it.
So it was a kind of crude performance capture; Bakshi would have his actors who were playing subhumans battle a tractor, which would lift them up in the air as they kicked and struggled. Then they would fade that out later and make it a giant lizard. So he was way ahead of his time, because that’s basically what people do now. They all jump around soundstages so a computer can interpret their movements frame by frame, rather than artists. He was cutting-edge.
Wired.com: How are you going to put your stamp on the reboot?
‘I want Fire and Ice to feel like you’re walking into one of Frazetta’s paintings and living in his head.’Rodriguez: I want to take it even further into the realm of Frank Frazetta, which is something Bakshi wanted to do, but he knew they didn’t have the technology to do it. He said Fire and Ice was more like the comic-book version of a Frazetta work, because they couldn’t paint every frame like you can do today. So I want it to feel like you’re walking into one of Frazetta’s paintings and living in his head. That’s where I want to take Fire and Ice.
Wired.com: How about your Heavy Metal film? I think legions are looking forward to where you take that one.
Rodriguez: I’m pretty excited about that too. I’ve always loved the idea of having a bunch of artists come together to show off their best work. I’ve always thought its potential was so great. People just love the name, and what it stands for, and that iconic logo. When I bring it to other filmmakers, everyone wants to be a part of it, because Heavy Metal affected and inspired them in some way.
When I unveiled an animated logo for the film at Comic-Con, it got a huge reaction, because people still love the idea. So we’re getting started on it, and I’m keeping it open, because it’s such a fan-driven project. Fans have kept it alive for all these years, so I’m going to open up one of the stories to the fans, just like I did with Hobo With a Shotgun. That was where I had this contest for people to send in fake trailers, and someone sent in Hobo With a Shotgun, which I awarded the top prize so he went and made a movie out of it. That sort of thing. So people are able to submit ideas to our website, and if their story wins out, they can actually be a part of the movie. Because I think fans know what they think this movie should be in their heads. Their ultimate dream version of Heavy Metal.
Rodriguez: I’ve got a bunch of people who are interested, but I haven’t gone and officially closed it with them yet, because I’m still writing a version of my own story. But we’re about to go out and pinpoint who the other filmmakers will be. I’ve already had interest; I had one big-name director tell me he wanted to do it right after I got off my Comic-Con panel. [Laughs] I figure we can just decide who we think would want to do it, and go ask them and they’ll say yes. Because it’s not a big commitment and I’m pretty sure Heavy Metal has inspired them in some way.
Rodriguez: I know what music I would want to do for my story, but I would leave it up to each filmmaker to decide what they want to use. I would just remind them not to forget how big a part the music has to play, and to really use their creativity to bring that out. I’m sure they’ll come up with great ideas.
Mike Allred’s cult comics hero Frank Einstein has yet to make his movie debut, no thanks to Jason Bourne. But Robert Rodriguez says a Madman film is a sure thing.
Image courtesy Image Comics
Wired.com: Excellent. I would be remiss not to mention the Madman film, because I’ve been waiting to see that movie ever since I read the first issue of the comic back in the ’90s.
Rodriguez: I know, that would be so fantastic. One of the best story ideas from that comic ended up being used in The Bourne Identity, so we’ve had to wait for that to kind of pass us by. I was so excited to make the film before that came out, because I thought that having a killer who lost his memory and then became Mr. Excitement hadn’t really been done in a movie. [Laughs] That was one of the main plot devices we had in the original script. But we still want to make and we’re still going to make it, so it’s going to happen for sure.
Wired.com: Finally, you’re an excellent example of a major creative talent that has come along and changed the way films are made. What do you think about the evolution of the industry since El Mariachi, and where do you think it can go?
Rodriguez: Things have changed so quickly. When I came out with El Mariachi, it was the beginning of the no-budget filmmaking model that took over for a while. There was a huge independent wave after that, but the technological evolution of film was really taking off. You have to remember that was when CGI was really coming into its own, because that was the same year that Terminator 2 came out, which changed everything. So I’ve witnessed a major evolution since my early days, when I was saying, “Screw film!” [Laughs]
Digital was where we needed to go, because that was where the advancements were going to be made. George Lucas started it all with the EditDroid, which he sold to Avid, and when he switched to digital, I figured, “I’m following Obi-Wan! He knows what time it is!” He doesn’t wait 10 years to adopt a new technology like everyone else. He goes right at it, so I was very inspired by what he was doing, and that he was doing it outside of Hollywood. And I’ve known Jim Cameron since I got to Hollywood; he and I would talk about that stuff all the time. I just figured that I would follow their lead and creatively use whatever new technology available to advance the art form and strengthen the industry.
See Also:- In Praise of Ralph Bakshi, Animation Pioneer