Pixar animator gets real on Mars

Stanton braves the heat, Taylor Kitsch gets ready to go Martian.

Like his Pixar confrere Brad Bird, who went from making epic CG hits (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) to Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, animator Andrew Stanton has made the leap from digital toons to directing real, flesh and blood actors on real (albeit lots of green-screen) sets.

For John Carter, the huge and fantastical adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulp book about a Civil War veteran mysteriously transported to Mars, Stanton found himself in deserts and soundstages, dealing with giant crews and giant logistical problems. It was a seismic shift from steering squads of artists and renderers on his Oscar-winning animated hits Finding Nemo and Wall-E.

“It was a one hundred percent physical adjustment,” Stanton explains. “You’re going from banker’s hours and always sitting, to standing and being outside for like 100 days in every conceivable weather situation. That was truly, by far, the most difficult morale-slamming thing to have done. I knew it would be hard, but I just had never been tested like that, so…

 “And I think I may have benefited from my naivete, because I found out as we were going along, even from people who had been making movies all their life, that this was a really hard shoot.... It’s like your first earthquake. `Was that a big one? ‘I had no idea.”

On the other hand, Stanton says that “the intellectual side” of making John Carter – “the professional discussions, working with other artists and planning the shots, and discussing  what the scenes were about — was similar to what he had been doing all along at Pixar.

“It was like you’ve always sailed the boat virtually — you’ve never been on a real boat — but you pretty much have been sailing all this time. So there was a little bit of a jump, but it was familiar.”

John Carter opens Friday, in 2-D and 3-D.