Opening this Friday from director Steven Sonnenfeld and Amblin Entertainment comes a film to prove the boys are back in town with “Men In Black 3”.
It is the return of our favorite MIB with Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). An alien criminal kills Agent K in 1969, which alters everything in the future. Agent J must travel back in time to save Agent K (Josh Brolin). In the middle of that he also has to save the Agency, all of humanity and the earth – all in a day’s work!
To bring the story to life takes a lot of skilled artists who see the story director Sonnenfeld is trying to tell. Having the best brings out the finest in the film and this director chose Ken Ralston and Jay Redd who are both well versed in visual affects.
Ken Ralston’s resume is nothing short of amazing. His work includes “Alice in Wonderland”, “Men in Black II”, “Castaway”, “Forrest Gump”, the “Back to the Future” films, the “Star Trek” films and the “Star Wars” films.
Jay Redd has worked on such films as “Monster House” and “Haunted Mansion” as well as finish up shorts for “Coyote Falls”, “Rabid Raider” and “Fur of Flying” for Warner Bros. Pictures.
Speaking with both of these men it is easy to hear that they love what they do, even when things get tough, they still can enjoy their craft. I recently had a conversation with both men about what they do; the time is takes and the dedication along with interacting with the MIB3 cast.
Thanks for talking with us today gentlemen!
I was looking at your resume Ken, its not like you haven’t been busy!
Ken: Nope, not at all.
Obviously you love what you do…
Ken: Sometimes I do!
What is it that keeps you jumping from project to project?
Ken: That is a really good question! What is it that keeps me jumping? That’s a hard question to answer in a weird way. What ever happened to me many years ago that got me interested in this type of work, creating this sort of stuff because I’ve been lucky in the variety of movies I’ve been able to work on – I think it’s a couple of things. One, if the project interests me and it’s a movie I would go see and secondly if the work is a real challenge and has enough variety in it that makes I think worth my while. Believe me when I say these movies beat you up and some are very hard to do. Also, it’s who is directing it and what is the crew I’m going to have. Every factor is important because if I don’t want to like it all believe me I don’t want to do a big effect films. I want to know that my crew is really terrific which at Image Works it always has been. It all makes a big difference. I think earlier on in my career it didn’t make a big difference because I didn’t know much. But when you realize how hard these are to do and they haven’t gotten easier for some reason. You have to pick and choose very carefully for what you want to do because I was on “Men in Black 3” for two years.
What about you Jay?
Jay: A similar thing, I am a curious creature by nature and I like to dig into stuff and tear things apart and work with people making something cool and interesting. Like Ken said it’s the relationship you have with your crew and team that you put together that really, at the end of the day, you’re spending more time with them. Sometimes more than your own family for many, many months so you want to get along and see eye to eye but also learn something new during the process. I might know a lot about a lot of things and then I don’t know anything about a lot of things so I like to learn from different people and learn the creative challenges that make a good story in the movie theatre.
Ken, I noticed too that you are returning to the “Men in Black” franchise because you worked on “Men in Black 2”?
Ken: That’s sort of a technicality I think. I got a 911 call to do a couple of sequences in the movie in the last eight weeks of production to help with the title sequence of the film and other sequences of the movie that Barry wasn’t happy with. I never worked with Barry before so it just happened that I was available and since it was only eight weeks I said sure why not! Barry and I got along great during that eight weeks and I never gave it a second thought until this showed up. We had a great time on this shoot too; we had a lot of laughs. As hard as this movie was, and it was hard, we also had a lot of fun doing it.
Do you feel like you had an advantage coming back into it?
Ken: The only advantage probably was I knew a little bit about Barry. Its important to learn who your director is as soon as you can and how he operates and approaches his directing. That’s how you design to give him work and how you approach him as a director, it’s all-important.
And you Jay, what brought you onto the project?
Jay: Ken Ralston! <laughing> I was wrapping up a couple of short films for Warner Bros. and got a call to come and work with Ken on the film. I was with Image Works for like 10 years and stepped away to do other things and glad to be back working with Ken. I was always a fan of “Men in Black” so I thought why not!
Ken, what do you think or can you compare the effects between “MIB2” and the new film?
Ken: Oh man what a loaded question! The effects are 1,000 times better! In a way I’m not really kidding and I hope I don’t make anyone angry at me but there have been a lot of advances. I think we were able to accomplish some pretty cool stuff in this film compared to others. Every movie you advance the art form, you keep moving forward technically and artistically and that will be applied to the next movie. It’s an ongoing learning experience.
Jay: We were able to do some things on this movie that weren’t possible on MIB2 or the first one and nice to take advantage of that.
It has been a few years, “Men in Black” came out in 2002, how do you guys feel about 3D?
Ken: I think Jay and I are on the same page here, when you spend most of your time on the show getting a certain look and that’s not just taking an effect in the shot – you can light it, animate it and you nurse it through all these small little nuances and pains to make it look like a certain think and its this beautiful looking animal now and its lit just the way you want it in 2D. The you say now lets do it in 3D, first you put on dark glasses and it throws everything out the window, its not lit the same way and you dull all the whites and things happen to it. I’m wishy-washy about 3D because I like the looks of a 2D movie. Also, “Alice in Wonderland” I think it helped a lot in putting Alice in the world she was in, spatially and as a tool that’s where she was. This film goes all out to have fun with 3D and the way Barry usually shoots his movies and this is no different and its weird – I thought I’d never say this – I like this movie in 3D, it was made to be in 3D.
Jay, you think so as well?
Jay: I totally concur! We knew it was going to be 3D from the very beginning so it was always in the conversation while we were shooting. In the end when we started seeing some of the first tests, we really all had the similar feeling that this was great in 3D. I think Barry was even surprised by the style. We all got a kick out of it and it’s really not just a gimmick as it is for enhancing the humor in the film and the adventure and making it feel immersive. I actually liked watching the movie in a good theatre, with good sound and good projection I liked watching it in 3D more. They are both great, don’t get me wrong, its great in 2D as well but it comes alive in 3D. It’s a more enjoyable roller coaster.
So you guys doing the effects, would you agree that all things need to be 3D?
Ken: Absolutely! If your not designing the movie to be 3D I don’t see any reason to do it in 3D. It can be an incredibly valuable tool because we’ve both had experience doing movies this way. But, there are different projects where I say why? What are you doing with this? It’s a waste of time and money and everything else. In this film, Barry is having so much fun with it, it really wants to be that way and I can see absolutely why it wants to be used in this movie. Others I might say ‘nay, it wasn’t really worth it’.
Do you feel too that what Barry is going for a fun film where everyone is having a great time?
Ken: Exactly! There are some wonderful emotional moments in it and some really interesting characters stuff between some of the guys in it, which is really a lot of fun. Really its about having a good time, having some laughs and enjoying the “Men in Black” world and the tongue-in-cheek of it all is what its all about. He had a lot of fun with it and its great to be part of a movie like that.
Jay: There are these important kind of character moments that Barry has shot that ironically benefit from 3D because the characters are more present with you in the theatre. I’m not trying to sound pretentious but it gets you closer to them. You get to see their facial features a little bit more clearly because they really present it to you. You get to feel them a little more. On top of that some of the wild chases and the roller coaster stuff that we are doing – like Will jumping off the Chrysler Building is so much different in 3D and so much more exciting that it adds to the wackiness of the “Men in Black” universe. You get into the story of a live action cartoon feel in a way. You get to be really crazy with it.
Ken: I think this “Men in Black” is the wackiest of the three, in a good way.
It sounds like you guys had more fun than Barry.
Ken: We had a good time with Barry and Barry was having some fun too. Believe me we all had our days when we would just like to get off the movie <laughing>. In the end it was a real, real tough show for Barry above everyone else. It was brutal in so many weird ways. As it evolved and things called down in the post-production stage of the show we all started to realize that somehow during the crazy shoot on the show Barry managed to create a really wonderful fun movie. It is also heartfelt and terrific and I think we were all a little surprised.
Jay: I think so, something came out of that.
Did you think it would take two years?
Ken: It was always scheduled to take two years but what happened during the two was never scheduled <laughing>
Jay: That’s what’s interesting. We often know what the release date of our movie is going to be a good year and a half before it comes out. There is so much competition now between these big event movies that the studios plant their flags on a date. We knew it was going to be Memorial Day 2012 so that becomes your goal. Everything has to go toward that delivery. Some of the stuff that happened was never planned for.
Ken: You know what’s funny is when this show first started, I was shocked that we had such a long postproduction schedule. I can remember saying ‘I don’t want to be doing all this post production for that long, I don’t know why we need that much time!’. During the course of the movie that time got eaten up by other things and it ended up being a short postproduction schedule.
Jay: It was pretty close at the end.
You start sweating when you see the days clicking away.
Jay: There are those days. There are a lot of perceptions about movie making but there are many, many days when your on the set for 14 hours plus travel time and you are awake 16 or 17 hours, then you sleep and go back at it again. That can happen all the way through post production as well, there are times your working on really difficult shots and you have 12 artists working on a shot and someone is animating and someone’s lighting and someone’s adding an explosion or an effect here and there, your running out of time because the sound guys need it. You get into these crazy times and it can be intense.
How was your interaction with the cast?
Ken: Everyday and every minute and a lot of what we are doing, along with the pre-production part getting everything organized, your on set with the director and actors – they are great to be around. Everyone was wonderful. You are basically there to tell them, along with the director, what’s going on because sometimes they are standing in front of a blue screen and they need us to tell them what is happening to help them perform. Its an alien environment if your not use to it. Will and Tommy Lee are use to it but it is helpful to have us around to make sure what we are shooting will work later in post production. A lot of the design and the intent of the shot and the emotion happens seconds before you shoot. So we have to be there all the time to do the final idea and then it goes.
Jay: You always have to be thinking on your feet and thinking quickly.
What is it like to work with Will Smith so much?
Ken: He’s a good guy and works hard. He was involved with a lot of parts in the movie and he helps a lot. Josh Brolin is the same way and Josh is hilarious! It helps the crew keep light and have a lot of fun.
Did you find it fun that Josh and Tommy Lee really kind of look alike?
Jay: I remember the first day we saw Josh come to the set and the first couple of takes hearing his voice kind of blew me away. I knew this was really going to be funny because he’s really good. They do look similar and I think its safe to say that Rick Baker helped Josh out a bit with ear pieces and nose work to help push it a little further. Josh did an amazing job though.
Ken: Some people think that Tommy’s voice is dubbed over Josh’s.
That’s exactly what I was going to ask because when Josh speaks he sounds just like Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K!
Jay: Just to be clear – there is no visual enhancement to Josh Brolin and there is no voice work. It is totally Josh.
That speaks a lot about his ability as an actor.
Ken: He’s a funny guy too.
He always plays such tough guy quiet roles that its hard to imagine him funny.
Ken: He is great on set. I wouldn’t have expected it either but he is a master of different dialects and he has a lot of fun with that. Its like what he did with the George W. Bush movie, he nailed it.
Jay: He nailed these guys and what’s great about the performance in the movie is that he gives you a chance to see the K character that Tommy has played before he’s been beaten up over the years. There’s a glimmer in Josh’s eye and a sense of humor that isn’t quite the same as Tommy but yet it is Tommy. Its Tommy matured.
Ken: The chemistry between Will and Tommy from the first “Men in Black” is also there between Will and Josh.
Jay: They had a lot of fun on set.
You have a huge cast list from Justin Beiber to Bill Hader to Lady Gaga – its almost like everyone wanted a piece of the franchise.
Ken: Tim Burton too! He’s in the background of one shot on the video of the orb. There are a bunch of little cameos that you have to look for.
Is that a bonus too that all these people want to be part of something that’s pretty special for a lot of people.
Ken: It’s a fun project and it has a sense of humor so I can see why people would want to be in it.
Jay: Tim definitely thought it would be hilarious to be thought of as an alien in the film.
Even you guys are laughing about it.
Ken: Since you’ve said that, Jay and I have been on this for two years and no every image and every pixel of every shot in this film way to well. We still see things in the movie and we were color timing the film a couple of weeks ago and material would come up and we are still laughing at it. This has got to be a good time because we’ve seen it a thousand times and it still makes us laugh.
Jay: I was on a vacation in Berlin and we did the Berlin premier and it was a huge stadium and it was one of the biggest premiers in Germany ever. I saw Barry and Will and some others. We put on these 3D glasses and I was worried about how it was going to look in the huge stadium but it was beautiful. Then the first lines came up and it was in German! It was all overdubbed and at first I was horrified but I got a few lines here and there and the movie was really funny in German. Getting to watch the characters and their performances everyone was laughing. It’s still funny in German! A lot of the visual humor and the actors are what make it funny.
Even though Tommy doesn’t have a lot of facial expressions as Agent K, everything is on his face!
Ken: He is a great actor, it’s the subtle things he does and the looks he gives which is the sign of a great actor.
Jay: I hope everyone enjoys the film, seriously.
Ken: I think you’ll love Josh too.
I appreciate you guys took the time to talk to me today. I am looking forward to it and I think congratulations are in order.
Ken: I think you’ll have a blast, it is a fun and bizarre film.
I’m always up for fun and bizarre.
Ken: Then you’re going to love it.
Jay: I hope you enjoy it.
There is no doubt as someone who thoroughly enjoys the “Men in Black” franchise that seeing the new MIB3 will be just as exciting and fun. So grab your tubs of popcorn and your 3D glasses for what promises to be early summer fun with “Men in Black 3” opening in theatres this Friday, May 25th, 2012.
They are back….in time!