The modern day King of Blockbusters, Roland Emmerich has outdone himself with his new disaster movie 2012. The doomsday film tells the story of a group of people attempting to survive a world that is crumbling around them.
The basis for the idea comes from the ancient Mayan calendar which ends on December 21, 2012, leaving a prophesy of enormous proportions.
Roland Emmerich, who wrote, directed and produced the movie and Mike Weigart, who was the Visual Effects Supervisor and Co-Producer, spoke about their latest collaboration.
What was it about this movie that appealed to you?
Mike Weigart: Pretty much everything about this movie is appealing to me. More than half of the movie is visual effects. I think Roland has found a way to stick almost every natural disaster you can imagine into this film. L.A. is destroyed in a 10.5 earthquake by page 30. Yellowstone Park goes up in a thirty-mile-wide explosion of lava.
The real reason why it’s so much fun to work with Roland is that he brings something new, something different to every single scene. You might think, ‘Hm, I’ve seen movies with an earthquake.’ Well, no, you haven’t.
You got to destroy a lot of major landmarks in the film. What were you especially excited to destroy?
Roland Emmerich: (he laughs) Well, it’s not like I walked around ‘Oooo, I could destroy this’ or ‘I could destroy that’. It always comes out of the story. Jackson Curtis (John Cusack’s character) lives in LA and I live in LA and everybody in LA talks about ‘the big one’ where California sinks into the ocean so we just decided to do that. That was a great starting point.
Sometimes it’s born out of something interesting. Like we’re destroying the Sistine Chapel, ‘We’re already there so why don’t we have the church fall on people’s heads?’ The message is ‘never pray in front of a big church’! (he laughs). And with the White House, people said, ‘You can’t do this and not destroy the White House’. I thought, ‘Just do it in a different way’.
At the time I was reading a lot about the Kennedys, and when I was a kid I visited old warships in the Chesapeake Bay, and they had just launched the JFK carrier there. Then there was a big wave in the film, so I said, ‘Okay JFK comes back to the White House!’
What were the challenges with the special effects?
Mike Weigart: One of the biggest challenges was the sheer number of different types of disasters that happen in the film: earthquakes, fissures opening in the ground, several cities are destroyed, floods, huge volcanic eruptions. And each one of these needed to be designed. We needed to do research and development for things that had never been done before.
Obviously, as visual effects get better and better, audiences become more and more sophisticated and pick up on any little thing we get wrong. So we have to up our quality level and make sure that whatever we’re doing is one hundred percent seamless.
A lot of things that we’re doing would not have been possible just a couple of years ago.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
Roland Emmerich: These kinds of movies are really about celebrating life. It’s about survival where regular people become heroes and I think people can identify with that. They’ll probably ask themselves, ‘Could I be as brave as Jackson Curtis?’ That’s what I hope people take home.
You had to do a lot of work to bring Roland Emmerich’s vision for the end of the world.
Mike Weigart: Roland Emmerich is first and foremost an entertainer. He knows that whichever movie he does, he wants to have an audience, to begin with, and to please that audience.
He needs to constantly show something new, something different, which is great for us because that’s what gets us going. It would be horrible boring if we were to do the same thing over and over again.
We constantly have new things that have never been done before, new things that we have to research. We’re always standing there scratching our heads, ‘How are we supposed to do this?’ But you figure it out. (he laughs)