Five Facts About Alice in Wonderland

Exclusive: Burton and his collaborators spill Wonderland's secrets to RT.

by | February 3, 2010 | Comments

Alice in Wonderland


Over the past 20 years, director Tim Burton and his chiseled muse Johnny Depp have proved an extremely fruitful pairing. From the gothic beauty of Edward Scissorhands, through the campy farce of Sleepy Hollow to the eye-popping lunacy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, they have given us some of the most memorable movies of recent years. Fans eagerly await their latest collaboration, Alice in Wonderland, in which Depp plays The Mad Hatter opposite newcomer Mia Wasikowska as Alice. RT goes behind the scenes on the film to discover that Tim Burton dislikes motion capture, Mia Wasikowska hates green screen and that making an animated cat is more difficult than you might think…

Alice in Wonderland

Fact #1: It Won’t Be Like Any Other Adaptation You’ve Ever Seen

Because, frankly, Tim Burton wasn’t impressed with them. “All the other versions of Alice I’ve seen were lacking a narrative dynamic,” he tells RT. “They were just a series of absurdist tales with one weird character after another and not too much of a context. So you watch it thinking, ‘Oh, that’s weird,’ and ‘Yeah, that’s strange,’ without ever paying attention to the story plot points.”

How is Burton’s Alice going to avoid those pitfalls? “We tried to give all of the characters a bit more of a foundation and a more simple, grounded story to work off all the weird stuff,” he explains. “I mean, they’re obviously all mad. But we have tried to give each of them a particular madness and a bit more depth.”

Continue onto the next page and beware some story spoilers as we tap Burton and his key crew for more secrets from Alice in Wonderland.

Alice in Wonderland

Fact #2: The Effects Were Trial and Error

Or, as Burton likes to call it: “an organic process.” In fact, the effects crew actually filmed scenes using expensive Zemeckis-style motion capture technology, before discarding the whole lot. “We suited the Tweedles (Matt Lucas) and the Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover, pictured) for motion capture,” explains animation supervisor David Schaub. “The Knave is eight feet tall so we thought that motion capture would be the best method. But Crispin had to be on stilts for eye line purposes, so all of the captured images looked like a guy on stilts. It was clunky.” Was it frustrating to have to throw away the footage? “It’s Tim’s choice,” shrugs Schaub. “He knows what’s out there and he makes choices based on the films he sees and the techniques used.”

There must have been some heated debates with the effects team? “We discussed what we like and don’t like about motion capture,” admits Burton. “Personally, I think it looks weird.”

Alice in Wonderland

Fact #3: You Won’t Know What’s Real and What Isn’t

“We basically have three live-action characters,” explains David Schaub. “They are Alice (Wasikowska), The Mad Hatter (Depp) and The White Queen (Anne Hathaway). The Tweedles and the Knave of Hearts are real heads blended onto animated bodies. That creates a special look that you won’t have seen before. It’s very cool. Meanwhile, Helena Bonham Carter’s character (The Red Queen) is an amalgamation of all kinds of different techniques, which we then distorted.” One of the most difficult characters to create, though, was The Cheshire Cat. “That was hard because he actually floats,” says Schaub. “So we had to think, if a cat could float, how would a cat float? Then he’s got this huge grin the whole time, which causes problems because he’s got to have emotions. But how do you make him anything other than happy when he’s got this permanent smile? It was intense.”

As for Wonderland itself, it’s almost entirely CGI. “There is one significant prop where Alice steps into Wonderland and goes down some stairs,” says Schaub. “That was an amazing piece of architecture. But everything else is a CG environment.”

The end result may look incredible, but do spare a thought for poor Mia Wasikowska. “It was three months of green screen,” she sighs. “So I had to try and keep the energy up and remember that there will be an animated character in front of me. But it’s hard when you’re acting opposite nothing but sticky tape and tennis balls.”

Alice in Wonderland

Fact #4: The Mad Hatter is Truly a Burton/Depp Creation

“It’s funny,” laughs costume designer Colleen Atwood, who has worked with Tim Burton on seven films over the past 20 years, including Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish and Sweeney Todd. “Tim, Johnny and I had all made sketches of what we thought the Mad Hatter should look like. Then, when we sat down to discuss it, we realised they were all really similar!” One of the most interesting things about the Mad Hatter’s costume is that it changes colour according to his mood. “It’s like a mood ring,” explains Atwood. “I made his suits in different colours, with layers of other colours, and then they enhanced it with CGI. It’s going to look really fun.”

Alice in Wonderland

Fact #5: Mia Wasikowska is the New Cate Blanchett

“She’s just an amazing young woman,” Atwood gushes to RT. “Her head is not up in the clouds and she’s a really hard worker with a great sense of humour — something you need on a film as crazy as this. She’s definitely channeling Cate Blanchett in the sense that both actresses are extremely talented but very grounded. Plus they’re both Australian.”

Tim Burton agrees: “Mia has an old soul, but there are elements of her that feel very young and naïve,” he explains. “She’s perfect to play Alice at this stage of her life because she is at a crossroads, and the film’s journey is her finding out who she is and what she wants. Although this is probably the weirdest, most abstract movie that she will ever be in. I mean, it’s weird even for me.”

With such effusive praise being ladled on her, is Wasikowska feeling the pressure? “A little bit,” she laughs, nervously. “I’m excited to see the finished product but, of course, there is a certain amount of anxiety that comes with it. Having said that, I have such faith in Tim and everybody on this film, so I’m not really worried.”

Alice in Wonderland is released nationwide on Friday 5 March.

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