300 is a complicated technical film, shot on blue screen with environments created and colored digitally. With all the details put into various aspects of production, director Zack Snyder began with a much simpler process.
Zack Snyder on 300
"The way we started was with the concept art," he said. "I would do a little doodle and Grant [Story] would say, ‘Okay.’ He would so some photo shop, whacking together some images. That would sort of get us in an area where I would say, ‘Okay that’s kind of working.’ Then we’d try to refine that by maybe shooting stuff. Shot a guy in a Spartan outfit. Not the ones we used in the movie, but something like it, red cape for composition and sky and things like that. So that process led us all the way to production where we sit at a table, we’d have the story board sitting in front of us and I’d say, ‘Okay I want the camera below. What happened a moment before is the guy walked up and stopped on the hill and I’m imaging that it’s a silhouette and that sky we’d replace.’ Everyone would take a turn and the visual effects guys would go, ‘Okay what we plan to do is generate this sky, get this background. Maybe there’s a sun flare. Maybe blah blah blah.’ Then Jim Bissell the production designer would say, ‘Okay this is what I plan to build for you to shoot on. It’s a little silhouetted hill. It’s made out of concrete and you can use it for all these different things.’ We basically do that 2,000 times and you have a movie."
The ultimate effect is to make a mythological epic rather than a historical one. "I’d say 300 is a movie that is made from the Spartan perspective. Not just from the Spartan perspective, the cameras are the Spartans, but it’s the Spartans sensibility of the Battle of Thermopylae. If you had Spartans sitting around a fire and they were telling you before anything was written down what happened at Thermopylae, this is the way they would tell it. It’s not necessarily down to the fact that they don’t have armor on. Everything about it is just to make the Spartans more heroic."
Though it took digital technology to achieve this, the goal was to make it look realistic. "The thing we really tried to do with 300 was not try to make it look like it was made by a computer. I wanted it to feel organic as much as we could because you don’t want it to end up looking like Polar Express. It’s a possibility. You have enough CGI in there and suddenly it’s that movie. The problem is, even though that’s a great looking movie and it’s super cool, I feel like it doesn’t relate back to the printed media it came from. I know this sounds contrary because an animated film is much more like a graphic novel, but I disagree because I feel like Frank’s graphic novel is an organic experience. It’s a gritty book and a lot of spilled paint on that book. It feels like it anyway."
The colors became an aesthetic choice. "I have theories about each sequence and why they are the color they are and also how they sort of relate back to what the overall palette of the book is. In the book, the only color that is really saturated is the red. Everything else is pretty washed out. Even that, in 90% of the case of the book are almost that brownie red."
With all that blood, the MPAA was surprisingly kind to 300. "You know, it wasn’t that bad. On Dawn I had like five or six tries before I got my R. But, we got an R right away so it was pretty cool. I don’t think the movie personally is that gory, 300. I think it’s so bizarre. I’ve had 50-year-old women see the movie and go, ‘Oh, I thought it was cool.’ And I go, ‘What about all the gore?’ They’re like, ‘Oh, it’s cool. It’s like art. It’s fancy.’ I think on one hand yes. If you want to enjoy that you can, but I think on the other hand it’s abstract in a way. I think the MPAA looked at it and said, ‘Oh, it’s not Saving Private Ryan.'"
300 opens to theatres on March 9th, 2007.
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