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FRECKELTON, GRANT – 300

THE OLD VINEGAR AND COFFEE TRICK
Grant Freckelton’s experiments with balsamic vinegar and coffee stains helped develop the graphic yet painterly look that makes 300 unique - and got himself promoted to visual effects art director on Zack Snyder’s big budget historical epic set in 480BC. Freckelton spoke to Andrew L. Urban a few days after the film’s massive US opening weekend, on the eve of its Australian release.


Grant Freckelton escapes the ignominy of being glibly described as freckleface Grant by virtue of the fact he has no freckles, but he’s certainly fresh faced and young. He wears shorts to our interview inside the Animal Logic compound, but AL boss Zareh Nelbandian says Grant has recently been seen wearing long trousers, like his older brother Andrew who works at the company as a systems administrator.

"visual style"

The reason I’m interviewing Grant Freckelton is that a) he is in Sydney and b) it is this young man who so impressed director Zack Snyder that he promoted him from mid ranking visual effects slave to art director. And that gave Freckelton responsibility over the visual style of the whole film – in tandem, of course, with production designer James D. Bissell. 300 is described in filmmaking shorthand as “a green screen movie”. Animal Logic – Australia’s pre-eminent digital domain – provided much of the special effects work that filled the green screen with the background action.

And Grant Freckelton drove the artistic vision of the digital work. “I’m responsible for coming up with the ideas and the following through to execute those ideas,” he says. “Jim Bissell wrapped at the end of production, of course, but I carried on – we worked really closely during pre-production.”

Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel, 300 came to visual life with plenty of references. “I thought it would be cool to make it look like a mix of painterly and reality … using sampling from real life.” So he pitched that idea to Snyder “and showed him clips of animation and stuff I’d seen on the web and other things. One of the things I showed him was a clip by Lobo animating splats of ink, very similar to the techniques used by Frank Miller – he’d use splashed ink for certain frames of violence, creating a random image.” Freckelton wanted to adapt this technique for the live action movie and Snyder responded immediately.

“Zack raced downstairs to where they were doing some testing and got one of the extras to film him having his throat slashed … he really hammed it up. He raced back upstairs and asked me to prove this concept would look good. I took the footage and scanned in a bunch of splats – but I didn’t have any ink so I ended up using some balsamic vinegar from the office kitchen.” (It says something about Animal Logic’s corporate culture that they stock balsamic vinegar in their kitchen.)

"aesthetically different"

The effect is clearly meant to be graphic, not realistic; the blood spurting from brutal battle wounds has a balletic yet graphic quality as if in 3D.

Other techniques Freckelton used include coffee stains to murk up the clouds with a coppery, menacing tone. These innovations are at the heart of Freckelton’s achievement. “I wanted to use visual effects techniques to make things aesthetically different, not just realistic. These things are a more subtle use of visual effects than say, the creatures in Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Born in Queensland but raised in WA, Freckelton describes himself as “a film geek and bird nerd…” and his girlfriend is a zoologist. He went from University straight to Animal Logic – that was eight years ago. The fact that 300 opened with a massive US$71 million in the US, sending shockwaves of praise back to Animal Logic in Sydney, has made his mum and dad “ridiculously proud” and a cousin sent him an email – the first contact in 15 years.

Working in the same company as his brother (“we grew up watching videos in a dark room”) has its ups and downs, says Freckelton. “It’s a barrage of insults,” he says with a ready laugh that punctuates his speech.

He has worked as illustrator, matte painter and art director and his credits include Moulin Rouge, Rabbit Proof Fence, The Matrix Reloaded and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but 300 was the first film on which he worked from start to finish. And now there are two more projects in development. As for the use of digital technology, he says he can “see things plateauing ... audiences are wowed out by fantastic creatures now and are looking more for story elements…”

Published April 5, 2007
 

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Grant Freckleton

300

300 – Australian release April 5, 2007
In the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), with his trusted lieutenant Dilios (David Wenham) and 300 Spartans, fought to the death against Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his massive Persian army. But the Spartan Senate was not behind Leonidas; his wife Queen Gorgo (Lena Heady) tried to summon support, even humiliating herself with the treacherous Senator Theron (Dominic West) but to no avail. It was up to the battle-hardened 300, facing insurmountable odds, to sacrifice themselves and to inspire all of Greece to unite against their Persian enemy.
Directed by Zack Snyder
Adapted from Frank Miller’s graphic novel.
Grant Freckelton : visual effects art director







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