Interview with Steve Starkey Producer of A Christmas Carol

The producer of Disney’s A Christmas Carol talks about the performance capture movie from Jim Carey

STEVE STARKEY earned an Academy Award® as one of the producers of Best Picture-winner “Forrest Gump.” The film, directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Tom Hanks, became one of the highest grossing movies of all time and collected six Oscars®

Starkey, along with Zemeckis and Jack Rapke, recently formed ImageMovers Digital, an extension of their 1998-established ImageMovers. The new effort allows the partners to focus on performance capture films for The Walt Disney Studios, building on the technology they pioneered in the Zemeckis directed films “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf,” and the Gil Kenan directed film “Monster House”—all films on which Starkey served as producer.

Starkey’s professional association with Zemeckis began in 1986 when he was associate producer on the innovative feature “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and went on to serve as associate producer on the second and third installments of the “Back to the Future” trilogy. Their collaboration continued as Starkey and Zemeckis produced the black comedy “Death Becomes Her,” followed by “Forrest Gump” and “Contact.”





What has been the biggest challenge so far in creating this film?
The biggest challenge was getting to the first day of performance capture. We once again pushed the envelope with regards to how many performers we could have working together in the virtual space.  
We were also limited by how long the scenes could be. So in this film, with these greater demands for having all of our actors working together for an unlimited amount of time; it was a very difficult task for our digital artists. We were also attempting to get much finer data from the performance of our actors, and designed a new system to attempt to do this, which just barely made it in time to do the movie.  

Did you stay true to the original Charles Dickens’ story, and what can we expect to see in a Robert Zemeckis version of “A Christmas Carol”?
Bob Zemeckis, who wrote the screenplay, remained very true to the original. We have a great respect for Dickens, in addition to which, we received a lot of inspiration from the cinematic imagery that Dickens wrote in the original tale. So we found very little need to invent things that were not in the original. However, you can expect to find more 3D elements in this movie than you’ve seen in our past films.


How does performance capture technology work alongside 3D technology?
Since we started our new company, which is dedicated to the new digital art form, we have a simultaneous 3-D pipeline creating images while we’re finishing the movie. So this is the first time we’re able to see 3D images while we’re in the process of making the movie. So if we want to make adjustments to enhance the 3D value of a shot or scene, we’re able to immediately go back and perfect the scene.  

How did you go about creating the look of Ebenezer Scrooge?
The creation of all of our characters involved many artists, and ultimately it is the performer who takes on the role of the character. It starts with Bob Zemeckis, working carefully with our character artists, supervised by Doug Chiang, to come up with the first look of the character. We then receive additional inspiration when we cast an actor in that role. So in the case of Scrooge, we tried a number of different designs, and then were finally and ultimately inspired by Jim Carrey and what he brought to the role.

Was the decision to use Jim Carey in multiple roles made at the beginning, or did that happen through experimenting with the performance capture technology?
The decision to use Jim Carey to perform all the characters he does in the film was a decision we made at the start. This was very demanding on Jim, because he had to come up with distinctive voices and character traits for each character that he performed, to make them distinctive from one another. He also had to play Scrooge as his younger self, both as a boy, and a young man. And these two required a lot of thought about what it was that made Scrooge who he is.

Was it difficult to come up with so many different voices for Jim Carey’s multiple characters?
Yes – we hired a dialect coach for Jim to work with to come up with the voice of Scrooge, the Ghost of Christmas Past and the Ghost of Christmas Present. So the difficulty was for Jim Carrey!  

Click here to read the interview with producer Jack Rapke