Sci-fi is back. At least, that’s how it felt after watching Gareth Edwards’ triumphant return to the director’s chair with his new original film The Creator.
The sci-fi spectacle unravels a dystopian future where artificial intelligence and humanity go head to head in a prolific epic. It also marks Edwards’ venture back to the big screen after a seven-year hiatus, with fans of the genre eagerly awaiting his return.
We hosted an advanced private screening of Edwards’ The Creator in Los Angeles, and spoke with Oren Soffer (director of photography) and Andrew Roberts (visual effects supervisor) to hear more about the film. Here’s everything we learned.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
The idea of love and emotion was such a prevalent thing throughout the course of The Creator. How would you say you embodied the importance of love throughout this film?
Oren Soffer: The working title for the film while we were shooting was True Love. So that was the mission statement for the film, really. And ultimately, as filmmakers, what we do is very technical, but at its heart, all filmmaking, cinematography, visual effects, directing, we do it all for the story and to create an emotional experience for the audience. It's all intended to support an emotional journey and a journey of the characters.
"It's all intended to support an emotional journey."
And if that wasn't working, then the movie wouldn't work. But it's really all about that. It all hones in on John David Washington's face and Madeleine Yuna Voyles’ face. And that's the core of the film and always, always is.
How tight is the relationship between the film crew and VFX team when building such a nuanced film with special effects that are just so out of this world?
Andrew Roberts: Yeah, it's a very tight, very integral process where we had conversations with Gareth from very early on, from the pre-production, from the storyboards that he created and the design from James Klein. Gareth being a visual effects artist originally, he was able to just infuse so much design, so much of his thought about what the world should look like.
For each of you, what’s your favorite scene in The Creator?
OS: It's really hard to choose, but I think I have two. I think the most satisfying scene for me to watch in its complete form is the tank battle. Such a complex sequence shot in a very remote and very difficult-to-reach location—a real location in Thailand.
The minute we scouted it, we knew this would be where the conflict happens. [It was a] difficult, long, hot shoot. All day in the hot sun, with nowhere to escape. It was just a real testament to the team, to the crew, to pull that whole scene together.
Every department was active; special effects, stunts, visual effects, cranes, drones, like we had everything there. We had two cameras running—Gareth is operating one camera; I'm operating the other. It feels like an indie film, and a lot of times there's explosions going off, the soldiers running around like it's organized chaos. But it's designed to capture a feeling of spontaneity and impressiveness and make you feel like you're really there.
Then the other one that I can't not shoutout is just the final moment between John and Madeleine—it just gets me every time. And the thing is, that scene, as much as there's all this complexity happening around it, at the end of the day, that scene is just close-ups, and it's so simple.
So it's going from the grandiose scale of the tank battle and the satisfaction of seeing all that come together, to a scene that's just a face, and a face with the most heartbreaking performance from [Madeleine]. We were all crying—like she was just unbelievable.
AR: And Madeline, she's a first-time actor, but she's incredible. The amount of emotion that she was able to capture for her first movie, with her first Western crew.
I think for me, the movie lives and dies by your belief that Alfie [Madeleine’s character] is a character that exists in that world. And there were a number of shots where Gareth was just tight on her face. I think about that first reveal where she's in the farmer’s living room and [Washington’s character] is just in wonder.
Gareth really wasn't thinking about the visual effects. I think that's one of the things that makes [The Creator] quite special, is he wasn't framing to show off—he was framing for the emotion, for the connection. Then the visual effects team figured out how to add the elements and tech to make it look convincing. So that for me was just really special.
The normal conversation around AI is if you let it go unchecked, it’s inherently bad. And it seems like from this film, humans were the inherently bad ones and AI had empathy and love. What visual cues did you take to try to showcase that love or showcase that empathy within the film?
OS: Well, I think the key decision that Gareth made very early on in order to create that reality was treating everybody in the film as if they were human characters. So on set, there were a few hero characters that obviously we knew were AI, but Gareth very quickly stopped telling anybody else in the scene whether or not they were AI.
He was finding, especially with extras that are background artists, that once you tell somebody that they're a robot, they start acting like a robot. They’re like, “How should I move? How should I look around?” And then he was like, “No, no, no, no, no. We don't want that. We want you to feel like a real person.”
A lot of the decisions about who and which characters were turned into robots, or who had their heads replaced, were made in post. And that was part of the design, that was the intent of the film—was for everybody and everything and every character to feel real and to feel that connection.
I think there was something about the animation of some of the alien characters that we found that if you deviate too much from what the human actor did, it started to feel false. And so then you had to go back and match perfectly. Even if they had a robot head, you had to match the humanity of the original performance perfectly. That's what we wanted.
AR: Yeah, exactly. That allowed us to just give that sense of consciousness and sense of sentience to the robots, so it doesn't feel like it's a person puppeteering it.
I really love the scene with the robot police in the field when you hear the gunshot go off in the farmhouse and then they all sort of turn and start running. That moment of energy, you know, it was just perfectly captured and tracked to the stunt guys—having those robotic heads then just gives it another level on top.
Yeah, it gives you all the feels for sure.
OS: It does. And Gareth's a softie ultimately. He has a reputation of being a filmmaker that directs robots and spaceships and Star Wars and monsters and everything. But at the end of the day, what he's always after is—he wants to make you cry. And I think that he said that is the ultimate cheat code for any filmmaker.
"He wants to make you cry."
They don't want to impress you. They don't want to blow your socks off. They want you to feel something and to cry and to feel that connection to the characters, and that that's the driving force behind everything.