Cirque Du Soleil
Interview with Keith Melton
By Ross Anthony

Interview with Keith Melton, Director of Cirque Du Soleil's "Journey of Man" in 3D Imax.

I caught up with Keith appropriately enough on his cell phone at some studio or other as he tested the look, feel and taste of the new High Definition Digital tape on the big screen. Not surprisingly our discussion dipped in and out of the technical.

RA: Some of this production was shot on Iwerks, Is that format equivalent in quality to Imax?

KM: Well it's 8 perforations per 70 mm so the image is smaller and technically less resolution, but when you carefully blow up the image it is intercut with the 15/70 footage and no one can really tell.

RA: I don't get the 8 and 15...

KM: Perforations.

RA: The little holes in the film.

KM: That's it. 35mm is half the width of 70, and then it's four perfs and it runs vertically, 8/70 is 70mm wide but 8 perfs deep and it also runs vertically. Now with 15/70 it is so much larger that they had to actually invert the film and it actually runs horizontally through the projection and you can imagine how much more quickly the film has to run because its now going 15 perfs at 24 frames per second. And with all of that you get this incredible resolution. When you visually experience it, it's amazing.

RA: What got you interested in shooting in 3D in the first place?

KM: Well, I love the unique experience of it. It allows you to do things you can't do in video or 35. Therefore allows me as a director to try some different visual language and different ways of supporting the story through depth. It's just another technique or tool. Some people use it strictly as a gimmick or a gag ... which I've certainly done (chuckles). But it also helps you with this immersive film experience which cannot be recreated in any other medium.

RA: You've done a lot of thrill ride films. How'd you get into that?

KM: Well, I started with a production company with a partner out of film school and we took whatever we could get ... you know to stay alive (chuckles). We shot commercials and music videos and industrials then we got into 70mm stuff with theme parks and expos and it just really interested me. I got hooked. That large image, you get sort of spoiled. I see feature films today and go, "Wow that shot looks soft," because of the resolution. I'm a resolution junkie. That's the good side, the bad side is that you only have 12 to 40 minutes to tell your story. So it limits what you can do. And that's the challenge on these kinds of shows. It's not fair to compare them to feature films. You don't have the time to create the in-depth characterization, so you have to be more visual more audio-oriented.

RA: So, resolution junkie, what is your take on the new HD? Will it meet your resolution needs?

KM: Those are separate issues. I think it is inevitable that it's going to happen from an economic point of view. I think ultimately the studios have to step in to help exhibitors do that huge monetary move from film projectors to digital projectors. Once that's resolved it will be the wave of the future. It's certainly the wave of the future on the small screen on the internet. In fact, we're doing tests as we speak using high definition blown up to large format to see how that works digitally.

RA: How is HD holding up on the big screen.

KM: Ask me next week.

RA: Are you interested in directing a feature?

KM: Absolutely. No doubt, an effects oriented film. More of a fantastic piece. I'm anxious to find out myself.

RA: What was the budget for this 3D Imax and where did the funding come from?

KM: The standard is around 7 million. They're not cheap. This one was more elaborate and therefore cost more. It was around the 12 million range. A Canadian group picked it up initially and then there was the negative pickup by Sony on the back end for distribution. It was our first major studio experience. They were entirely supportive, even seeing the rough-cuts, the big guys, and thank God, they really liked it.

RA: So why did you choose to shoot these acts where you did?

KM: We really wanted to blend the surreal qualities of the Cirq to the real world and that's why it sort of blends as to what's real and what isn't?

RA: What isn't real?

KM: The only thing that isn't real is the Taiko drumming sequence - that's a set. Everything else is real. There's a couple of wire removal shots, but nothing that significantly altered the performance at all. All the performances you see are real there's no special effects and that's the magic of the Cirq. And that's why so many of the takes are so long to emphase that this is happening in real time and this is not a trick.

RA: Was "Journey of Man" a prior Cirq performance? Or is it only existing in this Imax form.

KM: No. It is it's own unique story, but it uses performances and artists from a variety of Cirq shows. Although, the underwater sequence is completely unique to film.

RA: Yeah, that'd be hard to do under the tent

KM: (Chuckle).

RA: Particularly enjoyed the lily pad statues.

KM: Yeah, that's generally people's favorite sequence. Which I find interesting, because we were worried that it would be boring because it's only two people, but in fact, it's hypnotic.

RA: Any last points?

KM: This was a true team effort not only between the film crew and the Cirq, but this was a huge undertaking both technically and artistically and we rose to the occasion and I just want to acknowledge the team because they did a great job.

[Review of Journey of Man]   [More interviews]

Copyright © 2000. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Wednesday, 17-Mar-2004 15:36:41 PST