Interview with The Huntsman: Winter's War Director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
"I went into the grading suite an HDR doubter and came out a true believer"
To coincide with the release of The Huntsman: Winter's War on home video, we talk to the film's director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan about making the film, the Blu-ray release and the joys of HDR.Cedric Nicolas-Troyan is originally from France and has worked in special effects for over twenty years. He was Special Effects Supervisor on Snow White and the Huntsman and he has served as Second Unit Director on that film and Maleficent. The Huntsman: Winter's War marks his directorial debut and he has just been announced as the director of the new Highlander remake. We started the interview by asking Cedric how he approached the idea of a sequel to the familiar story of Snow WhiteGiven that Snow White and The Huntsman was based on an established fairytale, how did you approach the idea of a sequel?
Well we were discussing the idea of a sequel even when we were making the first film and the character of the The Huntsman was an obvious choice because there was already a brief backstory relating to his wife. Plus this is a fairytale world, which means we really have the freedom to go anywhere, so we didn’t feel constrained when we started writing the sequel.
Unusually The Huntsman: Winter's War is both a prequel and a sequel, where did that idea come from?
We already had the backstory relating to the Huntsman’s wife, which obviously takes place before the events in the first film and then we had the events that take place after the first film, so we could either cut backwards and forwards, with flashbacks to events that happened before the first film or we could show the events before the first film as one sequence and then jump to the events after the first film and continue the story. In the end we chose the latter approach which has been done before, they did something similar with 300: Rise of an Empire.
You worked as Special Effects supervisor on Snow White and the Huntsman, how did you find transitioning to the role of director?
Actually I found it relatively easy because I have worked as a second unit director on other films including Snow White and I have been involved in the development of other films, even though I didn’t actually direct them. So it wasn’t as though I was simply an effects supervisor transitioning to director, I had already been directing second unit for a while. I’ve also been a special effects supervisor for twenty years and worked very closely with directors, often standing next to them on the set, so I didn’t have any problems transitioning to the role of director.
The film has an all-star cast, how daunting was that given your relative inexperience as a director?
On paper it must have seemed daunting but in reality that didn’t prove to be the case. I had obviously worked with Charlize on the first film and with Chris as well, so they were both cool. Although I didn’t know Emily or Jessica, I found working with them very easy and all the actors were very professional and dedicated to their roles, they just wanted to make the best film possible.
Is there a temptation to rely more on effects given your background or do you try to capture as much as possible in-camera?
No, although I have a background in special effects, I have always believed that you should do as much in-camera as possible. I think there is a tendency these days to rely on special effects too much but nothing looks as good as reality, so where possible do it for real and then only use effects for the sequences that would be impossible or too dangerous otherwise.
How did you decide on the look of The Huntsman: Winter's War, did you feel you had to follow the tone set by the first film?
Well Snow White was actually a very dark film and there was a conscious decision to make the tone lighter on The Huntsman. We wanted it to be more of a fun romp, less like Lord of the Rings and more like Willow or Ridley Scott’s Legend. So there was a conscious decision to make things a bit more fun and lighter but at the same time it does take place in the same world as Snow White, so we didn’t want to deviate from the look that had already been established in that film.The Huntsman: Winters's War is being released on Ultra HD Blu-ray, were you involved with the HDR grade?
Yes I was and you know it’s funny, at first I wasn’t that keen on the idea of High Dynamic Range. I was thinking is this just going to be a waste of my time? But when I saw it I was blown away, it looked incredible. In fact in some ways it looked better than the version we graded for the cinema release. So I went into the grading suite an HDR doubter and came out a true believer, I was completely stoked! After that I agreed to go on some panels for Universal to help promote Ultra HD and HDR because I was so impressed. Although I still think that the cinema is the best place to see a film, there’s no doubt that in some respects the home video experience is becoming even better. I think the 4K HDR version of The Huntsman is the best representation of our vision of what the film should look like.
Do you think that the introduction of HDR will affect how you shoot your next film?
Definitely, in fact I was just talking about that with my director of photography Phedon (Papamichael) and we both agreed that there is greater potential now than ever, not just in terms of the cinema release but also for home video. We can now show more of what we actually captured on set in the HDR grade and that’s very exciting.
The Blu-ray also has an immersive audio DTS:X soundtrack, were you involved in the creation of that?
Yes, I was. I really try to be involved in everything to do with the film, even the DVD or Blu-ray release. I like to be involved in the picture and the sound and even the extras. I always try and watch all the extras on a disc, so I like to make sure my films also have plenty of interesting extras.
Are you excited by the prospect of immersive audio?
Absolutely, it’s such an important part of the film. My brother is a sound designer and sound editor, so I really understand how sound completes the whole experience, not only complementing the images on screen but also filling in the bits you can’t see. The sound isn’t just the dialogue and the music, it’s also all the effects that help create the illusion and add atmosphere to a film. The technology these days can really immerse you in the film’s environment in a way that was never possible before.
Cedric, thank you for time and we can't wait to see The Huntsman: Winter's War on Blu-ray.
Thank you Steve, it was my pleasure.
The Huntsman: Winter's War is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on the 15th of August. The Ultra HD Blu-ray is released in the US on the 23rd of August.
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