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How do Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, the two titans of pop culture, collaborate on the new 3-D motion-capture version of Tintin?

With lots of high-tech wizardry.

Spielberg, who's directing the first instalment, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, recently wrapped 32 days of performance-capture shooting in Los Angeles.

Producer Jackson travelled from his New Zealand home base to Los Angeles for rehearsals and the first week of shooting, and then appeared via an elaborate video-conferencing set-up for the rest of the shoot, using a specially designed iChat-type system in which the Kiwi filmmaker can see everything on the set in real time and simultaneously talk with Spielberg. The film is scheduled to hit theatres in 2011.

Spielberg first became intrigued with the cub reporter Tintin and his dog Snowy back in the early '80s, when reviewers of Raiders of the Lost Ark noted the similarity between Indiana Jones' derring-do and Tintin's globe-trotting escapades.

He and producer Kathleen Kennedy have been involved with the books intermittently since that time, but it was not until the maturation of motion-capture technology that a serious avenue opened up for re-creating author Herge's world.

In fact, Spielberg had called Jackson to discuss the intricacies of motion capture - which Jackson had used to create Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and Kong in King Kong.

When he broached the topic of Tintin, Jackson, born and bred in a part of the world that reveres Herge's creation, yelped, "I have all the books in back of me".

That is the genesis of this behemoth collaboration, according to Spielberg's spokesman Marvin Levy. Neither Spielberg nor Jackson nor producer Kennedy would talk further, though the plan is for Jackson to take on the directorial reins for the next film. Of course, both are still multitasking away.

Jackson is finishing the Christmas 2009 film The Lovely Bones, which he adapted from the novel, directed and produced for Spielberg's DreamWorks. He is also writing and executive-producing the new Hobbit films to be directed by Guillermo del Toro. Spielberg reportedly has his long-planned Abraham Lincoln feature in pre-production, as well as the running of DreamWorks.

The Tintin film encompasses The Secret of the Unicorn as well as elements from the other books (such as the sequel Red Rackham's Treasure), which carry on the tale of Tintin's hunt for the pirate Red Rackham's hidden treasure.

Thomas Sangster, who played Liam Neeson's son in Love, Actually, was initially cast as Tintin, but he fell out. The filmmakers turned to 23-year-old Jamie Bell, who first broke into films as the title character in Billy Elliot and later appeared in Jackson's King Kong.

Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and Kong in King Kong, takes on the role of Tintin's closest friend, the friendly alcoholic Captain Haddock. Daniel Craig plays the villainous Red Rackham.

The filmmakers have also imported the British comedy mafia behind the wacky satire Hot Fuzz, including actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson, and Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright to pen the latest version of the script.

Unexpectedly for a Spielberg-Jackson collaboration, Tintin has had a tough time finding financing, not only because of its questionable appeal in the United States domestic market but also because of the $US130 million ($NZ230 million)-plus price tag and a deal that allots both filmmakers a humungous portion of the back-end profits.

What is more, other motion capture pictures, including Monster House, Beowulf and The Polar Express, have not been blockbusters.

- Rachel Abramowitz



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