Author’s note: This column contains minor spoilers.
JAMES GUNN was working on a treatment for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2″ when he got the idea for what he envisioned as “the greatest opening sequence of all time.”
Thunderstruck by the concept, the director brought producer Simon Hatt into the room and told him to shoot Gunn’s movements on an iPhone. And right then and there, as Hatt watched, Gunn — this former punk rocker who grew up on ’70s tunes — began dancing. And dancing.
Gunn grabbed a plastic rabbit toy that he pretended was a large, sweeping and swooping enemy monster. As he did, Hatt shot clip after video clip.
And that is how one of the most joyous opening-credit action sequences in recent memory was born.
In the finished film, the wee and adorable CGI sapling Baby Groot shakes and slides in the foreground while his fellow Guardians attack a sharp-toothed, squid-like monstrosity in the background. The whole extended scene is set to the strains of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” after one Guardian, Rocket Raccoon, is working to plug in a sound system.
The entire sequence could not be more personal for the writer-director.
First, Raccoon’s doings feel like a direct nod to Gunn’s own style on set. “Music plays a huge part for James,” says his “Guardians 2″ director of photography, Henry Braham. “He uses music a lot in the shooting process” — sometimes blaring it from speakers synced up to the choreographed action.
Then there’s the fact that all the dancing by Baby Groot involves motion-capture provided by Gunn’s own sweet moves.
Team Gunn pieced together the dancing video clips into a single take, but that was just the start of the journey. “It took me 2 ½ years to do that shot,” Gunn tells The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “It was incredibly difficult.”
“James came to the table with a very clear idea of where he wanted to go with it,” Braham says of the balletic fight sequence. “We contemplated it for a week” whether to attempt the scene — which involves shooting on-set stunts while allowing space in the frame for the animation.
They laughed at the technical obstacles they knew they would face, then dived right in. “Then it became a giant collaboration, with everybody bringing their sensibilities to the table,” Braham says.
For instance: “The thing that interests me the most is putting humanity into how a camera moves,” says Braham, who employed a handheld RED 8K Weapon — the first feature film ever to use the new high-resolution camera.
The shot works, he says, because “it’s a good coming-together of sensibilities.”
The sequence “perfectly exemplifies what ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ is about,” Gunn says. “You think it’s about the adventure, you think it’s about the battle, you think it’s about this big thing — but it is really about the unique characters and what they’re doing in the midst of all this stuff.”
As filmmakers, “we focus on the minutiae.”