Yes the Mind Games are in the movie! We spoke with Ender's Game director Gavin Hood on creating the wild Mind Game challenges that hero Ender Wiggin has to pass and what was the most conceptually difficult idea from the book that he was tasked with creating. Hint: it wasn't the Battle Room.
Let's talk about the Mind Game sequences. How did you go about filming them? How did you decide to make them CG? Did you ever consider not including them in the movie?
Gavin Hood: Yes all of the above. I think that the Mind Game is a critical part of the book in terms of what goes on inside [Ender Wiggin's] head… Why did we do it in CG? Here's the interesting thing, we thought CG and video games are already getting very photo real. You can see it in our movie. Using photo real CH we have created the Battle Room, the spaceships. That could be the game, we could have built the game to be photo real and it would look just like Ender, Valentine would look just like Valentine. But then how would we separate the game, from out real world in the movie.
So we came up with an idea that just because games can be rendered in photo real, there's no reason why you would want them to. If you look at games that are really popular now, Angry Birds isn't done in a photo real way. Part of the charm of games is sometimes they're more painterly or more artistic. So we thought, let's give our game really high end graphics but separated from the real world. So it feels like something different from the real world. How can we make it feel like the most beautiful painting that CG is so good and it's keeping up with your thoughts so well that it's rendering these beautiful pictures and painting. But they are more artistic than real. We just wanted the mind game to be special and beautiful. And to separate it from the rest of the movie. Which is also designed to be a video game. In the simulations he's playing a video game. It's a much more photo real video game. It's all a game in a huge giant space that's being projected around him that he's controlling.
Would you say current-day video games had a massive impact on making Ender's Game?
Absolutely is the answer, yes. One of the things that interests me, and I think is very interesting about Ender's Game, I think is about exploring the ways that video games and reality are starting to blur. Video games are becoming more and more photo real. And in real life we use drones for drone warfare we fly them from Nevada over Afghanistan which is one of the great themes of Ender's Game, how does that make us respond emotionally. Because when we're playing a game, which is part of what Ender is seduced by, it doesn't matter how you win, I'm just going to kick your ass. If that's the mindset, then the destruction that you've caused doesn't bother you, because it's just a game. But in the real world the way you win a war is important. In a game, it ends you won, no one criticizes you morally for how I killed the other guy, I just one that game good for you. In the real world the way I win resonates to the next battle, and the next battle and the next battle. If I can someone who is totally ruthless with no mercy, then I will also be treated that way by my enemy. They are less likely to want to negotiate with me...
There is a lot of pressure on executing the Battle Room scenes correctly. While that is very important, was there anything as important or as difficult that you had to attack in the themes and ideas and storytelling?
Battle Room had to be realized in an amazing way because it's very famous from the book. And we decided to turn it into a glass dome which was great to have because I can change the lighting and the mood in each of the scenes. However, once you've done the Battle Room then you have to do Eros. And one of the challenges for the CG team wasn't just being asked to create something in zero gravity, now they were being asked to create an entire alien planet. What does that look like?
Now more importantly, the Simulation Games [that come towards the end] gave me more trouble conceptually than the Battle Room. The Battle Room was tricky until I thought I would put it in a glass sphere. Because in the book it's a black box, right? I thought, "Oh my god, I'm going all the way up in space and I'm going to be in a black box?" I can film that on Earth, what's the point of being in space? And how do I change the mood in the room, switch the lights on and off? So the notion of the glass sphere was wonderful for the Battle Room. But the problem with Simulation Game, where he's fighting a space battle in the book Ender is basically sitting at a computer terminal. It's great conceptually, but Ender playing a video game. There's nothing cinematic about it, how do I make that visual? So I really troubled on how to do this until I took my kids to the planetarium (I have twins and they love space). We're sitting there and the lights go down and there's that huge projector and then all of a sudden you're surrounded by stars. I thought that's what I have to do, I have to create a video game where I am in the center of a huge sphere and I put all the battleships around me. And I can zoom in and zoom out using gestural language. That would be a super cool video game. I had to create basically the best video game that you wanted to play.