June 15, 2011 at 12:13 PM ET
By Todd Bishop
At a launch event in Seattle on Tuesday night, chip-maker AMD introduced a new line of computer processors known Accelerated Processing Units, or APUs — which combine a traditional central processing unit with a graphics processor on the same silicon chip, aiming to improve performance and extend battery life in notebook and desktop machines.
It was probably the last place anyone would expect to find Robert Rodriguez, the director of such films as “Grindhouse,” “From Dusk Till Dawn,” “Sin City” and other high-profile collaborations with Quentin Tarantino. But it turns out that Rodriguez is a technology geek at heart, and he talked on stage about his use of high-end computing in his Troublemaker film production and digital effects studios.
So what can he teach the rest of us? We got a chance to sit down afterward with Rodriquez — and his trademark hat — for a deeper conversation about the role of technology in his work.
With your first film, "Bedhead," you used very basic stuff, 16-millimeter film. The story is that you used a wheelchair as a camera dolly.
Rodriguez: Yep, yep. But the analogy is still the same. Even back then, those were technologies, but I would milk them for all that they could give me. I would take that wind-up camera, OK, what can it do? It can speed up, it can slow down. OK, let me give the girl telekinesis so I can use all those camera tricks in the story. And use it to do frame-by-frame animation by tapping the slow shutter speed, which I didn’t have on video. So anytime I had a piece of technology, I would always push it beyond its comfort zone.
How does that translate into your work today?
Rodriguez: That’s kind of what I still do now. It wasn’t enough that I was shooting digital. Let me shoot it against a green screen and make it an immersive green screen. Put two cameras together and bring 3-D back in a new way. Always trying to push it beyond what anyone was using it for. If someone said, ‘You can’t use it for that,’ I would find a way to be able to use it for that. So now that the equipment has gotten so good, it pushes you artistically to even come up with newer things. You can do anything, so the choice is, what can you do? That’s constantly what you want to do in the think tank is come up with the most mind-blowing things to take advantage of what you have.
At the same time, your films have an authentic feel. How do you preserve that when the technology allows you to make it just completely slick?
Rodriguez: Yeah. It’s about the feel. I’ve always wanted to have a company that felt more like a home-cooked meal. Which would be better than something you would get at a chain restaurant. When Quentin and I were shooting "Grindhouse," I told him I was going to shoot mine digital, and he said, well, I’m going to shoot mine on film because I want it to look like film. I told him, by the time I’m done with it, mine is going to look more like film than yours, because I’m going to use technology to get the right feel.
Why is that important to you?
Rodriguez: One of the first things I learned, in my first job, my boss told me that I was creative but I needed to learn to be technical, because technicians always need creative people and creative people always need technicians. But if you know how to do both you’d be unstoppable. I thought that was just a great piece of advice, because if you know how to use technology you’ll use it in a way differently than somebody who is just technical. So you’ll give it that feel, that creative feel that makes the technology disappear. So even though I use very high-tech equipment, I like to call it high-tech guerrilla filmmaking.
You’re here launching an APU with AMD. Probably not the place people would expect you to be.
Rodriguez: Getting my creative juices going. If you’re linked to technology in that way, you think of it as a tool. To me that’s a great paintbrush. That’s one that I will be able to do a lot with. A lot of creative people aren’t technical, so they would fall asleep at a session like this. But if you know what that can mean for what you do, it’s a big deal ... If the cloud is the Wild West, you’re going to need a bigger gun. And that’s what the APU is.
Windows, Mac? What kinds of devices do you use?
Rodriguez: Everything. Anything and everything that can get me to where I need to go.
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