“It really came down to creating something that would just be cool to watch on a large cinema screen.”
We were fortunate enough to sit down with famed sci-fi director Neill Blomkamp to discuss how he adapted the legendary racing simulator, the innovative camerawork devised to capture all the action on the track, and where he found inspiration from racing films of the past.
PlayStation Blog: The Gran Turismo Movie is a notable departure from previous films you’ve directed—it’s not based on one of your screenplays, nor is it dystopian sci-fi. What drew you to this project?
Neill Blomkamp: So, it’s actually a dystopian science fiction script I sold to Sony that started the conversation. As the pre-production process went on I started to get very eager just to work on something, and at that point they said, “How about Gran Turismo?” My first thought was, “Wait, how do you make a film out of a racing simulator?” But I read the screenplay, and I personally own three [Nissan] R35 GTRs—I have a personal obsession with Nissan and the whole Nismo lineage—so I was immediately intrigued as a car lover.
I’ve also been very close to video games in a lot of ways throughout my career, and I had never come across something like Gran Turismo where the movie itself treats the game as a game. It’s based on a true story about Jann Mardenborough who learned to drive playing the game before driving professionally in real life, competing against other real drivers. It’s just an amazing story.
Another reason I signed on was because my stuff tends to be a lot darker and more dystopian, as you mentioned, but this movie felt, well, very inspirational. It had never crossed my mind that I would direct a movie where the audience would leave the theater feeling uplifted and inspired. This was really appealing to me.
Are there any particular creative challenges—or benefits—to working within an IP like this?
One great thing is that there weren’t a bunch of executives who would say, “Well, actually, we think it should be like this.” If you’re working on another IP with a more established universe or narrative everyone has preconceived ideas about how things should be. But, with Gran Turismo, you have a well-known IP that doesn’t carry these preconceived notions about what its film adaptation should look like. This gave me a ton of creative freedom to just go out and, you know, make it.
Without an established plotline or fictional universe to draw on, in what ways did you pay homage to the game? How did you extract the game’s DNA into something recognizable for a film?
For one, the film tries to take you along the journey of someone who first experienced these legendary tracks virtually, and then took what they learned within a simulation and applied it to a real-life scenario. And so, I tried to visually connect those two points together using a lot of the imagery from the GT games, like the lines you’d take driving the track and the markers and checkpoints, as well as the awards for leveling up and things like that.
And then there are a whole bunch of smaller easter eggs—tiny moments like recreating some of the in-game victory poses that we got our actors to do in the movie. There’s also a ton of cool cars for gearheads to spot as well; we did our best to drop interesting cars all over the place whenever we could.
On that note, what are some of your favorite cars that make an appearance?
I mean, there’s a Generation 1 NSX at the beginning of the film, which is a big deal for me. I have a lot of love for that car.
And at the other end of the spectrum, we also wanted some really glitzy choices that would be true easter eggs for car lovers—like the Koenigsegg Gemera, a still-unreleased car, a 4-seater with 1700 horsepower. It’s kind of like a Bugatti Rolls Royce.
From the limited clips we’ve seen so far, it looks like some of the cinematography directly references the in-game chase camera. We also get glimpses of a pretty serious looking rig to film the cars at high speeds. Can you walk us through your process here?
Well, it really came down to creating something that would just be cool to watch on a large cinema screen, and for that we doubled down on FPV drones to carry IMAX sensor-approved cameras. There’s a ton of airborne, high-speed drone work in the film, and we utilized a pursuit-arm mounted to a high-speed vehicle. In this case, we actually mounted it to an R35 GTR, which could actually keep pace (pretty much) with a lot of the GT3 cars in the film.
So between that car and the drone work, you already have some cool dynamic angles. But, I was also obsessed with recreating camera angles players know from the game: so, for the third-person chase perspective, we built an R1 rig that could position a camera such that the entire car would fit within the frame.
To capture the driver’s POV (cockpit view), our stunt driver would lie back so we could mount a camera where his head should be. We liked including nods to the game in these kinds of ways.
There’s a rich history of movies that depict the on- and off-track drama of motorsport, from classics like Le Mans and Gran Prix to the more recent Ford vs. Ferrari. Which films in the genre did you look to for inspiration, if any?
The one film that I can genuinely point to and say is directly referenced in Gran Turismo is Steve McQueen’s Le Mans. That movie is insane. You can tell how fast they’re going. You can tell how dangerous it is. You can even tell how polluting the cars are. It’s amazing.
In the beginning of that movie, they spend a ton of time pushing in on each character before the race—the hero, the villain, the clock—and then it starts rapidly cross-cutting between them. There’s a very similar sequence in our film with our protagonist and his opponents that was directly inspired by the McQueen classic.
Usually there’s someone exploding or some, like, genetically mutated creature running amok in my films. I just never would have thought in a trillion years that I would have made a race/sports movie. It’s even surprising now, saying it.
Gran Turismo 7 is now available on PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4, as well as PlayStation VR2 following a free update earlier this year.
Gran Turismo arrives exclusively in theaters this August.