The first time director kept everything exciting. Originally the script called for quite a few shots of the ordinary sort; stunts, for example. We had a lot of graphics to design (somehow I got that rather than the art dept). The story was quite fun and moved along at a good pace.
But for this genre of film what set it apart most was the end sequence.
The director wanted a very stylized escape by boat down the river that passes through North Shanghai, ending in a dramatic jump of the boat above a bridge and up into the clouds. He had in his mind the 4 people on the boat, flying above the clouds, to be circled in a bullet-time effect. I began work on this and found a team that would rig all the cameras (this technique calls for dozens of still cameras arrayed along a track, all perfectly aligned). It was a big budget shot for a relatively small film. What I explained to the director was it would be very hard to create the smooth effect he wanted. So next I moved to suggesting we use a very fast robotic arm to move the camera. This had already been used a lot in commercials to get a unique look. The problem was there were only a couple of these around, and we would have to ship it from Japan. It became too hard to work out the logistics.
There was also the fact that the very cartoony look we were creating required a lot of shots of the boat on stage, later to be composited onto the illustrated background. So finally I suggested we simply rig the boat itself onto a rotating gimbal and move a camera on an arm shooting high speed. This would allow much greater camera flexibility and of the lighting as well. This is how we went.
These are the preproduction illustration look by Andres Gomez that we approved with the director and began work on all the elements for the sequence.
With only months left in post I was called over to the exec producers office to talk with him and the director. They had basically gotten cold feet and wanted to now have all the river shots look real! This was a big shock and I didn't react well, it meant that all the shooting we already did was not ideal for a 'real' look. I had not taken the care of carefully measuring lighting, for example, since the background was illustrated and only needed to be close. I tried to talk them out of it, but no go.
Surprisingly what we ended up with was not too bad. I think it actually fooled a lot of the audience into thinking we were on the river, but anyone looking closely could see it wasn't. The most odd part was at the end of the sequence, before jumping the bridge, the director still wanted a stylized look. The result is a bit funky, but certainly interesting!
Here's some other art and samples.