Exclusive: John Rosengrant Talks Real Steel, Special Effects Oscar Nod

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It’s not every day that one gets to speak to a filmmaker on the day he or she discovers they have received their first Oscar nomination, as Movie Fanatic has done today with Visual Effects nominee John Rosengrant. He earned his nod for his work on Real Steel, now out on DVD and Blu-Ray. The story of boxing robots and the young boy and his father who shock the world struck a chord in Rosengrant. To him, his real charge was about creating that connection between animatronic robot and child that charges the film with a surprisingly powerful emotional connection.

Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo in Real Steel

He got his start in special effects being mentored by the legendary Stan Winston. After two decades with the master, he has established himself as the go-to for effects and has repeatedly worked with James Cameron on such films as Avatar, Titanic and Terminator 2. Rosengrant is also credited with bringing the unreal into the real on Breaking Dawn Part 1 and 2 as well as the upcoming The Hunger Games.

Rosengrant phoned Movie Fanatic for an exclusive interview to talk about his Oscar nomination day, working on Real Steel and the influence that Cameron and Winston had over his creative power that has given him such a stellar career.

Movie Fanatic: First of all, congratulations on the nomination!

John Rosengrant: It’s a good way to start the day [laughs].

Movie Fanatic: How did you hear? Were you awake?

John Rosengrant: I got up at my usual time, 5:30 or so, and went over to the computer to see if we got lucky. I had my phone by me and one of my co-nominees, Dan Taylor, sent me a text that said, “Congrats.” It was very cool.

Movie Fanatic: This is your first. Can you put the feeling into words yet?

John Rosengrant: To actually get the nomination, it is really special. It is such an honor. It’s the pinnacle of awards for the movie industry. To have this opportunity is extremely amazing.

Movie Fanatic: It’s for an astounding film in Real Steel. What was your most unique challenge that the film had for you that has resulted in your Oscar nod?

John Rosengrant: First of all, it was a really fun filmmaking experience. And, they’re not always that way [laughs]. This, going in, was very organized from the top down. The producers, like Josh McLaglen -- who I worked with on Titanic and Avatar -- and (Real Steel director) Shawn Levy… all a very tight-knit team. We had a blueprint going in and we stuck to it. There are so many visual effects films where the script isn’t even finished. Not this one. I think it paid off in huge dividends. Everyone knew their role, how they were going to contribute and how important everyone’s contribution was to the film. It was one of those perfect storms where everything went right.

Movie Fanatic: What set the Real Steel experience apart from the rest of your esteemed career?

John Rosengrant: The most important things we were doing was working on connecting the robots with Dakota Goyo (who plays Max), because this is a father and son, and a robot and a boy story. By having our animatronic robot there performing with Max, it paid off.

Movie Fanatic: You’ve worked with a varied list of directors and I’m curious what the norm is for special effects. Do you get a strict vision from them, or is it something where they let you create and work with you along the way?

John Rosengrant: It’s a different experience every time, unless you’re going back in with someone who you have worked with before. Sometimes it’s trying to help educate. Sometimes, that can be tough. We have to let them know what we can bring to something. Shawn Levy and Steven Spielberg on Real Steel were advocates of having practical things on the set for the actors to play off of.

Movie Fanatic: How did you find yourself in this end of the business?

John Rosengrant: When I was five years old I saw Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein on TV and not long after that The Bride of Frankenstein. I was hooked. I wanted to make monsters and creatures. I saw The Wizard of Oz, and it was just captivating to me. I knew at that moment that this was what I wanted to do. My parents were supportive, but didn’t know how to help. My teachers were going, “Oh my God, what is this kid doing?” [Laughs] But, it was just persistence and a little luck that landed me out here in California. I met Stan Winston, who I worked with for 25 years, [that] was very pivotal.

Dakota Goyo in Real Steel

Movie Fanatic: Whether it’s Stan or something else, what's a moment in your career that personally stands out for you?

John Rosengrant: I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of films that have these seminal moments. Working for Stan provided me those opportunities. He was my mentor. Most importantly, he was a great man and a friend. He treated all of us like family. It was a great environment. It was very creative and he fostered that kind of team spirit. He always pushed for innovation which has become ingrained in me. I would say he was pivotal, but working on all the Jim Cameron films that I have, being around a director like him, is quite amazing. He’s someone that is very driven and talented on so many levels. That’s continually an inspiration to work with him. I even worked with Steven Spielberg! I feel very fortunate.

Don't miss Real Steel, out now on Blu-Ray and DVD!

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