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Oscars: The Coen brothers go digital

February 23, 2011 | 10:30 am

 Coen brothers
The Coen brothers aren’t exactly known for making whiz-bang, effects-laden films. But that doesn’t mean they’re averse to using digital technology when necessary.

Last year, for their late-'60s period drama, “A Serious Man,” the Coens had their production crew take down the fences between the houses in suburban Bloomington, Minn., where they shot. That didn’t solve the problem of the hundreds of old-growth trees, though. So the brothers digitally erased all the foliage in post-production.

“Back when those developments were new, you could shoot a cannon off one end of the street and go through 15 to 20 backyards before you’d hit a fence or a tree,” Joel Coen says. “So it was a very big deal to remove all that.”

The Coens faced a different problem with “True Grit.” They began filming in New Mexico in late March and had snow all the way through the day they left Santa Fe in May. The production then moved to north Texas where the wildflowers were in full bloom and the landscape looked nothing like winter.

“Establishing continuity was going to be hard and it was something we were worried about,” Joel says. “Snow was in the book, so we wanted snow -– just not so much where it’d be paralyzing to the production. But the question was: How do you match the snow with the stuff in Texas where it’s springtime?”

And the answer?

“The answer is … um … you erase the wildflowers in the computer,” Ethan says, a bit sheepishly.

It’s not as obvious to audiences as bathing Jeff Bridges in a digital fountain of youth as was the case in “Tron,” but no less crucial to maintaining the illusions inherent in filmmaking.


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Oscars: Josh Brolin behind the scenes with the Coen brothers

Academy Awards: The Coen brothers find that cowboy gear is more than a fashion statement

-- Glenn Whipp 

Photo: Ethan Coen, left, and Joel Coen on the set of "True Grit." Credit: Paramount Pictures