Damon Gameau’s sweet experiment
Damon Gameau in That Sugar Film.
Actor Damon Gameau has put his body through the wringer for That Sugar Film, a documentary that explores the effect of sugar on physical and mental health.
Gameau, who writes, directs and stars in the project, embarks on an experiment akin to Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, whereby he reintroduces refined sugar into his diet after a three-year hiatus.
Gameau committed to the project for 60 days, during which he ingested the average adult intake of 40 teaspoons of sugar a day. The catch? The sugar had to come from perceived healthy foods, such as low-fat yoghurt, juices and muesli bars.
“That’s the thing that has proved really interesting,” says producer Nick Batzias, who worked with Gameau previously on Save Your Legs! “If you have a can of Coke, it’s like having a ciggie at a party. You know you’re being a dick. But it’s all that stuff you don’t know you’re having.
“I’ve got two kids, and I would never buy them a can of Coke because, you know, how holy am I, but I would always give them a freshly squeezed juice, which is just as bad.”
“It’s a bit of preaching to the converted but some of the converted don’t know the facts themselves.”
Gameau had a team of health professionals monitoring his progress, which saw him put on weight, suffer from mood swings, mental fatigue and exhaustion, as well as having developed a fatty liver.
“Nor Damon or I are scientists, food technologists or trained experts in the field, but what Damon does have is a body and was prepared to go through it,” says Batzias. “He had been without sugar for three and a half years so in effect he was a clean site.
“We certainly had to keep a close eye on him during production, because the results were so shocking. Even the doctors were shocked at how bad it was.”
One of the key challenges in making the film was taking the scientific information and making it entertaining as well as educational (there are plans for a Schools Screening Program and School Action Kit in the works).
“The song and the dance and the razzmatazz of the VFX were also very important from the outset because we wanted it to be entertaining,” says Batzias. “We didn’t want it to be – as much as there are very worthy and very informative documentaries out there that can really hammer home the facts – we wanted this to be something parents can watch with their kids.”
The decision was made to approach visual effects supervisor Seth Larney (also a writer/director, and who had previously directed Gameau on his short films Roman’s Ark) to help.
“What really excited me about this project from the outset in a visual sense was the idea of taking this idea, that really could easily have been a bit of an information overload, and telling it in a way that was visually compelling, entertaining, engaging and most importantly – palatable for the audience,” Larney tells IF. “From a VFX standpoint, what was essential to both myself and Damon from the first conversation was this idea of making the film feel like an “event”, it was extremely important that the audience felt like they were having a cinematic experience at every turn. So the goal with the VFX became to find visual ways to present the information of the film in the most entertaining and palatable way, and using this as a platform that would help the films powerful message to come through. “
Larney and Gameau’s collaboration resulted in numerous VFX sequences (Larney says 291 in total) which see Gameau explore his own body, climb into his brain via his nose travel through his liver and veins.
The brain/liver sequences were particularly challenging, with Larney noting: “Both of these scenes had to be previz’d and completed in 3D, then rendered out and composited with green screen footage that we shot of Damon. So there was a lot of back and forth. In some of those 3D comps there is somewhere around 100 layers of compositing happening and there are a lot of shots in those sequences, so it was about managing all of that and having it stay visually compelling.
“There had to be a tight integration between the green screen action blocking and the 3D elements to be able to sell those ideas. So, in those setups I would complete the 3D builds before we shot the green screen. In the 3D Liver scene for instance, I ran a 3D particle simulation of molecules bouncing around Damon’s liver, once we had gone through the pre-vis stage and locked the animation for that shot, I then took the locked animation to set for the green screen shoot and choreographed Damon’s movements to react to the animation, we did this where ever possible to try and make the 3D as integrated as possible.
“Another example was a shot where I had to comp Damon’s head onto the body of a break dancer. We used a similar technique where we filmed the break dancer and then had Damon try and match the dancer’s head movements. I then tracked the dancer’s body and animated and key frame-warped Damon’s head back on, the result it something that I hope is pretty fresh and fun. “
In terms of distribution, Batzias says they are “approaching it in a less traditional fashion, a bit more like Storm Surfers and Paul Kelly where it will be a bit of a tour with Damon leading the charge.
“We’ll have Damon and other experts doing Q&A’s and making it into more of an event, and then having the more traditional release off the back of that, or concurrently with that.”
There is also the release of That Sugar Book, featuring more in-depth scientific analysis of the effects of sugar, Gameau’s personal account of his experiment as well as sugar-free recipes from Gameau’s girlfriend, Winners and Losers actress Zoe Tuckwell-Smith.
An app, too, is in the making, with the aim of helping people decipher sugar content in barcodes on food packaging.
The special event screenings will take place around Australia from March 1.
See www.thatsugarfilm.com for more details.