HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS
Hansel & Gretel's World: The Production
One of the most thrilling challenges for Tommy Wirkola was getting the chance to create a whole new world for Hansel & Gretel to live in -- and in so doing, let his audacious visual imagination run truly wild. He only had one inviolable rule: "It all had to look and feel like a fairy-tale," says Wirkola. "We needed those rich, saturated colors, the kind of colors that grab you --- the green of the forest, the red of the blood and the blackness of the witches."
All the standard details of fairy tale lore were re-engineered to meld with modern action and effects. "Everything was a distinct choice," notes producer Kevin Messick. "Each element of the Hansel & Gretel tale was re-invented by Tommy and his team."
To up the adrenaline another notch, Wirkola made the decision to shoot the film utilizing 3D. "When you're make a movie like this, you really want audiences to be completely immersed in it and 3D is all about that," Wirkola explains. "It widens everything to the point that you feel like you are in this fairy tale land."
A team headed by special effects make-up artist Mike Elizalde, founder of the renowned make-up effects company Spectral Motion (HELLBOY, HELLBOY II), designed Edward the troll and took on bringing the witches to life -- then Wirkola brought in the Berlin-based special effects makeup studio Twilight Creations (INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS) to design the Stone Circle witches. But the real fun was in watching the actors take these roles into action sequences. "Each of the performers suddenly became their characters," says Elizalde. "The actors brought that jolt of electricity."
Another essential for the witches in Wirkola's vision was that they had to really, truly fly -- furiously fast -- in visceral chase scenes. "I always felt the witches had to have brooms, but I wanted to use them in a new way, so that they are speedsters," says Wirkola, who worked with visual effects supervisor Jon Farhart, utilizing wires and green screens to launch the witches through the forest.
Helping to turn more of Wirkola's imaginings into reality was production designer Stephen Scott -- who also worked on Guillermo del Toro's HELLBOY and HELLBOY II. Like Wirkola, Scott was mesmerized by the chance to create sets ranging from cottages to caves and underground chambers. "Stephen has one of the richest imaginations of anyone I've ever met," comments producer Messick.
Heading for Germany -- to the very landscapes that first inspired Hansel & Gretel - Scott was especially thrilled to create sets in one of the haunting natural environments on earth: dark, virgin forests... the kind with full of twisting branches that reach out as if to grab you,. "We founds forests with a real medieval feel -- and also with trees that have a scary side," Scott explains.
In addition to the forest sets, Scott and his team had fun building Muriel's lair (which glows with the dying embers of children's souls), the mouth-watering but malevolent Candy House and the set they called "Stone Circle," scene of the film's climactic showdown.
One of Wirkola's favorite sets became the Candy House. "Everyone has their own idea of what that house might look like," notes the director. "But the important thing was that it needed to look so tempting that a couple of young kids would ignore their skepticism."
"We see it first in the moonlight," continues Scott, "with all its gooey, melting chocolate, gingerbread on the walls and sparkling sweeties. But it also has a hidden side because inside is the Candy Witch, and the house and the witch are one and the same: an evil and nasty piece of work."
Perhaps the most ambitious set of all is the Stone Circle, where a daring rescue unfolds amidst bloodthirsty witches. The scene involved hundreds of cast and crew, multiple cameras, cranes and buckets of blood. "I love a big action finale," says Wirkola. "It's a fun mix of witches, machine guns and a personal battle."
Creative fun also fueled the film's costumes, designed by Marlene Stewart (TERMINATOR 2), who designed and created nearly 100 costumes from scratch. She wanted Hansel & Gretel to look like they belonged in a fairy tale world but also look like they could be badass bounty hunters of any era. Their costumes might be made from traditional leather and linen - but there's nothing antique about them. "We turned all the traditions around by giving them a tough edge," Stewart explains.
The actors were grateful for the inspiration the costumes provided. Says Gemma Arterton: "Everybody went crazy for her costumes. My costume was both a little tomboyish and very sexy. She did such a great job; honestly, I would wear that costume down the street, I loved it so much."
While their clothing is timeless, Hansel & Gretel's witch-hunting arsenal is as deadly as any from our times. Simon Boucherie, a weapons designer from Berlin collaborated with Wirkola on all the weaponry in the film. For the weaponry, Wirkola had a kind of "steampunk" vision of retro-futuristic guns and bows that draw on century-old styles yet feature thoroughly modern firepower. "We had this rule that all the weapons should look like they hand-made them," he explains. "We had a lot of fun coming up with crazy designs."
Wirkola also made brother and sister's choices of weaponry personal. "Hansel is the guy who bursts in and tries to take everybody out with a shotgun, but Gretel is more about subtle precision, so she has a double-barrel crossbow that speaks to her character, yet does what she needs."
From the weapons to the effects to the action, that irreverent mix of the fantastical and the fearsome became the guiding principle for HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. Tommy Wirkola summarizes: "The film has a lot of action, but it was equally important that it have an adventurous feel and a fun feeling to it. It's still a fairy tale, but a very intense one."
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