JACK THE GIANT SLAYER
Fallon: Are you ready, my brothers? Onward, and downward!
The giants inhabit Gantua not by choice but by exile from the Earth, which they were once free to ravage...and by the destruction of the only path that once linked these worlds. It's been a thousand years and they're still steamed about it. But their chance to settle old scores draws near.
Although CG was essential to their conception, producer Moritz states, "It was very important for us not just to have big CG giants. We needed them to have personalities and display emotions and a thought process, to be real characters in their interactions with each other and with their human prey, so we cast great actors in these roles who could give us that range."
Chief among them was Bill Nighy, as the giants' de facto leader, the two-headed General Fallon, who hungers as much for revenge as he does for his favorite food: mankind.
For Nighy, delivering the motion-capture performance that embodied his digitally animated character proved exhilarating. "It provides that sense of reality and authenticity but allows you to be quite extreme and powerful, too," he attests. "It's hard to fully explain the mo-cap experience from an actor's point of view, but I feel it liberates you to a level of performance you might not otherwise do. It allows you to fly a little."
Nighy also contributed to the giants' specialized enunciation. "Bryan wanted them to be not only physically distinguished from everyone else, but vocally unified in a way that a race apart might have evolved, so I suggested a kind of Northern Irish accent," the actor says.
He then went the extra mile for Fallon's gravelly tone, as Singer recalls: "To achieve that, every morning before shooting he would close the windows of his car and scream for 20 minutes and blow out his voice. Then he'd come to the set with that raspy sound that became the voice of Fallon. The first time I heard him I thought he was sick. He said, 'No, I've just been in my car screaming and I'd like to try this voice in the reading so tell me what you think.' And I said, 'Whoa, is that healthy?'"
Adding to Fallon's charm -- if it can be called that -- is the presence of a grotesque, miniature, secondary head that sprouts from his right shoulder. Full of opinions, it is absurdly inarticulate, forced to sputter, spit and growl forth what would likely be the vilest threats and obscenities if they could be understood. Singer, who cast voice actor John Kassir as the giant's not-so-silent partner, explains, "I wanted a non-verbal character, a small head that wants to say all the things the big head is saying, but can't. He tries, though, and if you listen carefully, you'll find it's a version of what Fallon is saying, but he can't quite get it out so he's always frustrated."
Overall, Singer imagined the look of this alien race as especially earthy. "The surface of their skin, at first glance, seems alive and yet, closer in, makes you wonder, 'Are those boils or pebbles? Is that hair or weeds?' They've been in isolation for a thousand years and they show the signs of time and neglect."
To credibly represent the bulk and gait of beings 25 feet tall, those portraying giants trained with choreographer Peter Elliott, who also took on the supporting role of a giant known as sentry. The filmmakers wanted to avoid the cliched lumbering oafs of the past, opting for swifter and more energetic adversaries, but realized that their sheer size and length of limbs required a recalibration of movement -- everything from lowering their center of gravity to turning their massive heads. Additionally Elliott strove to make each characterization distinct in timing and mannerisms so that they projected as individual entities rather than an army of clones.
Says Hoult, "Once Jack and Elmont get over the initial shock of seeing them, they quickly realize that these guys are fast."
The filmmakers experimented with varying height differentials between giant and human before selecting the four-to-one ratio. Less than that wasn't intimidating enough and going larger risked losing the level of interactivity they wanted.
Coordinating the action into a fluid whole utilized an advanced Simul-Cam process, first developed for James Cameron's "Avatar," that allows a director to essentially project pre-captured CG images onto live sets and locations and create each scene in its entirety, via a monitor.
Singer began with preliminary motion capture performances of the giants, sized to approximately 25 feet, which then lived in the computer. Using this as a reference point, actors playing human parts assumed their roles while Singer viewed and directed them in context with the giants they would be reacting to -- allowing for a certain amount of creative leeway to move forward and back in the sequence of those steps, depending upon whether it was primarily the giant or the human action driving each scene.
Finally, the nuance and detail of the giants' expressions and movements were incorporated, and virtual elements added to extend and enhance the practical environments for such factors as the kind of oversize scale that could not be physically accomplished alone.
Motion capture was not exclusive to those portraying giants. Many of the actors filling human roles also took their turn in the mo-cap arena or "volume." For Ewan McGregor, it was a first. "My movements were recorded and digitized so that I could be animated in moments that required an extreme fall or jump. They could film me running to jump, then create my image flying through the air and then cut to my landing," he recounts.
Additionally, by replicating the movements of the film camera with 34 mo-cap cameras in the same volume, Singer gained the freedom to select any angle from which to view the ensuing action, whether from above, below, or behind the giants, depending upon each scene's shifting perspective.
Working closely with director of photography Newton Thomas Sigel, his longtime creative collaborator since "The Usual Suspects," Singer often shot from the ground, to simulate the humans' point of view. To represent the opposite point of view, he says, "When a giant looks at something its eyes are much further apart because its head is so big. So whenever a giant was focused on something I expanded the interaxial -- the position between the two eyes of the 3D camera rig -- about nine or 10 inches. That creates a hyper-3D which then miniaturizes the thing you're focused on, which in this case was cowering humans.
"I was very pleased to be actually shooting in native stereo 3D rather than post-dimensionalizing, because when you're on the set and trying to compose a shot or assess its 3D impact it's immensely valuable to see it in 3D right there," he adds.
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