Brave New Worlds
Well known in the film industry for his extraordinary personal vision, Andrew Niccol has created another new and original world -- actually two -- as the setting for The Host. Shooting in Louisiana and New Mexico, Niccol and his talented creative team embraced their locations' unique attributes, from the dank and exquisite swamps near Shreveport to the towering rock formations of the southwestern desert, and created an unusually evocative physical world for the story.
"Andrew Niccol is an acknowledged maestro of visual style," says producer Paula Mae Schwartz. "The enormous amount of upfront thinking that went into the design of this production was impressive."
"We have incredible geography and landscapes," adds Wechsler. "The vast vistas really make it feel like an adventure."
Niccol credits the original material with providing his inspiration for the film's look. "Although story is set in the future, I didn't want the movie to become about hardware," he says. "The design philosophy for the Souls' world comes directly out of their philosophy. They don't change the world; they experience and perfect it."
Production designer Andy Nicholson, who has worked with a diverse group of directors that includes Tim Burton, Guy Ritchie, Tony Scott, Wolfgang Petersen and Paul Greengrass, welcomed the director's practiced eye and attention to detail. "You get what he's after very quickly," says Nicholson. "The clarity he has is refreshing."
From the outset, Niccol and Nicholson discussed the effect the Souls would have had on the appearance of a civilization. "One of the ideas we played with was that once the Souls are in control, the culture stops evolving," recalls Nicholson. "Time effectively stops. The Souls have very advanced medicine and technology, but nothing else advances."
"They preserve the best of what they find," explains Niccol. "But their design philosophy is quite modest. The clothing, housing and cars are not at all flashy."
The exceptions to that rule are the Seekers. "They wear white and use chrome high performance vehicles, which makes them stand out from the others," says Niccol. "The affinity for chrome comes from their natural form, which is a similar substance."
The Seekers' cars, helicopters and motorcycles are all clad in spotless metal. "The chrome car is one of the most exciting images Andrew showed me at the start of the movie," says Nicholson. "They're stunning looking vehicles and in the desert, you get a fantastic reflection of the blue sky and the ground. Getting them chromed was another matter. There are only a couple of companies that have the chrome wrapping technology."
Niccol selected the sleek and sexy Lotus Evora as the Seekers' vehicle of choice. "The lines echo the pods in which the souls travel between worlds," says the designer. "We have five in the film and when they are all in the same scene, it is just stunning."
The Seekers' distinctive cream-colored clothing is an outgrowth of Niccol's vision of perfectionism in the world of Souls. "All of our looks for the Souls are an image of something perfected," says costume designer Erin Benach. "The fit had to be impeccable and the color palette very controlled. For the Seekers, we decided that a creamy white was in keeping with the idea of purity."
Kruger is the essence of elegance in tailored tops and soft, flowing trousers. "When she goes into the desert after Wanda, she's riding the motorcycle, so we gave her more of a moto look," says the designer. "She wears a jacket and a pair of jodhpur-y stretch pants that we built."
In stark contrast to the idealized urban world of the Souls is the gritty, underground existence of the humans. "The visual feel for both worlds was Andrew's idea," Meyer says. "Where the cities are ultra-civilized, the desert is fairly primitive. Andrew has taken the divide between the Souls and the humans to a more visual level than I ever dreamed of."
The surviving humans have taken refuge in a series of underground caves connected by tunnels. The filmmakers placed their sanctuary in the northwestern New Mexico desert, near a spectacular geological formation known as Shiprock, which serves as an important landmark in the film. "We found the most fantastic exterior locations," says Niccol. "I always begin work with a lot of visual references and this is the first time I've found a location that's better than my best reference. Shiprock is awe-inspiring. It is so beautiful that people assume it's CGI."
But one of the difficulties in shooting a film that is set in a cave, says the director, is that it is nearly impossible to use a real cave. To recreate the elaborate community imagined in Meyer's book, enormous sets had to be constructed on a 250 by 125 foot soundstage at Celtic Studios in Baton Rouge. The walls of the structure resemble the sandstone and limestone found in the New Mexican exteriors. The floors and interior dunes were made from a mixture of three different types of sand, blended to match the landscape in New Mexico. Cave walls are 20 feet tall, with visual effects extending them even further in some scenes.
Even at this scale, the river set with its running water, waterfall and bathing pool had to be built at a separate location. Special effects coordinator Jack Lynch and special effects foreman Rick Perry created a marvel of engineering that circulates about 40,000 gallons of water in a closed loop with a flow rate at peak operation of about 10,000 gallons a minute creating the rapids seen in the film.
The most important design conversation Niccol and his production designer had about the cave settings was how to make them visually interesting and varied. "Andrew's idea was to make a low confined space that suddenly opened up into a very dramatic cathedral cave," says Nicholson. "The key was making sure that each section of the caves had a very distinct identity. I thought of it as designing a series of rooms for a set: the infirmary, the cell, the tunnels, the wheat field, which had to be a huge space."
The wheat field was a particularly enormous undertaking, says Niccol. "It took about a month to make the wheat field alone. You can't grow wheat on a sound stage. Those strands of wheat -- all 100,000-plus -- had to be attached by hand. I also wanted to open up the setting with a night sky to prevent it from being claustrophobic. I imported the idea of glowworms from New Zealand to simulate the effect inside."
The Herculean efforts involved in the film's production design were not lost on the cast and crew. "The sets are phenomenal," says Abel. "Every person had the same reaction the first time they walked onto the soundstage. It was jaw dropping -- true movie magic."
Meyer watched in awe and excitement as the world that she had imagined in her book took shape. "Andrew took this story to a completely different level with his visuals," she says. "The world is not so different from ours, but you immediately sense that you are somewhere slightly unfamiliar."
The overall design concept influenced director of photographer Roberto Schaefer's approach to the visual language. "Everything in the alien world was very geometric and clean and crisp," says Schaefer. "It was composed to within an inch of its life, whereas everything in the renegades' world was free-form and less frame-perfect."
Schaefer had early discussions with director Niccol about the visual interpretation of the dual characters. "We used a shot throughout the film that we called the 'brain shot,'" recalls Schaefer. "It was designed to help communicate the idea that one character has two voices. The camera is very close and wide. It moves in step with Melanie-Wanda, almost as if the camera is almost attached to her as she walks. It worked extremely well."
Producer Wechsler is keen to see audience reaction to The Host. "This is not a film you can easily put in a box," he says. "It's not just another date movie for people under 25. It is layered and complex and slightly challenging. We are hoping that this film will appeal not only to younger people, but also to men and women over 25, over 35 and over 45.
"We want audiences to be surprised and not know exactly where the movie is leading them," he adds. "I feel very confident that it will be a unique experience. It's a classic science fiction adventure, a drama, a romance and a thriller -- all of those things rolled into one."
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