THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES
Building the City of Bones
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones takes place in a beautifully realized, visually stunning world that, like the Shadowhunters themselves, balances elegantly on the very edge of reality and fantasy. Blending real-life, gritty urban locations with imaginatively conceived enchanted spaces, the film's lush and gorgeous settings -- from the cluttered comfort of Clary and her mother's bohemian artist's flat to the gloomy grandeur of the titular City of Bones -- reflect the director's insistence on a stylized version of reality.
"Harald always said, if we make it too fantastic, no one's going to believe it," producer Carmody explains. "We went for very realistic locations, costumes and casting choices. We have to believe that this place exists within the city, here among us."
Zwart began by assembling an eclectic and international creative team to develop and execute his vision. "It was very important to me that this didn't become a monster movie," he says. "I really tried to approach it from a completely different angle. We have the most talented director of photography in Scandinavia, Geir Andreassen, with his beautiful lighting. Our production designer is Francois Seguin, who has created extraordinary sets for films, as well as for Cirque du Soleil. Atli Ã–rvarsson did the amazing score. The costumes, which were designed by Gersha Phillips, are incredibly fashion forward."
"We worked with a very strict palette that developed together," the director continues. "It is, for the most part, quite muted. Although it's tempting to go high contrast with this type of movie, we always went for soft light sources to enhance the angelic look of the skin tones."
That approach fit well with Carmody's theory that good filmmaking requires many of the same elements as throwing a great party. "It's all about the people you invite," he says. "We've got an amazing cast, we've got an astonishing crew. Cinematographer Geir Andreassen is an incredible find. Robert Kulzer and I sat on the set looking at the images on the monitors and couldn't believe he got that kind of quality so quickly."
The filmmakers decided to shoot on film as opposed to using digital cameras to give the film a lush and classic look. "We actually shot this movie on 35mm Panavision Scope which makes it look absolutely gorgeous," says Zwart. "I know I'm one of the few still holding back on doing digital. I'm not going to argue for or against either, but I think for this movie, where there's a lot of romance and skin tones and beautiful colors, shooting it in a traditional fashion on film gives it a very special look."
Production designer Francois Seguin had previously worked with Zwart on The Karate Kid. "Francois is incredibly talented," the director says. "I obsess about the look of everything I do. We have created a beautiful world for this movie. He brought a sort of fairy-tale realism and artistic quality to it."
The film's fantastical setting is something of a departure for the production designer. "As with Harald, it didn't seem a natural fit at first," says Kulzer. "But once we saw his sketches, it was clear he could create an astonishing world for us, sometimes with very limited means. He was able to use certain lighting or simple, old-school techniques to create illusions that didn't require gigantic visual effects or a gigantic budget. He and Harald came up with incredible solutions that allowed them to do so many things in camera that we never expected to be able to do."
"Francois really stepped up on this one and created some amazing sets and set pieces," agrees Carmody. "The greenhouse sequence, which I know the fans are looking forward to, is one of the most romantic sets I've ever been on. It's just amazing."
Emphasizing in-camera effects over CGI, Zwart and Seguin accomplished some mind-boggling imagery. "Some of the optical illusions we're doing work so well because the audience can see that it's absolutely happening in front of you," says Zwart. "Look at the construction of the pentagram; I love this scene because the scene seems to be about something else, and that Valentine is randomly hitting swords into the floor out of anger, then in the end we see that he has with extreme precision been able to make a prefect pentagram when seen from a specific angle. I spent days constructing the idea in 3d on my computer because I wanted it to be looking like a random mess unless you see it from one, and one only specific angle."
Seguin began his designs with the book's original artwork, which he has adapted and sometimes reimagined for film. "My job was to try to create a world hidden in New York City that we humans never see," he says. "There was detailed artwork already in existence, but it didn't always translate to a three-dimensional, live-action movie. We took some license in order to fit the vision of the book into the script in a certain time span with the budget we had."
With a mandate from the director to emphasize the use of three-dimensional settings over green-screen re-creations, Seguin used a combination of practical locations in metropolitan Toronto, and specially-built sets on the Cinespace Film Studio stages to stand in for the New York City settings. Over the course of the 12-week shoot, Seguin, his supervising art director Anthony Ianni and their team designed, constructed and dressed over 50 different sets, one of the most important of which is the Shadowhunters' safe haven, the Institute.
A number of different locations were utilized in creating the Institute, including the University of Toronto's stately Knox College and Casa Loma, a historic medieval castle. One of the biggest challenges for the production design team was the Institute library. Constructed on a stage at Cinespace Studios, the massive circular set sports bookshelves that rise two stories. It took 10 weeks to build and dress.
Realizing he would be unlikely to find a location that could stand in for the lair of the sect of Shadowhunters known as the Silent Brothers, Seguin constructed the subterranean necropolis known as the City of Bones from the ground up. The set is inspired by the famous Paris catacombs, with one notable exception. "It is a very short sequence," says the designer. "We shot it in a day, but we wanted to give an expansive feeling in just a few shots. I came up with the idea that it would be round, rather than series of long corridors, so we see more of it."
A very different approach was taken to create the vampire haven known as the Hotel Dumort. Once a glittering Art Deco showplace, the derelict Manhattan hotel is now overrun by the undead. The filmmakers located an actual abandoned hotel and renovated it for their purposes. "The Hotel Dumort was a lucky find," says Carmody. "It had six years of complete decrepitude and thousands of pigeons roosting in it. Vandals had stripped it of everything. We had to clean it up so we could work there and then have the art department dirty it up again. It's a very creepy place."
It was, in a word, perfect. "It was almost like an abandoned soundstage," Seguin says. "The whole structure was already there, like a half-painted canvas. We had real corridors and real staircases. We redressed and repainted it, but we had the bones."
Costume designer Gersha Phillips faced a tall challenge of her own. Zwart asked the designer to create a unique look for the Shadowhunters, something that went beyond the obvious and helped to define the characters while tying in to contemporary fashion.
"When I first met with Gersha, I instantly saw that she was perfect for the job," he says. "We could have ended up with very conventional black leather outfits. We do have leather and a lot of black, but these Shadowhunters make a bit of a fashion statement. Everything looks like tomorrow's new jacket or tomorrow's new pair of pants."
The Shadowhunters' costumes had such specific requirements that, for the most part, they had to be custom designed and built. "I wanted the clothing not to look like anything you could just buy in a store," Phillips says. "They had to be things we hadn't really seen before. And then, because they're warriors, everything that they wear has to take that into consideration. Things can't be too confining or restrict their movement. We had to build knit panels into the inseams and padding into the knees and elbows. We had a high fashion take on everything, sometimes taking period pieces and redoing them in contemporary fabrics and contemporary styles to give them that edge."
The designer also incorporated runes into the costumes. "The Silent Brothers, who communicate telepathically, have one called 'clairvoyance' that we used around the sleeves and hems of their robes," she says. "Jace's costume incorporates the runes for strength and fearlessness, which are so characteristic of him."
Clary's transformation from schoolgirl to demon hunter had to be reflected in her clothing, as well. "In the beginning, Harald was concerned about her looking too hip," Phillips says. "We put her in Doc Martens and boyfriend jeans, which suited her tomboy spirit. Then there's a very sharp switch when she enters the Institute and Isabelle gives her those first pieces of clothing, the tighter pants and the leather jacket."
Collins, a budding fashion icon in her own right, found the designs impeccable. "It could have become very costumey, but the Shadowhunters shouldn't look like they tried too hard. She nailed it. They just have the right vibe."
Jonathan Rhys Meyers wanted Valentine to have a Samurai-like edge and Phillips was happy to collaborate with him on his costumes. "Of course, there's a lot of black and there's a lot of leather," says Rhys Meyers. "That's the world they live in. Leather is such a sexy fabric and it brings a certain element of danger. Valentine also has a Samurai topknot ponytail that swings during the fight scenes. It's very effective."
During those fight scenes, Zwart insisted on having the actors perform as much of the action as they could and the performers embraced the challenge, undertaking months of training for the film. "They're all pretty athletic anyway," he says. "I tried to make sure that they were able to do pretty much everything themselves, so we could avoid the old 'cut to a double, and then cut to a close-up of the actor.'"
"We wanted to base the stunts in reality," says Carmody. "When they're fighting vampires or demons, they're not doing anything way out of the ordinary. They're not superheroes. They're human beings who have trained all their lives to do this. Thousands of years of training has been passed down to them, so they're very good at it."
[Stunt Coordinator] Jean Frenette worked closely with the performers to develop fighting styles that set each of them apart. "One of the unique aspects of the project was the sheer number of varieties of characters," says Frenette. "We have Shadowhunters, demons, vampires, werewolves. Harald wanted each of them to have signature weapons and fighting styles, so the werewolves are more animalistic and physical. The vampires might fly or leap great distances. That gave the luxury of the creating action sequences that stretch reality a little bit more."
Because the Shadowhunters have existed throughout the world for ten centuries, Frenette was able to draw on a millennium's worth of weapons and fighting styles from around the globe. As Jace, Jamie Campbell Bower becomes an elegant, acrobatic killing machine, as ruthlessly efficient as he is effortlessly graceful.
"Jamie trained intensely for months before shooting began," Frenette says. "Even during production, every day he was off, we trained together. He looks very natural because we designed his stunts to showcase what he does well naturally. Jace is very agile and an expert with blades, so we put Jamie through a mixture of different types of sword work. He also studied Krav Maga, a brutal fight technique developed in Israel by the Mossad."
Using Rhys Meyers' Samurai analogy as inspiration, Frenette gave Valentine an expertise in Asian martial arts. "I trained with a Samurai sword and a 17th-century epee," Rhys Meyers says. "For hand-to-hand combat, we're using Pencak-Silat, a martial art from Indonesia and Wing Chun, which is a form of Kung Fu. They both use the other person's body strength against them. Everything is almost elegant up until the last moment, where it's pure danger."
The overall result is that even during the chaotic jumble of battle, the audience will be able to identify each character. "Alec's fighting style is violent and ferocious," says Zegers. "It reveals a great deal about him. He's an over-killer. And when you're fighting side by side with people, it makes a difference for the audience if they can tell who is who.
"We were in Hotel Dumort for four days fighting with vampires and werewolves," he notes. "No matter who the camera was on, the rest of us were all working in the background. Because of Jean's attention to those details, people will be able to see that it's me, and see that it's Jamie, and see that it's Lily or Jemima."
Frenette worked with the filmmakers to devise unique weapons for the Shadowhunters, as well. "We tried to create something special for each of them, a weapon that fit the character," he says. "Isabelle, for example, has a whip, which allowed us to do some very creative choreography. Jemima West had never had any fighting training, so we had to start from scratch with her and she did really well."
West was intimidated at first, but learned to wield Isabelle's signature weapon with panache. "Shadowhunters have been born and raised fighting," she says. "Each of us has a specialty. As soon as I arrived, they handed me a whip. It's a scary and quite dangerous weapon, but very elegant."
James R. Murray, the film's inventive propmaster, created most of the weapons from the ground up. He ingeniously disguised Isabelle's whip as jewelry. "Throughout the books, Isabelle wears a snake bracelet on her wrist," he says. "We built it so that as Isabelle extends her hand, the snake uncoils and becomes a whip."
Murray and his team were responsible for a variety of custom weapons, including a wide assortment of blades. "We had so many sword meetings," says Kulzer. "What is the difference between the blade that kills a demon, the blade that kills a vampire and the blade that kills a werewolf? The number of blade discussions that we had would blow your mind."
The most challenging and iconic is undoubtedly the glass sword used by Shadowhunters to kill demons. "Actually crafting them from glass would have been impossible," says Murray. "They would have weighed 17 pounds and been extremely fragile."
Instead, his team developed a process that allowed them to mold the weapons out of acrylic and polish them until they were crystal clear. "I think we made about 60 blades in total," says. "The first day of shooting, we brought the blades to set and they were too clear. We had to buff them out a bit."
Cassandra Clare seems a bit awed when she looks at her creation brought to life on the big screen. "Writing is a very solitary process," she says. "You imagine this world. These characters come to life inside your head, so you feel a little bit as if you're chronicling a story that already exists. To come to the set of a movie and to see it in three dimensions, to see the City of Bones and the runes, to see the actors dressed as the characters was such an incredible experience. It makes me feel a little like I'm in the movie Inception. It's like I dreamed this and now it's become real."
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