Design and Locations: Capturing Riddick's World
It was crucial to Diesel,
Twohy and Field that Riddick
evoke the terror of the first
film and provide the visually
stunning elements of the
second. When it came time to scouting locations,
Montreal proved to be the ideal city in which they could
open up Riddick's unexpected new journey. On Field:
"We were fortunate to be able to shoot in the same studios
where 300 was filmed. David had created such elaborate
storyboards for every sequence of this movie, and that
gave the crew a significant tool to know the exact shots
we wanted and kept production right on track."
When it came to a cinematographer, the filmmakers
opted to bring back David Eggby, who had so masterfully
served as DP on Pitch Black. "He's a guy that I enjoyed
collaborating with because we challenge each other,"
remarks Twohy. "We pushed each other to make bold
choices in Pitch Black, and again I challenged him here
on a technical level. I said, 'We are going to create a
fairly exotic-looking alien world, but I'm going to ask
you to shoot it in a train depot in Montreal.'"
The team loved the visual style and the tone that
Eggby had created in Pitch Black, a bleached bypass
process that gave a beautiful light to the film. Even
though they wanted to bring back that film's texture
and graininess, shooting on stage -- with a much bigger
visual effects show and many more creatures this time
around -- forced Eggby and Twohy to create a new look
for the production.
This first consisted of determining the light source
on the planet. For Twohy, who has a keen interest in
astronomy, determining the planetary arrangement is
always his starting point. In Pitch Black, Twohy chose a binary system, a planet with two suns, which may
imply an unstable planet. For Riddick, he also looked to
the stars. "I begin with real astronomy and astrophysics
because that's one of my passions," he notes. "For this
film, one of the things that caught my eye was putting
a brown dwarf star in the sky, which is like a very big
Jupiter. I try not to get too fanciful; the universe is
strange enough out there that you don't have to add
strangeness to it."
Because many of Riddick's scenes take place
on the exterior of the planet, Eggby had the arduous
challenge of lighting inside a studio. In addition,
both he and Twohy did not want top light, but rather
chiseled, contrasting light. The solution? On a previous
film, Eggby had worked with giant reflective pieces of
fabric that served as bounce sources, and he believed
that concept could again be applied here. "I knew this
would be a good way to light our four stages and it
would be combined into one source," shares the DP.
"You don't have multi-shadows. It's soft, and it's like
one big orb. So we purchased 40 20-by-20 gold lames,
which are gold material reflectors. We stretched them
on the ceiling and put lights into them individually. We
could flip them around for a white bounce for ambient
fill, or gold, or the moon."
On each of the soundstages, production designer
Joseph Nemec III built landscapes that filled the
majority of the stage. Twohy
had hired Nemec for A Perfect
Getaway and when he spoke
about the possibility of Riddick,
the Terminator 2: Judgment Day
veteran expressed interest in
getting back to the sci-fi genre.
The team found Nemec to be
an incredible collaborator, one
of the critical pieces to putting
this whole puzzle together.
Though Riddick required
many visual effects, it was
important to the production team to not have the entire
film shot on green screen. Indeed, they wanted sets
that could anchor the actors in their environment. After
discussing with Twohy how the two suns would affect
the planet's environments, Nemec designed the various
environs that Riddick and the bounty hunters would
experience. Eight unique landscapes were needed, but
with only four soundstages, Nemec had to carefully
plan when to tear one down to build another.
The landscapes depicted different aspects of the
hostile planet's terrain, from its badlands -- filled with
steaming sulfur pools and yellow sand that whipped
about -- and huge reddish rock walls with large mud
pits to hoodoo rock formations and a vast, desolate
savanna-like tundra. Praising his production designer,
Twohy says: "Joe is a quick-change artist, and few
people could have pulled off what he did."
This set was where, on one end, Nemec built a
full-scale way station -- at which Riddick activates a
beacon -- and at the other end, a full-scale spaceship.
"Most of the outdoor environments we were looking
at were architecturally geological, generally more
barren or monumental," says Nemec. "The topography
we chose for the look of the way station exterior is
in Northern Quebec. It's called Kuujjuaq, and it's
very barren with low arctic scrub and lichen-colored
granite -- not something people normally see."
Nemec explains what was required of his crew to
create this barren tundra inside a giant soundstage: "It
took about nine truckloads of dirt and rubble to shape
the ground. Then we came back and poured concrete
over all of that. Then we came back again with more dirt
and gravel and ground materials over the top; that began
to suggest the tundra. To finish, we used a combination
of Styrofoam coated with plaster, other wood structures
with fiberglass and plaster rocks over the top. Finally,
we gave them all the same scenic treatment to match
the rocks of the Kuujjuaq area."
In order to expand Nemec's tundra landscape in
the film, visual supervisor Gunnar Hansen, who had
previously worked on such topographically challenging
films as The Grey, traveled to Kuujjuaq to shoot plate
photography. "We were helicoptered in to an area that
has probably never had a human set foot in it before; the
terrain was too rough to drive through. We didn't see any
wildlife at all in this stark, desolate landscape," says the
VFX supervisor. For this special shoot, Hansen's team
built an elaborate rig to hold the three high-resolution
digital still cameras needed to capture the visuals. After
stitching the images together, this gave a 180-degree
point of view...a perspective one would guess you'd
need eyeshine to see.
Riddick, after he has been left for dead on the
desolate planet, takes refuge in ancient burial ruins. As
Nemec drew the ruins, he imagined what culture would
have influenced them. "We felt the burial ruins had to be
an architectural environment,"
says the production designer.
"We decided to take our in-
fluence from Petra in Jordan.
The idea was that in a great
deteriorated mountain, some
ancient civilization would
have carved out a shrine or
ceremonial place that gave
homage to the creatures on
the planet." When researching
the inner carvings and the stone that was used in Petra,
the art department learned that the main colors where
mainly shades of terra-cotta. Fortunately, it was a
perfect complement to the palette that Nemec was
working with, so he kept them.
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