THOR: THE DARK WORLD
The Dark Elves
One set of characters that were clothed
and created outside of the costume
department were the dark elves and their
leader and the film's villain Malekith. This
task was given to the special makeup
effects designer, David White.
Working closely with Alan Taylor, David
White set to work on creating Malekith,
leader of the dark elves, and
Algrim/Kurse who is Malekith's captain
and confidant, as well as the dark elf race themselves. Over three and half months,
White's 100-strong team would create 47 dark elves.
Starting with the designs that Marvel's head of visual development Charlie Wen had
developed, the filmmaking team agreed on elements they wanted to include then took
the designs further. Discussing the design process, White explains, "Alan was very 36
interested in having a very noble race; a very Masai and tribal feel, so I looked through
the tribal possibilities and Masai ideas across the world. As the producers were keen to
draw on something that was very off world, I was being careful not to incorporate
anything that was known, so we recreated and tailored ethnic and tribal elements in
order to create the dark elves."
David White's research also tapped into the idea of the elven race being very proud and
he incorporated that into his design. He comments, "In the design of the helmets, I
made sure that the eye line was slightly pulled down, so it made them have to tilt their
heads slightly up and back which gave a very proud, strong feel to them, so that worked
As with all elements of the film, the team also looked to the comic books for reference
and design elements. For Marvel's "Thor: The Dark World" the filmmakers were keen to
evolve the look from the comic book characters into more menacing and mysterious
otherworldly beings. In a way, to have those characters grow a bit, but also to pay
homage to the original incarnations, particularly Malekith. He shares some of his comic
book traits, particularly the two-tone iconic face and the star emblem.
White notes, "The comic design of the dark elves is very specific and very powerful and
comic. That doesn't necessarily translate to a raw, tough movie like this, which will be a
more visceral, realistic version of what you saw in the comic." He adds, "We don't want
to find too much sympathy for these guys, so they have to be extremely scary and
extremely agile and violent."
With the design of the dark elves progressing, attention
turned to the types of materials that the creatures would be
made of. The director and producers wanted to have a very
organic feel to the elves, given that they are made of dark
matter, originating from hundreds of thousands of years ago
and from the beginning of time. White expands on this, "We
drew on that and looked at different materials out there like
slate and all sorts of shell materials, rust and lots of weird
and wonderful materials to see where we could go with the
textures and colors and create something that's never been
He adds, "Alan was very involved and would bring in shells and objects from home and
ask what we thought. He had a really clear vision and was very involved right down to
the color and all the materials we were using."
The color palettes that the special effects makeup and prosthetics team were working
with were much darker tones, helping separate the different realms and reinforcing the
infinite darkness, where the elves evolved from. White comments, "We were dealing
with darker tones and sepia tones. We also have a little pearlescent rhythm and shell-
like quality going through our look. The base suits that everyone is wearing are matte
black as opposed to anything shiny. The material may look like leather or silicone or
rubber, but there's nothing like it."
White also notes that even the dark elves' eyes had to lose any shine, adding to the
eerie sense of unease the characters elicit. "We had to design the eyes and the lenses so
they weren't shiny; they had this slightly hazy sensibility about them, so there were no
To add to this sense of unease, the director also wanted the eyes to be bigger than
normal. White notes that this was a particular challenge, given that larger eyes usually
soften a character. "Alan wanted the eyes bigger, so in a way they are much more scary,
but it's also difficult because big eyes are associated with doe-eyed babies. The only way
to find a spooky area to work within was to enlarge the eyes, but keep the face in a very
neutral, unsettled way. The face doesn't have a frown or necessarily any kind of
expression, which is quite
creepy, and that is what Alan
wanted to see. You don't know
what the dark elf is thinking and
whether he is going to kiss you
or kill you!"
Craig Kyle adds, "Those dead
eyes are very scary, especially in large numbers. Up close they are very frightening. They
have almost an Egyptian feel to their mass design and shaping. There's something scary
about this lifeless face staring back at you; there's no emotion or feeling."
Practicality was also one of the key considerations when creating the dark elf costumes.
The actors had fight scenes, so they needed to be agile and thought was also put into
the time it would take to suit up and prepare the actors for filming. David White notes,
"We have certain restraints because the dark elves have to be practically able to fly
ships and move around and fight, so everything is done for practical reasons as well as
for on the edge, dangerous, visual looks."
The characters have also been given a certain way of moving, encompassing a samurai
warrior feel of fighting that involved a lot of kick-boxing style moves and White notes
that this informed how they approached the dark elf suits. He says, "We went on stage
and watched 20 guys rehearsing with the elves and they were literally jumping out of
boxes and coming down from the ceiling and kick-boxing. I thought, 'We've got to make
sure all the armor and boots stay on these guys.' So, in the sculpting process we made
sure that everything had space between areas, so that they can actually physically do
what they have to do."
Describing the suit they created, White says, "It is a lycra-based suit, which has about 15
different foam prosthetic elements that are all poured together and stitched onto the
suits. We also used different materials like polyurethanes and silicones, which were
incorporated just to get the right densities, weights and the right flexibilities so the
actors were very comfortable."
He adds, "The suit itself is a one-piece. The boots are separate; gloves and helmet are
separate too, but it's an all in one, so it makes an awfully streamlined operation going
onto a set."
Two dark elves who were a particular challenge for the special makeup effects team
were the chief villain Malekith and his Lieutenant Algrim/Kurse played by Christopher
Eccleston and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, respectively. The comic book character of
Malekith has a distinct look and the filmmakers wanted to embrace this, while evolving
the character within the film environment.
In the comics Malekith's face has an
iconic half-white, half-black look that the
filmmakers wanted to incorporate. David
White discusses the challenge of
Malekith's look: "He was a really difficult
character to deal with because when I
usually do a prosthetic, I'm very nervous
about losing the actor underneath a pile
of prosthetic pieces. It's unnecessary a lot
of the time, and especially in this case it
wasn't necessary to go too far. Also for practical reasons, in that the actor has a
performance to give and it's hot. So we dealt with a forehead piece and we have little
sidepieces and ears. That may only sound like little bits and pieces, but it still takes three
and half to four hours to get into that makeup."
Actor Christopher Eccleston was impressed with the look, and confesses that the long
makeup process took discipline to do but was outweighed by his delight in creating
Malekith. "My costume is very elaborate and made with great care and the makeup as
well. It's pretty extraordinary. I wear contact lenses and I have prosthetics on my face. I
have a different shaped head; I wear a wig and a cage on top of the wig. I also have body
armor and a cloak, so it's very elaborate and transforming. The idea with prosthetics is
that you still get a sense of a living creature, a living entity, and I think we've achieved
Creating the characters of Algrim and Kurse involved some lengthy prosthetic work, but
the team was excited with the design and individual touches they brought through.
David White relates, "Adewale has this amazing black skin, so we thought it would be a
fabulous look to create eyebrows that would be beautifully white against this beautiful 39
black skin, which worked really well."
Although White concedes that because each prosthetic is new every day and the hair is
hand-punched into the eyebrow, this was no small task. He explains, "There are about
350 hairs per eyebrow, times forty, times two, so that's eighty pieces. That's quite a lot
The design of Algrim and Kurse came from Charlie Wen and then David and his team
worked with Charlie to enhance those and come up with something quite unusual.
White comments, "The final look of Kurse is pretty outrageous." White also enjoyed
working with the actor, whom he felt completely embodied his dual characters.
"Adewale is a really physical actor. He wants to do it and he does. He's such a big guy
and can be quite terrifying actually!"
Akinnuoye-Agbaje admits that he loved
playing his two characters, but that the
makeup process could be a challenge.
"Some days I would play the two
characters in the same day, so you're
looking at about five or six hours in
makeup. Algrim was quite lengthy
because, as well as prosthetics, there
were wigs and contact lenses, which I
had to get use to, because they impair
your vision when performing. Then there is the armor, which is beautiful, but quite
heavy, about 30 pounds." These are some of the things you endure while performing,
but which ultimately inform the character's outcome."
He adds, "For Kurse you're covered head to toe in prosthetics, but the guys did an
amazing job in making it flexible because I had to do fight scenes and move about.
When you're in it for 10 hours in the day, you're going to sweat but at the end of the
day you do it because you know it's going to look fantastic and it's the opportunity of
playing such a dynamic character."
When it came to weaponry for
the dark elves, Alan Taylor had
a vision of what he hoped to
see, so property master Barry
Gibbs and his team set to work
on a very otherworldly giant
gun. Gibbs notes, "Alan had a
vision of a huge, alien, oversized weapon that fired a very small pellet of dark energy;
the idea being a very small piece of this dark matter could destroy a 12-16 foot diameter
area and create a black hole. The first weapon we developed we nicknamed the slow 40
gun and it was about four-feet long. It was this huge beast of a gun, almost like an
It was also important that the aesthetic of the gun be very organic to complement the
look of the dark elves, so the props team looked at a range of suitable materials. Gibbs
comments, "We looked at lots of slates, coals, meteorites and other various organic
materials and also did a few trips to science museums just looking at natural products.
We also went to a coal mine, where we brought back huge chunks of coal to see how
they broke away."
After initial discussions, it was decided to scale down the weapon and alter it slightly.
The initial texture looked too much like burnt wood, so a small team developed an
alternative look using waxes and changed the finish, as well as making this lethal
weapon slightly slicker and more chiseled. The team then worked on a secondary
weapon for the dark elf foot soldiers, which they developed along the lines of a
backpack, encasing a hidden gun. Gibbs explains, "When you first see an elf you can't
quite make out what they are carrying or what they are wearing. Then you see them put
their hand behind them, flip something out and you have this folding gun, which pops
out and turns into not only a weapon that can fire a projectile, but that can be used as a
slashing and cutting weapon as well as a fighting staff."
For the dark elf leader, Malekith, it was decided that he didn't need a weapon of his
own, but he does have a scene where he pulls a weapon from another elf, so the team
was required to deliver a bladed weapon at short notice. Gibbs comments, "We had
three days to create this carbonized, bladed weapon for a fight scene between Malekith
and Frigga and because of the choreography of the fight we needed to have two
The team also designed a special
knife for the scene where Algrim
has an incision made in his side
for the tech-capsule to be
inserted, later to be used to
transform him into Kurse. Gibbs
explains the organic look to the
knife: "The design went from a curved blade to something quite straight and took on the
same feeling of a carbonized, organic handle and then the blade, which rather than
being honed metal, was something where you weren't quite sure whether it is ceramic
or a mineral."
The prop makers were grateful for the input from the Marvel team, whose knowledge of
the characters and background, as well as their enthusiasm, helped the team keep
design and direction more focused, making sure the end product would excite fans and
audiences and work within the film environment. Gibbs comments, "The good thing
about Marvel is that they have such great feelings about their product. Executive
producer Craig Kyle and producer Kevin Feige know the story lines inside out and are so
enthusiastic. You could tell by the look on their faces if I was making something they
think would work."
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