Academy Award-nominated visual effects
supervisor Christian Manz and award-winning effects
house FRAMESTORE were charged with creating the
fantastical creatures that appear in 47 Ronin, as well as
the background extensions for the film's magnificent sets.
Manz advises that Rinsch's approach was
fundamentally artistic. He states: "In initial discussions
with Carl, we talked about the craft and creativity more
than the technical side. I was drawn in by seeing all
these beautiful pictures he showed me. He was very
open to listening to other people's ideas and wanted
everything to look amazing."
A director who cut his teeth in the world of
commercials, Rinsch's influences came from multiple
sources. Still, the two men kept referencing one
name. "We talked about the film looking like a live-action
version of a Miyazaki film," recalls Manz. "The
challenge was to make it feel that everything is of that
world. We wanted the design to feel grounded, but with
the hint of the fantastical running through it. It's a Japan
that everyone thinks existed, but likely only existed in
Manz worked closely with Roelfs and his team to
enhance the practical work that the production designer
achieved. From extending Ako's multiple courtyards
and paddies to creating a dark and dramatic backdrop
for Kira's fortress-one placed atop snowy mountains
and amid plunging ravines-the department worked
around the clock.
Certainly, the most obvious work of Manz's
department was on the film's fantastical creatures:
the Witch's dragon, the Oni of Dutch Island and the
fearsome creature called Kirin. One of the film's most
spectacular sequences-a high-energy hunt in a forest
to take down the Kirin-opens the film. Abdy laughs:
"It's our big car chase. Obviously, we don't have cars
in this movie, so how better to create that pace and
vibe than with a big, giant creature in the middle of the
forest? The Kirin has energy, power and movement."
For Manz, that scene was the most complex action
piece throughout the production. He shares: "The whole
idea is that it's a majestic beast that's been poisoned and
gone rabid. It's been one of the biggest challenges: to
design the creature and work with the stunt team and
the production design team to fit it into the scene."
Making the sequence work meant getting the action
beats precisely right. Explains Manz: "It's all about
designing a path where the Kirin will be, making sure
that the actors are looking at it and making sure that
there's real-world interaction with the physical creature.
We needed to do this so that later on, when it could be
put into the scene and people are reacting to it, it comes
off as a believable element."
Sanada says the scene is an essential moment in
the adventure. "It establishes that this is a samurai
film, but with grand elements of fantasy," he explains.
"With the Kirin monster you explain the kind of taste
the film will have. You also come to learn about Kai's
character, because he has spiritual power and fighting
skills. For all of the actors, it was very hard to play,
because we could never see the real Kirin there. Acting
and imagination became the only weapons, and we had
to make sure that the audience believes it."
For Fingleton, playing the Oni in his pivotal fight
scene with Kai at Dejima meant accepting the realities
of acting for visual effects. "Basically I was in a carrot
suit for about a week, which was not a good time," he
muses. "The Oni's got a sickle and a ball and chain, and
he's this big monster. It was a great fight, though Keanu
beheads me at the end, which was not cool for me."
Manz explains the practical work that went into
achieving the pivotal scene between Kai and the Oni:
"Gary Powell created the fight between Keanu and
Neil. Essentially, Carl directed that fight with the real
guys there, and we overlayed Neil with our creature
With the help of Manz's effects team, in postproduction,
the Oni became a giant, red-hued fighting
ogre. Rinsch walks us through the process: "Neil wore
a red tracking suit and spandex, and we used him as our
base. Then we built our CG character on top of him, so
that he was fighting with Keanu, who had the advantage
of fighting against a real person. We had the advantage
of understanding lighting and real body movement, so
that the CG character would look real."
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