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THE LEGEND OF HERCULES

Ancient Greece
With a human story painted on a rich and legendary canvas, Harlin had to find balance between the interesting character building aspects of the film and the thrilling action filled adventures Hercules is celebrated for. "We were essentially creating a movie that was in one aspect, very tough, robust and action packed, but also very romantic and beautiful and poetic," said Harlin. "There are scenes with thousands of people and horses in giant battles, and then there are beautifully intimate scenes underwater. Shooting in Bulgaria over 54 days has been the perfect backdrop to bring out both of those sides and create a world of its own."

Harlin found several locations in Bulgaria for the film including a large cave where he would set an enormous battle scene. "This is probably the only movie that has such a big battle scene inside a cave," said Harlin. "It's an incredibly large cave, and we had thousands of people there shooting that scene." Almost all of the film's crew is from Bulgaria, with some other key crewmembers from different European countries and the United States.

His first film in 3D, Harlin was initially hesitant about the format, fearing it would slow down his production and affect every daily decision. What he found was that 3D only enhanced how he'd take his viewers into the world of the film. Everything in the film was designed to be in 3D, unlike other productions that are converted later on. "3D comes into play in the construction of the sets, the costumes, the weapons, even hair and make-up," said Harlin. "To do it right you really need to take it into account and work it in accordingly. And as a result, the movie looks absolutely gorgeous and really lets you feel like you're inside their world." For Harlin, 3D is a means to telling a story in a different way, using foreground, midground and background to give the audience a more involved experience.

Production began in Sophia, Bulgaria, with many of the film's elaborate action sequences shot on green screen at Boyana Studios, the largest in Eastern Europe. Filming on the studio's green screen allowed the filmmaker to visually create an Ancient Greece that reflected the storyline while adding the captivating special effects. The Boyana Studios became home to massive scaled sets where hundreds upon hundreds of people worked to make the film possible, not least of which was production designer Luca Tranchino.

From drawing boards and models to establishing CGI shots and the actual constructed set, Tranchino has visually brought the highly imagined world of Ancient Greece to life. For Tranchino, his work began with the script and a deep understanding of the story and its characters. "Every time I begin to sketch a set, it's a bit like an actor trying to express the feelings of his character," said Tranchino. "With each set, I try to give the audience a feeling of the scene that is unfolding, whether it's romantic, dramatic or violent. My primary focus is to reveal this in the design to enhance the audience's feelings."

As in developing the story, there was a significant amount of research that went into designing sets that resembled what we know of Greece and the buildings of Crete and Minoan civilization. Tranchino based the city landscapes on archeological excavations and reconstruction. "My work began with historical and archeological research, but I also drew inspiration from the 19th century in the mythological paintings of Gustave Moreau and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema," said Tranchino. "Their paintings helped me add a bit more color to how we might imagine their world looked like. Studying their works inspired me to bring more fantasy and symbolism to the design."

With the usage of 3D to enhance the experience of the film, Tranchino has tailored his designs to layer into the 3D perspective. For Tranchino, the most important thing in working with 3D is creating foreground elements and background elements that increase the perspective and break up the space of a scene. "There are scenes set in a megaron--a room where there was a fire set in the middle and an open ceiling for the smoke to rise," said Tranchino. "We have used fires quite a bit in the film and will actually have a fire in the center of this specific set because it adds to the photography. The flames and smoke of a fire give a certain depth of field and lighting that is really heightened in 3D."

To pull together the overall look and feel of the film, Tranchino works closely with the props department and the costume department. "We've worked hard at designing all of the weapons, the shields, chariots, costumes and like everything, we base it on research," said Tranchino. "We have amazing painters, sculptors and artists working on this film. These teams are very talented and they start from actual archeological paintings and potteries to develop the details."

According to prop master, Dirk Buchmann, what is special about a film like The Legend of Hercules, is that everything has to be made. "We can't simply go to a shop and buy the shields and swords," said Buchman. "We're creating our own, more authentic approach, as opposed to going to prop rental houses and taking things from other movies. We took great care in developing each prop to ensure historical accuracy."

With Tranchino's drawings and ideas, Buchman and his team turn them into real life objects, which are then worked into the costumes. "For a film like this, it's really important for us to work closely with our wardrobe department because with weapons and shields for example, these pieces are an intrinsic part of the costume and we have to be sure that the things our department is making mesh well with what our costume designer is creating so that we're able to make one cohesive look," said Buchman.

One of Buchman's favorite signature pieces is the dagger the character Iphicles uses in place of a sword. It is the dagger the character uses to threaten Hebe, and the same dagger that kills him. "This piece took Tolio, one of our key sculptors, about ten days to finish," said Buchman. "We took elements from different references and combined them to create this long dagger that needed to be a certain length to really make the scene between Iphicles and Hebe believable."

The film features archers from different armies including the Egyptians and the Greeks which required Buchman to look into an unusual source--the Backyard Bow Man. "He has a channel on YouTube and he explains how to make bows from PVC pipe," said Buchman. "So we pulled from his idea and made our own bows which looked great and cost a lot less then purchasing them. For the film we differentiated the bows by the armies where the Greeks are dark brown and the Egyptians are a much lighter brown. We also made some smaller bows which we used on the chariots as those would naturally be smaller because of the space constriction." The over 2,000 arrows for those bows were designed by two men who handmade them using goose feathers.

For the first time, Buchman had the opportunity of building a fully functioning chariot. "I'd never actually built one for a movie," said Buchman. "We started with a design from Tranchino and began building. We decided to make it out of steel, because it's a strong material and then we looked at modern technologies in order to make the chariot quiet enough for the sound department and of course, also make it safe." Buchman's work extended to capturing accuracy down to the details such as the type of covering for the wooden wheels. "We finished off the spokes of the wheels to give them a wood type finish, and then we used a polyurethane type rubber to emulate pigskin because they used pigskin to cover the wooden wheels in order to protect them from stones," continued Buchman.

Each character in the film has weapons that reflect not only their battle needs, but their personalities. "What we do for all of the lead characters is look at who they are, what they need to do, and then we come up with a cool design so that we can visually differentiate them immediately," said Buchman. "For example, King Amphitryon, because he is the king his sword is heavily engraved with a hunting scene with three lions chasing a buck. We've used a lions theme all throughout our designs from the chariots, to the helmets and the capes."

With numerous battle scenes and sword fights, Buchman estimates he and his team have designed over 250 swords. There are fewer helmets constructed with approximately five per main character. "The helmets are a collaboration with our wardrobe department who design the actual look," said Buchman. "For Hercules' helmet, we'll have a few castings in order for us to be able to add battle damage through the different stages of a fight. We'll start off with one, and then I'll have a conversation with our costume designer to see how the helmet progresses with damage throughout the battle."

Like Tranchino, costume designer Sonu Mishra had also found inspiration in paintings for her vision and its color scheme. Together they worked on organically creating the production design and costume design from the same perspective of authenticity and creative freedom that compliments the story being told. "This is actually my first time working on period costumes," said Mishra. "When I started preparation for the film, I realized that one of the most important things in making these costumes would be selecting the right dyes, fabrics and kind of material. In Ancient Greece, they used mostly linen, cottons and some silks-all natural fabrics and colors." The fabrics for wardrobe to create original pieces were all brought in from Italy as were the shoes for the main cast. With an average of 200 extras to dress on her busiest mornings, what couldn't be created on set was found in Spain at a costume manufacturer in Madrid.

Another point of authenticity for Mishra was using as little stitching as possible to keep the costumes as they would have worn them at the time-staying true to the drapery by using pins, embroidery and different colors. The first thing Mishra did upon arriving in Sofia is set up a fabric aging and dying department, as well as a jewelry and tailoring department that would work together to form the first basic silhouettes.

Each character had a color palette, as did the different scenes. "We created color palettes for what we would see in the palace scenes, what we would see on the city streets, and what you'd see in the battle scenes," said Mishra. "It was really important to find two colors which would work beautifully for the battle scenes, especially in regards to the capes which were key in identifying the different armies."

In addition, Mishra would slightly adjust the colors of the costumes to reflect their emotions. "In the film there is competition between Hercules and his brother Iphicles," said Mishra. "And as the movie progresses, you see Iphicles feeling more jealousy and envy. We decided to use green and deeper tones of it to enhance the fact that his emotions were growing beyond control." For the final battle in the film, Iphicles' armor is princely as opposed to Hercules' which is primitive in black. "You can see the difference. Hercules is the warrior fighting on behalf of his people while Iphicles is a prince who lives in the palace and has a more skewed vision of the world that he lives in," continued Mishra.

Every piece of wardrobe has been designed to enhance each character's stature, highlighting their femininity or masculinity. As the film opens King Amphitryon is a confident young man and his costume reflects his yout-fitted with armor. An incredibly powerful, angry and arrogant king 20 years later, Mishra uses a dark textured fabric that is more refined, but still shows his arms and legs to emphasize his strength and power. For Hebe, the princess of Crete, Mishra created costumes that were romantic and lighter to capture her beauty and the joy she brings to Hercules. Pale shades of pink, blues and lilacs are used as a symbol of hope and purity.

One One of Mishra's favorite costumes was created for Hercules as he's sent to battle by King Amphitryon. The costume symbolically ties Hercules to his mother Alcmene and his father Zeus with the double-headed eagle in the embellishment of his armor. "Zeus' double headed eagle is found on Hercules' armor and we see it in Queen Alcmene's necklace," said Mishra. "It was a design from Mycenaean times, but we had the necklace made and the embellishment on his armor to represent his lineage."

The lengthiest of procedures the wardrobe department needed to achieve was taking the fabrics for the over 200 capes used, and perfecting their colors in about three to four weeks. "The capes are white, then they get colored, and then depending on the point in the film they'll get broken down," said ra. "There's a process where they use fire and start burning parts of the costumes to make them look used and old. The amount of work that one needs to do on the capes and the costumes, especially the military costumes, before they arrive on set is substantial. The last thing we want is for the clothes to look like they just came out of the shop. It takes a lot of teamwork to get us to a place that's authentic."

Capturing the authenticity of the clothing in 3D came down to color, the cut of the costumes and the textures. "Textures are incredibly important," said Mishra. "It's all about texture and making sure we're using natural fabrics that show color and shades well. We wanted everything to have movement so that the texture and fluidity of the fabrics would really translate in 3D."

"We built some huge sets," said Harlin. "Our production designer Luca Tranchino did an incredible job making this all possible. And our costume designer Sonu Mishra created costumes that are just the most beautiful I've ever seen. And my hat off to our prop master Dirk Buchmann-it's a gigantic job making battle armor and helmets and everything for hundreds and hundreds of people."

Harlin hopes his team's work not only richly adds to each scene, but that audiences are given an experience of what Ancient Greece was like. "I hope it's giving them a trip to a world that doesn't exist, and that with talented artists and modern technology we've been able to create something that will excite."

The director is eager to bring this ancient world to audiences. "Seeing this movie finished, seeing it in a movie theater with an audience is going to be an incredible experience," said Harlin. "I love this movie so much, and as you can see it's been a very emotional movie for me to make. And to share it with the world is going to be the best experience of my life."

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