VFX and Stunts
To give the shape-shifting gargoyles and demons of I, Frankenstein their own
realistic life on screen, Stuart Beattie brought on board visual effects
supervisor James McQuaide, known for his visceral work on the Underworld series
of films. Collaborating with several Australian effects house, McQuaide oversaw
close to 1,000 visual effects shots for the production.
"My objective on I, Frankenstein was to take the great script that Stuart put
together and find ways with visual effects to support and enhance the story,"
That process began with a lot of talk about gargoyles - which we usually
think of as leering, medieval stone sculptures meant to scare off evil spirits,
but in Beattie's vision are a fully animate race and powerful forces for good.
Beattie wanted to pluck them from the pinnacles of grand cathedrals, and
transform them into eight-foot tall flying creatures with thirty-foot wingspans.
"What I loved about the idea of gargoyles is that they are just so
cinematic," says Beattie. "They fly, they have massive wings, they have
ferocious claws and teeth, they rip things apart. They're really cool. They're
guardians of good, the sentinels on every rooftop, keeping an eye out for evil."
Beattie knew early on that these High Gothic creatures could only come to
fruition inside a computer. "I'm a fan of practical effects and prosthetics, but
the gargoyle is a creature that would not have been possible to make appear real
unless we did it in full CG," he explains.
Much research went into the architectural history and traditional look of
gargoyles, but Beattie and his effects team also had other considerations -
including the physics of making such huge bodies fly. "Remember we're dealing
with a massive creature that is made of stone and quite heavy, but it needs to
not only fly itself but also be able to carry humans around. It
had to be believable that they could glide like a bird yet have the heft of a
mighty, demon-killing warrior," says the director.
The rapid transition of the gargoyles into their human forms was another fun
challenge for McQuaide and his team. "I've done lots of transformation work on
other films," McQuaide says, "and we've always taken sort of the American
Werewolf in London approach where audiences see the geometry and the volume of
the creatures changing. But in this picture we wanted to do something
McQuaide continues, "These creatures transform by wrapping their wings around
themselves, and from those wings, they emerge into human form, sort of like a
butterfly coming out of the chrysalis. The wings give way to a human's robes.
But it was a heck of a challenge to give the wings the right texture,
particularly because they had to feel like stone and then become the texture of
a robe and vice versa. I can't think of a picture where I've seen that before."
Working in synchronicity with the effects is the film's stunt work, which was
supervised by Chris Anderson, whose feature film credits go back to the original
Mad Max. Anderson, who previously worked with Beattie on Tomorrow, When The War
Began, was especially enthusiastic about the fact that Aaron Eckhart was in
top-notch shape to perform his own stunts. "We had an amazing stunt performer in
Aaron," Anderson says. "He trained for four months getting ready for the role.
There were many battles to choreograph and we set out to bring something new to
For Beattie, every element of this highly technical shoot was equally
essential, whether it was creatively choreographed fight sequences, imaginative
design work or clever digital effects. But in the end, he says the most
important thing was the strong human story driving everything.
He summarizes: "Getting the action to look real, and photographing it in a
way that you can tell that it is our actors and not stunt people in every scene
was challenging. And there are so many visual effects transformations, too. We
aimed to make every part of the film feel different and fresh and new - but at
the heart of it, the film is always driven by Adam's story and his journey from
a monster to a man."
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