Stinger: "You've been taught that the birthplace of the
human race is Earth. But it's not."
"Design and aesthetics have always been the essential elements that lead to
our decision to undertake any project, and this was especially true for
'Jupiter,'" says Lana Wachowski. "We wanted to capture all the incredible beauty
and detail that is in our world and reflect it back onto the screen," she
emphasizes. "We were also determined to do what a lot of science fiction shies
away from, which is juxtapose different kinds of aesthetics, like the clean
futuristic gleam of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain against the Gothic
baroque of the British Museum. Also, in pursuit of the grit and grime of the
real world, which is quite hard to achieve in a set or through CGI, we actually
shot much more on location than anyone would guess for a movie that is set
mostly in outer space."
The story begins in a recognizable, contemporary Chicago, but soon leaves
that familiar grounding for parts unknown. "Jupiter Ascending" takes audiences
to an Abrasax refinery that serves as Balem's austere home base on the planet
Jupiter; and to Kalique's Alcazar, a serene palace on the fictional ruby planet
Cerise, outside our solar system. It touches down on Titus's luxury compound
aboard a massive cruise ship in the Cleopeides Nebulae; and the congested planet
Orous, where humanity is said to have been born millennia ago, and now functions
as a records bureau.
Each of these environments, entirely conceived by the Wachowskis, had to be
brought to life on screen with its own unique elements of structure and style,
yet share enough characteristics to suggest a interconnected history.
Seemingly futuristic, they all exist in the present but are just calibrated
to the comforts and technology of a society at a far advanced stage of
"The design of the film was an enormous undertaking, starting from the
sketches and myriad reference materials lining the walls of the Wachowskis'
office," recounts Grant Hill. "One of the first things we did was to assemble a
large design team. It was essential that the technology was right. If you're
going to create whole worlds and invent everything, it has to have its own
logic. You have to think about how such people would build, how they live, how
they move around, what they wear. Each world has its own history and mythology
and its own inhabitants, developed separately from its neighbors and from the
human population on Earth, and its look has to reflect that."
"Jupiter Ascending" called in many artisans from past projects, including
production designer Hugh Bateup, cinematographer John Toll, editor Alexander
Berner, costume designer Kym Barrett, makeup and hair designer Jeremy Woodhead
and visual effects supervisor Dan Glass, as well as renowned FX designer John
Gaeta, whose work on "The Matrix" earned an Oscar and who served as a consultant
on "Jupiter Ascending." Additionally, says Grant, "We brought together
conceptual artists, matte painters, prosthetics designers, engineers, storyboard
artists and wardrobe sketch artists from all over the world."
The Wachowskis took the uncommon approach of working with composer Michael
Giacchino prior to production, allowing the film's score-at times pulsing and
frenetic, soaring and majestic, then delicate as a whisper-to serve as
additional inspiration for the cast and crew.
Acknowledging the advantages of regrouping with creative colleagues, Glass
says, "There's not that initial phase of trying to learn how people think about
things. That being said, in some ways every movie the Wachowskis do is radically
different and that's one of the things I like about working with them. They're
still full of surprises, even for the people who know them well, so there's
plenty of room for excitement and new ideas with every project."
"Science fiction is a particular challenge," says Bateup. "There's a wealth
of design potential in this genre, especially with the Wachowskis involved. As
fans, themselves, they have an awareness and respect for the work that precedes
them, and they want something people have not seen before."
With so much to accomplish on such a colossal scale, collaboration started
early, with Bateup and Glass engaged in tandem from the film's conception.
"Figuring out the best split to
achieve the end result took time," says Glass, whose team finalized
approximately 2,500 visual effects shots. "There were obvious situations where a
vast environment was required that couldn't be built, but the directors tried to
ground parts of each world in physical reality."
Many scenes were captured in and around Chicago-most notably Jupiter's family
life, her thrilling escape from assassins high above the business district, and
Stinger's remote farmhouse in nearby Minooka. The directors then used the
extensive stage and green-screen facilities of Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden in
Mindful of how things might have credibly evolved, given the parameters of
the story and a human civilization eons old, they took a multi-faceted approach
with a confluence of eras and styles. Says Glass, "Lana and Andy liked the
suggestion that these off-planet worlds contain architectural elements familiar
to audiences, the implication being that they may have inspired our own art and
architecture on Earth at various points in our history."
"We kept returning to this idea throughout the design process," Bateup adds,
offering as one example the chapel set on Titus' clipper. For this, he combined
the existing sandstone gothic features of Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire,
England, where the production shot its grand interiors, with more modern
steel-framed window structures and light fixtures which set decorator Peter
Walpole and the prop department then tooled to perfection.
Religious imagery from different faiths informed the overall aesthetic of
Titus' home. "Most of the huge pillars throughout the docking bay are based on
the ceiling structures of old English churches," says Bateup. "We set out to
make the living quarters look and feel very much like a luxury yacht from the
mid 19th century, with wood finishes and brass or gold trim to emphasize his
sense of style. We highlighted the science fiction theme with large panoramic
windows looking out into space and carved golden dogs adorning the entrance,
which was a mixture of Egyptian and state-of-the-art technology."
"Borrowing from Gothic architecture and Art Deco, the ship resembles a giant
fish with large fin-like sails as it cruises across the depths of space," adds
Glass. "Familiar details like fan vaulting are used in unusual orientations to
deliberately mix up the visual impact."
Jupiter's first stop in space is Kalique's home, a place of diffused light,
high ceilings and an abiding sense of tranquility. "The magnificent waterfalls
and scale of the interiors were intended to imbue this character with a certain
majesty," says Bateup, who adapted the hallways and display areas of London's
Natural History Museum for the palace set, to which gilded domes
and spires were digitally grafted.
One of the more elaborate sets was Balem's world-a cavernous space
encompassing his lab and refinery, and reminiscent of both a steel mill and a
supercollider. "The most difficult aspect to these sets was determining how much
could be built within a stage's space limitations versus what had to be
digitally drawn by visual effects to achieve the sense of grandeur the directors
wanted," says Bateup, who constructed outsized sets at Leavesden, which the
visual effects team then surrounded with floor-to-ceiling green screens. "We put
our own twist on gothic and industrial styles, and added sumptuousness and
"Balem's operation is set within the gasses of Jupiter in a hugely intricate
structure," Glass adds. "The complexity of this set made it the most data-heavy
asset ever handled by one of our key visual effects vendors, Double Negative."
The actors were continually amazed by each new environment. Says Kunis, "Some
of it was done in post, but the tangible sets we did have were stunning and
beautiful and very much tailored to the personal qualities of each character.
Balem's world looked like a dungeon, which suited him perfectly, and Kalique's
had candles everywhere with a kind of Moroccan feel, whereas Titus' sets were
very grand and sensual, with lots of mahogany."
Meanwhile, the fictional planet Orous, purported to be in the Cunabulum
System, took shape as the birthplace of the human race. Long overpopulated and
now supporting cities that rise high above its surface, it serves as the
Commonwealth Ministry and home to the universe's Aegis police force. To
compensate for its lack of terrestrial real estate, Bateup says, "They have
relocated their agricultural production to huge orbiting installations. Within
these orbiting masses there are also many other cities with their own
independent ecosystems. Very wealthy families like the Abrasax would live in
these outer rings."
Flights, Fights, and Anti-Gravity Boots
One of the film's most spectacular sequences occurs as the story opens, just
after Jupiter is confirmed as a royal heir and the target of the warring Abrasax.
She must rely on Caine, whom she has just met, to elude death or capture in a
breathless pursuit and battle called the Shadow Chase. A flawless fusion of
physical stunts and FX, practical location shots and green-screen stage work, it
propels them through narrow passes between skyscrapers and under bridges, then
high above the Chicago skyline in a mid-air rush of sharp turns, plunging drops
Caine's second-by-second combat strategy.
Says Grant Hill, "The Wachowskis have long wanted to film in their home town
and, in many ways, 'Jupiter Ascending' is a tribute to the city."
"Chicago is, in our admittedly biased opinion, one of the most beautiful
cities in the world," says Lana. "In the summer, there's a moment before the sun
breaks, just as the lights bounce off the lake while the sky and city lights are
still glittering, and it creates a glow that is very rare. It gives the sky a
look of purple, indigo and gold. We think it's one of the most beautiful and
romantic images of the city. We took John Toll, our cinematographer, to the top
of the Willis Tower to watch how long the magic lasted. About five minutes. He
asked what scene we hoped to shoot, maybe an establishing shot or a romantic
moment, and when we said The Chase, he laughed. 'No, really.'"
Lana further explains, "Chase scenes are usually shot in bright day or night
because they're complicated and you need all that time to get the pieces you
need; whereas a romantic scene, which is simpler, will often be shot at sunset.
We wanted to combine the two by shooting the most beautiful chase we could,
because we felt this is where Jupiter and Caine begin to feel connected. She is
literally 'falling' in love with him. More importantly, we didn't want too much
CG or green screen because we wanted it to feel real."
"There's a physics to the human body we don't feel you can achieve quite as
well through CG," adds Andy. "This chase is made by the fact that we have two
people hanging from a helicopter. You can feel their weight and the way their
bodies react and break apart and catch, and little bits of physical detail where
Caine's boot shifts a certain way. CG is amazing, and there are guys who can do
that, but it might take a very special artist a year to render the whole thing."
The logistics of the Shadow Chase began on a Leavesden soundstage, where
complex rigs were constructed and stunt choreography perfected in a safe
environment before taking the action to the street-and the sky. Then test runs
in Long Beach, California, verified that performers could be suspended from
helicopters through a series of flying postures while being filmed by cameras on
other copters. Following this success, the directors applied for clearance to
shoot in and above downtown Chicago.
Executing the aerial work on site took eight months of planning, involving
assistance from numerous regulatory agencies. "It was a multi-faceted effort,"
the producer continues.
"We had to close portions of downtown in the early morning and at nightfall
for two weeks, which required complete evacuation of the area so low-level
helicopters suspending Channing's and Mila's stunt doubles at 1,500 feet above
street level could move around buildings, while a second helicopter maneuvered
around them to film the action. A third helicopter was concurrently filming
background plates for the hundreds of visual effects shots that would depict the
destruction of much of downtown Chicago."
"Four ground-based camera crews stationed on rooftops along the route
augmented the footage from the camera mounted on the helicopter," offers John
Timing was tight. Underscoring the Wachowskis' observation about the
atmosphere, Toll says, "A year prior to shooting this scene we shot tests of
various parts of the city at different times of day and decided that the unique
look of early morning light just prior to sunrise would create the ideal mood:
beautiful, mysterious and threatening all at the same time. At that time of
year, it meant shooting between 5:15 and 5:45 AM.
"The finished sequence is a fairly complex mix of visual effects and
live-action photography, including stunts with both the actors and stunt doubles
on location in Chicago, and against green screens on stage," Toll concludes.
"The VFX elements of the aliens and spacecraft were computer generated and
composited into the live-action plates."
Toward this end, Glass and his team worked closely with Toll to create a new
camera rig for the location shots, to secure the 180-degree aerial plates, or
"blank shots" on which to paint their CG images. "We helped design and build the
Panocam, which consisted of 6 RED cameras mounted within a stabilized gyroscope
aerial mount," says Glass. "This captured an extremely wide angle view at very
high resolution for a large number of shots. Without this, the number of our
flying runs would have been completely impractical. It also gave us more
flexibility with foreground action stunts. We additionally used the NCam system
on set, which provided real-time feedback of our virtual environments as well as
near-instant camera data information for preparing post-visualizations on set
and subsequently for editorial."
A major part of what makes this, and all the "Jupiter Ascending" action so
compelling is the way in which the hero, Caine, moves. Not flying in the
traditional sense and not jet-packing or riding any kind of vehicle, Caine is
able to speed, swoop and dart like a raptor, changing direction and velocity on
The secret is in his boots. "They're not rocket boots, they're not flying
states. "They redirect the force of gravity so he can literally surf the air."
In reality, they were skates-the wheels of which were erased in post-that the
actor used on a system of ramps, platforms and cables to simulate the sensation
of airborne navigation.
With the assistance of six men pulling wires behind a green screen, led by
stunt coordinator R.A. Rondell of "Matrix" fame, Tatum rollerbladed on a giant
three-sided treadmill four meters long and two meters wide, moving at 4.5 mph,
mostly while carrying Mila Kunis and "surfing" above Chicago and through alien
To help train Tatum and the stunt team, the filmmakers reached out to some of
the best in the field, including pro inline skater Cory Miller, from California,
and vert skater Taig Khris, from France. Khris, best known for dropping from the
Eiffel Tower onto a vert ramp in 2010 to break the world record for the highest
inline skate jump, also executed Caine's leap from the 2nd floor balcony of the
Natural History Museum's Great Hall that doubled for Kalique's palace, and
"flew" through Ely Cathedral, which appears as the chapel aboard Titus' ship.
Tatum, who had no prior experience with the sport, says, "You have to skate
at a pretty good clip and be able to stop in time to throw a punch or block a
punch as you're turning to face the next person, and sometimes the skates aren't
moving in the right direction, or you go too far. I can recover if I go too far
on foot, but it's harder to do that on skates. In the beginning it was slow, but
then one day I just didn't take them off for the duration and that was the
turning point. If I wasn't on wires, I put on the skates and just lived in them.
It's like learning a language.
"One of the reasons I signed on is because I wanted to be able to do some of
the physical things I've always loved seeing in movies, and this offered me that
chance," Tatum adds. "I like to learn new things and push myself, and I knew
that working with some of the industry's best stunt performers would raise my
As Caine is carrying and defending Jupiter through much of the action, Tatum
performed the majority of these stunts with Mila Kunis essentially strapped to
The pair also spent a fair amount of time suspended from wires, prompting
Kunis to recall, "I don't know if you're ever ready to be hanging on a wire but
I definitely worked out for it and it was interesting. At one point we were on
seven independent wires apiece and if he veered too far in one direction it
would swing me in the opposite direction and then we'd collide, so it took some
coordination." In some ways, it was also surreal. "After a few hours, you do end
up just shooting the breeze with each other, like 'What did you have for dinner
last night,' and
normal conversation, then you look down and remind yourself that you're 40 feet
off the ground."
Kunis and Tatum both trained with UK stunt and fight coordinator Ben Cooke
for a number of confrontations, chiefly Jupiter's heated showdown with Balem at
his refinery, and Caine's climactic life-or-death contest with Balem's deadly
enforcer, Greeghan. "Obviously, Caine is a highly trained military fighter, so
he has a certain style, which we developed with Channing. It has fluency and a
kind of elegance," says Cooke. "On the other hand, Jupiter is a regular girl.
She has no ninja moves. Her fighting style is character-driven and makes use of
her environment, so it's more reality-based."
Greeghan is one of several CG creatures in the film, a veritable monster,
seven feet tall with a 20-foot wingspan and a serpentine tail he wields like a
whip. Dan Glass's description of "a winged lizard, almost a dragon" is
appropriate because the actor who portrays him, Ariyon Bakare, studied the
movements of lizards like the Komodo dragon to prepare for his motion-capture
performance, aiming to combine a human intelligence with the agility and
unpredictability of a reptile.
"We really haven't done creatures, per se, with the Wachowskis up till now so
this is another area for them," says Glass. "There's a big fight sequence
between Greeghan and Caine that should be awesome to watch. There are also a
number of other creatures, from the Keepers, which resemble classic grey ETs, to
a myriad of hybrids and non-human characters who populate these worlds."
Traveling in Style
"Why are spaceships so ugly?," Lana jokingly asks. "They look like container
ships from an oil refinery. Yet, if you examine the history of transportation,
from carriages to cars, and boats to planes, human beings-particularly rich
human beings-have always traveled in exquisite style. This was part of our first
design conversation with Hugh, Dan and John Gaeta."
This sense of opulence set the protocol for the film's remarkable vehicles.
Apart from Titus' ship, which serves more as a floating palace, the Wachowskis
envisioned a fleet of sleek and agile new spacecraft for the film, both
functional and elegantly rendered. Each has its own beauty, rooted in organic
designs inspired by natural sources-some resembling insects or birds of
prey-with appendages that could be manipulated like sails, wings, or blades.
The filmmakers not only brainstormed with Gaeta, Bateup, Glass, and their
respective teams over how these vehicles would look and operate, but turned to
artists around the world, at one stage mining the imaginations of 20 conceptual
artists in seven different countries. "This was a fantastic way to see ideas
from people with very different backgrounds," says Bateup. "We refined those
early ideas and ended up with the ships seen in the film, which use a propulsion
system allowing for their various parts to be quickly detached and re-attached
through a machine-induced gravity force."
The idea, inspired by the multi-directional behavior of fermionic superfluids
in the physics laboratory, "allowed a way for some of the smaller craft to
switch directions rapidly in an interesting way," Glass elaborates. "This
'floating tech' was later adopted for the larger ships as well, based on the
movie's idea of fermionic energy, which is a way of controlling local gravity."
The ships include Titus' Planet Jumper, a mid-sized commuter craft, and
Balem's Abrasax Cruiser, a more brutish-looking and aggressive model.
Additionally, Balem controls the Abrasax Warship, in the same family of ships as
the cruiser but made for battle, and another Planet Jumper, which is a faster
version of Titus' model and more like a speed boat.
The police force stationed on Orous relies upon the Aegis Cruiser warship and
an individual fighting machine called The Zero. The conveyance of choice for
bounty hunters and independent contractors, like Razo, would be either a Planet
Jumper or the aptly named Bullet, a nimble, single-rider flying cycle designed
for personal transportation but just as handy in a firefight or a high-speed
Costumes, Makeup and a Shower of Crystals
Costume designer Kym Barrett, whose history with the Wachowskis began with
her trendsetting wardrobe on "The Matrix," began conceptualizing costumes 18
months prior to principal photography. In collaboration with lead makeup and
hair designer Jeremy Woodhead, she styled the look of hundreds of beings in the
"Jupiter Ascending" worlds. "When you have characters ranging from robots to
royalty, soldiers to hybrids, your imagination expands. You come up with things
you've never thought of before," she says.
Barrett and Woodhead were at their most inventive when designing the hybrids.
"The full humans in the film are Jupiter and the others on Earth, and the
Abrasax heirs; most of the
others are humans spliced with another species, or a synthetic human or robot,"
says Woodhead. "We didn't want our hybrids to be over the top, so we opted for a
range of genetic combinations that were more subtle-a scale, a feather, the
suggestion of an altered skin texture." Stinger's identification with bees, for
example, is only physically apparent in the hexagonal shape of his gold-hued
pupils and stripes in his hair, while Malidictes' owl genes take the form of a
slightly feathered quality and a beak-shaped nose.
The story's primary splice is Caine, whose wolf characteristics appear only
in the slight reshaping of his ears and a coarser texture to his hair. His
costume, notes Barrett, "had to meet many stunt-related requirements as well as
showing off his physique without revealing too much flesh, because there needs
to be a mystery about Caine."
It's Jupiter's appearance that makes the most stunning transformation, from
her earthbound, casual clothing to a series of exquisite garments befitting her
royal station. "Jupiter comes from a working-class Chicago family, so her style
is accessible and similar to what most young woman are wearing now," Barrett
says. "The fun part for the audience, and for me as a designer, is to follow her
Cinderella-like journey from scrubbing the floor to becoming a princess, and
never losing herself in the transition."
The pinnacle of that transition is the magnificent white and ruby gown
Jupiter wears aboard Titus' ship. "It had to be a royal statement, an event more
than a dress," she says, "involving hundreds of handmade flowers embellished
with Swarovski dew-drop crystals sewn onto the fabric, with a dramatic headdress
of ruby flowers and more sparkling crystals. We used a very lightweight but
strong 3D-printed base and fine wire to attach the fabric and silver foil
Barrett and her team also used a 3D printer for some of the jewelry,
expediting their creations from conception to lightweight nylon composites that
could then be gold-plated.
The designer liberally incorporated Swarovski crystals in various shapes and
colors into the Abrasax wardrobe as well. A water-themed dress for Kalique
featured another shower of light-reflecting points resembling twinkling
raindrops, "as if they were not attached but rather something that grew
organically from the fabric," she says. "A few hundred tiny Swarovski stars were
sprinkled in an avatar field across the bodice and also strung as a necklace and
used as earrings." Rich decoration is also evident in Titus' attire, while
Balem's minimalist look was more what Barrett describes as "molten and
"We were creating a fusion of cultures and styles from human history that are
heightened and made more effervescent on their planets, and their clothing had
to reflect this, as well as their extreme wealth. We were looking for an almost
Gustav-Klimt decorative sense," Barrett explains. "Our biggest challenge was to
create an otherworldly look while maintaining something people could relate to."
That thought reflects not only the film's overall visual design but echoes
one of its main themes. As Grant Hill says, "These worlds seem futuristic to
Jupiter, and to audiences, but the most startling thing about them may be that
they exist in our own time, and that the people who inhabit them share our DNA."
Perhaps it all comes down to perspective, as Jupiter tries to maintain her
equilibrium amidst swiftly shifting fortunes and identities: a housecleaner
harboring a regal heritage, a cynical heart who suddenly finds the love of her
life...a woman with a tiny window on the world who inherits a universe.
Lana Wachowski notes that the story begins and ends with a telescope, which
serves as "a metaphor for one's perspective on life. Jupiter is born into
darkness; helpless, homeless and fatherless. Knowing only hard times, she hates
her life. Still, she wants to be able to see through her father's eyes and
understand what he thought was so special in the stars. She wants to look
through the telescope and see the bigger picture, because, when you can see the
whole picture you see things more clearly and there is a whole universe of
opportunities that your future can hold.
"There's something beautiful in the idea of the Wizard's gift to Dorothy and
the three companions; they are symbols of something they already had inside of
them," she concludes. "The gift of the telescope at the end is the same; her
father's capacity to see the wonder beyond our own perspective, beyond our own
lives, was something Jupiter always had inside her."
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