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A Samurai Swordsman In The American West
In The Warrior's Way's vividly imagined world, every sunset and sunrise infuses the air with crimson and the night sky floods the landscape with cobalt blue light. It is a world where an army of trained assassins can instantly emerge from a lotus pond and a half-finished Ferris wheel dominates the landscape. Shot almost entirely on studio sets, The Warrior's Way brings together a kaleidoscope of color, visual effects, evocative costumes, vivid make-up and stylized action to create a dreamlike setting that is not entirely East or West.

To realize his ambitious vision, director Sngmoo Lee put together an impressive production team including Academy Award-winning production designer Dan Hennah. Hennah embraced the opportunity to create a unique, fantastical universe for The Warrior's Way. "When I first read the script, I could see the mix of Asian elements and cowboy traditions,” he says. "The derelict town with that great image of the half-built Ferris wheel and the carnival lent itself to all sorts of Fellini-esque elements I don't normally get a chance to explore. Then when I met Sngmoo, he talked about wanting an anime feel, which gave us yet another design element to incorporate.”

Visual effects supervisor Jason Piccioni also worked with Lee from the earliest stages of pre-production through the completion of the film. "Sngmoo is a teacher at his core,” says Piccioni. "He approaches directing as if he were an orchestra conductor. He was very clear about the movie he wanted to make, but he was always open to suggestions. It was great to be involved from the very beginning and it was certainly the most influence I've ever had at that stage of filming.”

Piccioni describes the world of the film as like living in a storybook. "When I read the script, it swept me away into this gorgeous imaginary world that I couldn't wait to see,” he says. "You're still clearly in the real world, but things are just a little bit off-kilter. It's always magic hour, that special time at dawn or dusk when the natural light is at its most beautiful,”

Hennah and Piccioni were joined by a team of top creative professionals including director of photography Woo-hyung Kim, concept artist Brendan Heffernan, who drew the initial style pre-visualizations, supervising art director Phil Ivey, costume designer James Acheson (an Oscar winner for The Last Emperor, Dangerous Liaisons and Restoration), and make-up and hair designer Jane O'Kane.

Originally, the filmmakers planned to shoot the film in the Southwestern United States, where the story is set, but it quickly became apparent that achieving the imaginative, fairytalelike setting indicated in the script would be impossible to do on location. "The town in The Warrior's Way is in the middle of nowhere in the desert,” says director of photography Woohyung Kim. "The real towns we scouted had greenery and mountains nearby and that's something we didn't want to have in our background.”

The producers decided that best place to realize their plan would be New Zealand. "New Zealand is the only place we could have made this movie,” says Peyser. "It takes place in a mythical Asia and a mythical American West. Those places aren't real. They're part of movie culture and New Zealand is the new capital of imagination. The extraordinary creative professionals there can take a piece of this and a piece of that and put it together to create something totally new and wonderful. The ingenuity and the ‘we can do it' quality of New Zealand film crews make them the world's experts at fantasy.”

In order to fulfill Lee's extraordinary vision, the filmmakers decided to build partial sets and use green screen techniques for set extension and scenic backgrounds. "When Barrie Osborne and I talked about how to achieve the world we envisioned, it seemed much smarter to design sets that would allow us to add the environment,” says Hennah. "It would allow us to achieve the anime look without the added complication of a real distant landscape.”

Creating a seamless world using both the physical world of the sets and the digital world of CGI involved broad-ranging and ongoing collaboration between visual effects and all the production's other creative and technical departments. According to Piccioni, approximately 1,500 visual effects shots were used in the film. "But the effects are a tool used to tell the story, not an end in themselves,” he says. "This is neither a traditional film where we built all the sets and shot, nor is it a film in which we just threw up green screens and designed everything virtually. We were somewhere in the middle and it took several weeks of planning to figure out where that middle ground should be.”

Supervising art director Phil Ivey led the art department in building 45 sets in six studio spaces on a tightly scheduled rotation to accommodate two units shooting over a 12-week period. "In terms of visuals, the script was a goldmine for us,” Ivey says. "We drew on the ghost towns from the post-Gold Rush era in the southern and western States.”

Creating an environment that reflected Yang's emotional state was key to guiding the audience through his journey. "Yang shows very little emotion, especially in the beginning of the film,” says Piccioni. "We needed a way to help the audience connect with him. We used the palette of the film to convey his mood visually. For example, when he first arrives in Lode, the colors are harsh, angst-ridden reds and oranges. As Yang begins to settle into the town, we introduce more greens and blues. Then, when the Hell Riders attack the town, we close in the environment with grey storm clouds.”

Director of photography Woo Hyung Kim says further character clues can be found in the lighting. "Yang is always lighted differently from the other characters to set him apart,” he says. "Although he is in the Western town with other characters, we tried create subtle differences in the light to make him look as if he's there, but he's not there.”

Hennah also worked closely with the stunt coordinators to create sets that could accommodate the battle scenes. "The action was a major consideration,” he says. "It was a case of function dictating form. With so much choreographed fighting, the sets needed to be a lot more expansive than they might normally be. For example, a Chinese laundry in a Gold Rush town would be quite a small space in reality. Because there is a small army fighting in there, I had to make sense of a laundry that's almost as big as the town hall. There's a huge fight sequence in a hotel room, so we made it the presidential suite. We imagined that when this town was pumping, there were 70,000 people living there and the gold was just pouring in, so there was every possibility that the president might turn up.”

For stunt coordinator Augie Davis, being asked to collaborate with production design and visual effects added an exciting new dimension to his work. "My thoughts are in the real world when I design a fight or an action sequence,” says Davis. "In this case, that didn't always work in exactly the right way for this script. The effects guys had some very cool ideas and we were able to plan each scene in tandem. For example, Yang comes in and cuts a guy in half down the middle. Now that's plainly impossible to do in the real world, so we had to work it out together.”

Davis also had input into the set-design process, and made an unusual request. He asked that certain sets be made of hard surfaces to give his stunt team a sense of reality for their hits and f


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