TERROR IN BROAD DAYLIGHT: ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
To realize the expansive vision of Resident Evil: Extinction, production ventured south of the border to Mexicali, Mexico, where long stretches of empty desert provided the ideal canvas for the daylight-set terror in the film. "We wanted to take it out into the desert, have these awesome desert landscapes and create a Las Vegas that's buried in the desert sands," Anderson describes.
Acclaimed production designer Eugenio Caballero, who earned an Oscar for his work on Pan's Labyrinth, was charged with creating a number of weathered, sun-and-sand-blasted environments in the desert that would contrast the sleek inner workings of Umbrella's underground labs.
"For me, it was a very new thing to make a zombie movie in the daylight," says Caballero. "That's a huge opportunity for design because you can play with textures and colors you don't usually see in this kind of film."
Working in Mexicali, where temperatures soared to over 130 degrees Fahrenheit, Caballero supervised a crew that would need to take precautions to offset the effects of such extreme heat and winds not only on his crew but on the sets themselves. The construction crew was required to carry emergency kits for dehydration and heat effects, and also worked very early mornings and late afternoons to avoid the hottest hours of the day. "In Mexicali, we had great locations, and we wanted to incorporate the elements of those landscapes into our designs," he comments. "But working there, the sun and the temperatures were amazing. We also faced the challenge of keeping those sets in place against the wind, so we made huge scaffolding structures to hold the sets in place."
One of the most exciting sets for the production was the post-apocalyptic Las Vegas that the desert sands had reclaimed, which they set in Algodonez. "You've got a bit of the Statue of Liberty sticking out; you've got abandoned casinos sticking out of the desert," Anderson describes. "Eugenio he has done an extraordinary job on the sets."
"We physically built part of a Realto Ponte, a beautiful architecture piece," Caballero says. "Also, part of the Eiffel Tower and some exteriors of casinos, so these are all the images you see on the Strip emerging from the sand."
"Seeing something like Las Vegas destroyed and half-buried in sand, it's just so epic," comments Milla Jovovich. "It's bigger than life. The crew worked so hard to make it real, so it was pretty inspiring."
This very real practical location was further enhanced through visual effects. "Everywhere you look you want to see a casino," comments visual effects supervisor Evan Jacobs. "You're in the middle of this canyon of buildings. So, using the 'hero' structures built on-set we were able to add to that using the natural 'blue screen' of the desert sky, which was always blue. So, we were able to put casinos at the tops of these sand dunes."
An 80 X 40 foot miniature of the post-apocalyptic Las Vegas Strip was created by New Deal Studios in Los Angeles. "Then we did a big motion control pullback on that set and ultimately used it for backgrounds for other pieces of the scenes," Jacobs adds.
Another sequence involved a motel in the middle of the desert with a gas pump in the front. "We built everything because to give the sense that these huge sand dunes were moving little by little to cover our sets," says Caballero.
The third important set involved the weather station that is constantly swarmed just outside the reinforced fence by Undead. Caballero set his sights on a natural dry lake bed called La Pintata. "It's a beautiful black mountain with a flat line of sand along the bottom," Caballero describes. "It's a very magical, almost lunar landscape. It was like being on Mars."
To create the interiors for the underground Umbrella facility, production found an ideal home at Mexico City's sprawling Churubusco Studios. The underground complex as designed by Caballero is bigger and more complex than The Hive depicted in the first Resident Evil film. "They're some of the biggest soundstages I've ever seen in the world," says Russell Mulcahy, "so I'm really pleased that we're shooting here because it has allowed us to build these very big, very elaborate sets."
In designing the labs, Caballero took some references from the first two films but worked with the filmmakers to integrate a new aesthetic into the design to represent the progression of the corporation underground. "We decided to go with concrete walls to look like a bunker," he describes. "They're protecting themselves from what's happening on the surface in this bunker. And we played with a lot of shiny surfaces, with glass, with aluminum and incorporated light into the architecture. The idea was to make this interior world high tech but soulless."
Because of its origins, Caballero worked with the filmmakers to integrate "easter eggs" for fans of the game and the previous films into the design for the labs. "For example, instead of having jars full of fluids, we put things like red herbs and green herbs in the set dressing of the laboratory," comments Caballero.
A fun aspect of the production design was creating the vehicles themselves, which would need to function together like a moving fortress for the band of survivors. "We had a lot of fun making the cars," Caballero remembers. "It's one thing to draw them, but when we were making them, we really enjoyed it."
The first consideration would be what the convoy would need - water, protection from the weather, defenses from the Undead, etc. "From the extreme rusty decadence of the exterior to the high tech materials on the interiors, we wanted to give the idea that these vehicles belong to this world but are patched together from different aspects of it," he says.
Referencing the script, Caballero created designs which he supplied to the transportation coordinator. "He did a great job getting cars that were similar to the ones I designed," says the production designer. "So, in a very short time, I had a very good team working really hard to custom-make those cars. It was like being in a huge warehouse with lots of toys to play with."
With the commencement of production, cast and crew got a taste of the extreme conditions experienced by the construction crew in Mexicali. "You're taking a bunch of people on an adventure, to achieve a certain goal, and therefore, the harder the environment, the more adventures you're likely to have," says producer Bolt. "So, it's more interesting. We have the greatest respect for the Mexican crew who shoot in this environment regularly. We have an international crew on this film, and they all definitely became closer and bonded because of the harshness of the shooting environment."
Everyone in the company participated in poolside barbecues and bonded as a result of the difficult conditions. "In the film, you've got people that have more of a connection to each other because they support each other and love each other," comments Jovovich. "All of us in the cast and crew experienced some form of that kind of bonding. It was a tough shoot, but we all believed so much in what we were doing. I think our experience off-set really found its way into the performances."
"It's one of the hottest places in the world," says Ali Larter. "And people gave one hundred and ten percent. I think it helped me as an actor because you don't have to pretend. You're totally feeling it."
"During pre-production, I was always wary of how the chemistry was going to work off-camera, but everyone seemed to get along as a team and just bunker down and get on with it," says Mulcahy. "They've been very good at that. I had a fantastic cast and crew, who just worked their tails off. As soon as we arrived, we were shooting within fifteen minutes and we just blast."
In a film with heavy, non-stop action and a naturalistic aesthetic, the challenge of stunt coordinator Rick Forsayeth was to build stunts that would be believable in the sci-fi setting of the film yet reflect tangible, visceral reality. "There's a lot of wire work," says Mulcahy. "There's crashing and bashing and bullets through heads and heads chopping off. Rick has been terrific. He's an actor as well as being a stunt guy, and we used him to play three different characters in this film."
Forsayeth, and his associate David Harcourt, dreamed up sequences that would benefit from wirework - to reflect the superhuman capabilities of Alice and some of the Super Undead she would combat. Working with an actress like Jovovich, with so much stunt experience already under her belt, was a pleasure. "What was amazing to all of us was how quickly she could pick up and adapt to each thing," comments Forsayeth, "while also throwing in her own ideas, which you also have to implement. It just makes the whole experience so much smoother because it's always best to use the actor as much as possible."
"Rick was awesome to work with," comments Jovovich. "He gave me the opportunity to do some really great wirework and really cool stunts that are believable. There is a bit of realism to this; you can imagine that it's really happening. It's very vicious fighting."
"Rick said to me, 'You know what? Milla stops being an actor and can become a stuntwoman any time she wants,'" adds Anderson. "He loves blocking fight scenes with her because for him it's just like working with a stunt performer, and that really helps the scenes. It makes them very convincing because obviously if you have to use too many stunt doubles, you get locked into using tight close-ups of the actor, wide shots of the stunt double and you can tell the difference. Even when it's not important, even when we could get away with using a stunt performer, it's quite often Milla because she insists on doing it."
In this film, Alice wields a pair of highly sharp blades called Kukris that would require a separate training regimen for her to learn how to handle them. Kukris are the national knife of Nepal, an ancient, superior blade that can be used both as a combat weapon and as a tool.
"These are real weapons that were used by the Nepalese Gurkhas against the British at the turn of the century," enthuses Jovovich, "but they only used one, where I use two, which is pretty cool because they're big weapons and very vicious-looking. I had done some training in the past with weapons, so it wasn't that difficult for me to assimilate these knives."
A number of sequences in the film, most challengingly in the Weather Station assault, scores of extras would be required to be made up like zombies surging from every direction through the blowing sands. "The characters are living right on the edge of survival," says Anderson. "It's a really difficult life for them. And I think filming in really difficult conditions has helped that. It's been tough making this movie but the life of these survivors is tough, and I think that realism has found its way onto the screen."
One of the most challenging elements for special makeup effects designer Patrick Tatopoulos - the acclaimed veteran of such large-scale productions as I, Robot, Independence Day and Pitch Black - was designing and creating prosthetics for the desert Undead, desiccated creatures subsisting on very little in the unforgiving wastes of the desert. Multiply that by 300 extras and a picture of a highly trained and productive makeup crew emerges. To maintain continuity, Tatopoulos and his team kept an album full of Polaroid photos of the creatures which the filmmakers could constantly refer back to. "Bruce [Spaulding Fuller] and Richard [Redlefsen], my two key makeup artists on-set, had to deal with sometimes hundreds of desert Undead, and we used every traditional technique," comments Tatopoulos. "You actually create maybe half-dozen different faces, chest pieces, and parts of the body that give you a patchwork of elements that you can play with. It allows the director on set to come up with some creative take on whichever Undead he wants to see at a given moment."
Working with Mulcahy and Anderson, Tatopoulos sought to design creatures that would keep with the general vision of the first two films but deviate in strange and exciting ways. "There are two types of Undead in this film," he explains. "The desert Undead and the Super Undead. The desert Undead were very shriveled, more like mummies. And the Super Undead are extremely powerful and very fast. They are the new generation of Undead, if you will, and are more defined, glistening creatures. So, it was fun to create these two classes of Undead."
For physically embody the desert Undead, Tatopoulos worked with a crew of stunt people, dancers and actors to achieve the specific movement styles and looks they required. "You have to create a look of someone that's truly emaciated," Tatopoulos explains. "So, you'd start by having an actor that's as thin as you can get, you emphasize all the bone structure and create a look that gives you a sense that the skin has been tightened against the body. Beyond that, obviously you can use CG effects to enhance it even more."
Some sequences involved only a handful of Undead, but for the huge Weather Station sequence, involving 300 dressed extras, filmed in extreme heat, Tatopoulos and his team had their work cut out for them.
"People sweat, and after a couple of hours of shooting, the sweat disconnected the glue from the appliances," he remarks. "So, we were constantly touching them up and making sure the director was getting what he wanted."
To magnify this sequence in terms of sheer numbers, visual effects supervisor Jacobs worked with Tatopoulos and Mulcahy to map out the digital enhancement these mass-Undead sequences would need. "We have thousands and thousands of CG Undead outside the rim of that compound," says Jacobs. "So, on top of the 300 practical Undead, it would be that much more overwhelming."
The same technique applied for the sequences involving murderous, infected crows. On-set, the production had four live, trained crows, and Tatopoulos created a number of artificial crows using taxidermy birds that were either mechanized or fitted with rods which his team of puppeteers could manipulate as they interacted with the actors. "What you see in extreme close-up were done practically," he says. "But in the foreground and background you have this overwhelming image of thousands of flying birds, so our mechanical birds became excellent lighting and movement references for the CG birds that were added later."
Once again using the natural blue screen of the desert sky, Jacobs and his team at the Canadian effects house Mr. X, were able to black out the skies with birds on practically shot plates. "We shot a lot of crows out on location in the sky, so we got as many elements as we could that way," Jacobs explains. "And then we went to our computer-generated crows to create these huge flocks just filling up the sky. And we used artificial intelligence simulations to give them some individuality in their actions."
One of the Resident Evil franchise's most memorable and menacing foes are the Undead dogs, which have been present in each installment in the trilogy. For Extinction, the filmmakers deviated from the Doberman Pinschers of films past and brought in the highly trainable breed of Belgian Malinois. "They're a whole new breed this time," comments Jacobs. "Belgian Malinois are great, aggressive dogs that are extremely trainable. They'd sit there like the nicest puppies you'd ever met. Snap your fingers and they would just go really hard."
Tatopoulos created special prosthetics that would give the dogs the Undead look without affecting their natural comfort or equilibrium. "The suits were leggings and chest pieces," he describes. "And we had the dogs wear them for a month prior to shooting so they could get used to it. Most of the big mass of the body was created as a sculpted piece glued onto a spandex suit that the dogs wore. We also worked on a little extra make-up for the face, but nothing that would alter their movement. You'll see a lot of ribcage and bone when they run."
But perhaps the most exciting effects challenge was the creature called the Tyrant - Alice's final enemy (or "boss" in game-speak) - which would continuously morph throughout its sequences. These ambitious visuals would require a close collaboration between Mulcahy, Tatopoulos, Jacobs and the actors and stuntmen that would embody the creature. "He is an expanded crazy version of the Super Undead," Tatopoulos explains. "The whole concept was that this creature was coming from inside the person and bursting out. Every time they showed the creature, some part of his body would expand and change. The wounds would open and tendrils would come out of it and resolve themselves."
For his part, Tatopoulos created one general suit for the creature and additional add-on pieces that were sculpted separately to be attached as the Tyrant changed. The transitions would need to be partially practical and part CG. "These weird tendrils that would come out and shove themselves together, those would be moments of extreme CG," Tatopoulos explains. "And then it hardens, and that would be an appliance. This effect was a good mix for CG and practical where the two worlds create something interesting, but the actors have something to interact with during production."
Despite the difficulty of working on-the-fly, as opposed to having everything laid out in advance, the effects team relished the freedom of Mulcahy's off-the-cuff style of creative decisions. "He's an extremely creative director, and sometimes we'd want to see something different," says Tatopoulos. "So, we always had to be ready with different pieces to accommodate what he wanted for a given scene."
Jacobs echoes the sentiment, "Russell's style of filmmaking is to have multiple cameras running at any given time. He always wanted to get a lot of energy in the shot, which means the visual effects had to roll with it and provide him with a lot of flexibility in the filmmaking."
Throughout the production process, the company found a hearty and enthusiastic leader in director Mulcahy. "Russell has a very strong vision of how this movie should look," says Jovovich. "He's really captured this very spooky, creepy quality in the daylight. When the dailies started coming back of these incredible shots, we were blown away. There's so much happening in every shot. And he's like this little fireball on set. His passion and his enthusiasm are extraordinary. And he's so much fun to work with."
"He's unlike any director I've ever worked with," adds Iain Glen. "He's got a brilliant visual eye and a wonderful energy. He and Paul have got different strengths and styles, but they combine brilliantly."
For his part, Mulcahy feels the film delivers on the promise of the first two Resident Evil films but ratchets everything up a notch. "Expect to be surprised, to be shocked, to be thrilled," says Mulcahy. "The film's full of scares and action. It's very fast, and it's got a whole lot of new dynamics in this one, which I think make it quite original. It's a great ride."
Completing the final film in the trilogy is particularly satisfying for Anderson. "I've been very lucky in seeing my vision of the Resident Evil films come to fruition," he comments. "In six years we've made three movies, so it's been great to see such a broad vision come to the screen. These are very different landscapes that the characters have moved through - from the tight claustrophobia of a chamber piece horror to the broad expanse of a movie set in a darkened city to the expanses of the desert. It has been tremendously exciting for me to experience as a filmmaker, and as a fan of zombie movies as well."