London to Castle Coombe: Design and Locations
Due to the fact that the werewolf only rears his head late on a moonlit eve, a number of night shoots were required for the production. From the beginning, the filmmakers knew it would a long slog for the crew, who practically spent the first six weeks shrouded by waterproof tents as they donned their wet-weather gear.
One of the fundamental differences between the 1941 and the 2010 versions of the monster movie is the era in which it is set. The original stuck to its present day in Wales, while this film takes us back to Victorian England in the year 1890. The period of the film was chosen for many reasons. Foremost was the fact that a dirty, suspenseful, smoggy London lit by gas lamps and a foggy, sleepy hamlet would create a spooky atmosphere synonymous with a classic horror film.
As his crew designed the world that he and cinematographer Johnson shot, director Johnston had but one dictum for his team: "Make sure we're all making the same film." He explains: "My crew was all very conscious of what the period was and what it needed to look like. For the visuals, I wanted to give them a lot of flexibility and leeway to help me tell the story. I'm really happy with the way it looks: cold, gritty and bleak."
Sleepy Hollow's Academy Award-winning production designer Rick Heinrichs discusses his involvement in creating a period horror film: "Shooting in England was a wonderful experience and a challenge to get back the look and feel of Victorian London; the face of the city has changed so much over time. Unfortunately, World War II decimated London and quite a bit of the 19th century has been lost because of the bombing." Heinrichs had to target certain areas of the city that still exist to give him a foundation to build upon--either through practical sets his team created or with the constant help of the visual effects divisions.
One of the designer's most ambitious tasks was finding a location for the Talbot family manor. "It's so important to the story, and it had to be very carefully selected," says Heinrichs. "All of its characteristics needed to help the visual narrative of the story. In many horror films, the default choice of design would be a Gothic structure, but we wanted to avoid the clichéd scary-mansion look of many horror films and present the energy of the house itself through its design."
After scouting throughout England, the crew found Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, which is currently owned and occupied by the duke and duchess of Devonshire. The house, or the "Palace of the Peak" as it is known, was first built in the 1500s, and Andrew Robert Buxton Cavendish is the 11th duke to reside on the magnificent grounds.
Chatsworth House provided multiple facades for the four different looks Heinrichs and Johnston wanted for the house. Fortunately, the duke and duchess allowed the art department to modify the exterior of the manor temporarily. This allowed the crew to "overgrow" the gardens and prepare the front of the house to give it the appearance of a desolate, unloved and unkempt residence to which no man would eagerly return.
Heinrichs elaborates on Johnston's mandate to show duality throughout the picture: "The story we tell is about a man who is struggling with two sides of nature: the civilized side conditioned by society and the animal that lives within. We felt it would be a good idea to have these two natures represented visually in the family house. We started with a very clean, classic structure and we added grass and greens to make it look neglected and disused, as well as woolly--to represent the animal inside him."
It was Heinrichs' mission to design an environment that reflected how the Talbots live or, as he puts it, to "show the saint and the sinner." Every exterior is battling against the interior of the home, and Heinrichs' aim was to take the audience on a journey from order and civility to the wilder depths of the animal that is at the film's heart. For example, the contrasts one can find in the combination of light stone and dark wood inside the house plays on the finishes and the reflectivity of light buried inside Talbot manor.
The locations department was responsible for finding the 13 major exteriors for the film that brought the world of The Wolfman to life. In addition to the physical locations they dressed, Heinrichs and his team had to design and assemble some 90 to 95 sets within a very tight schedule.
Heinrichs and Johnson's approach to the film was to try to get as much on camera as possible and lend the visual effects departments all they needed to create parts they simply could not shoot, such as disguising the modern trappings found on every street the team came across. The crew found a bit of luck when it happened upon one of the easiest villages to disguise as a Victorian hamlet: Castle Coombe, which doubled as the town of Blackmoor.
A medieval town that has been around for almost 900 years, Castle Coombe has a number of structures that descend from earliest British architectural design. Many of the houses there are listed as ancient monuments, and the passage of time has made the buildings lean into each other beautifully. The production agreed it had a very wonderfully shopworn, antiquated feel to it. For the purposes of The Wolfman, Castle Coombe became a creepy village full of superstitious people who live in dark houses and reinforce one another's eccentricity and irrational beliefs.
Once production agreed on the location, it was up to the location manager, EMMA PILL, to persuade the local residents to agree to the shoot. Working closely with Heinrichs and the art department, Pill had to determine which trappings of the modern day could be removed or covered up for the duration of the production. From power cables and television aerials to alarm boxes and modern locks on front doors, anything that smacked of the 21st century had to go. The Royal Mail post boxes belong to the queen and could not be moved, so the art department created a clever disguise that could be removed when locals needed to post letters, and put back when the crew was set to shoot.
After Lawrence Talbot is sent to the asylum for the second time in his life, the Wolfman goes on a rampage throughout London. Finding a location big enough to stage a huge production proved a little tricky. The filmmakers decided on the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, a site planned by Sir Christopher Wren and completed by such architects as Nicholas Hawksmoor, Sir John Vanbrugh and James "Athenian" Stuart. Situated on the banks of the River Thames in London, the college was originally built as a hospital for the relief and support of seamen and their dependents. Eventually, it became a naval training center for officers from around the world.
Of the shoot, Heinrichs remembers: "It was a big challenge for the locations department to find areas of London that were pure enough for us to work with on a large scale. One of those places was Greenwich. Although it's been used many times on various productions, we were able to adapt it to our purposes. Through some use of visual effects, we made it our own. We needed to have a wide open canvas in order to create a very large set piece for the action to occur."
Greenwich not only provided the filmmakers access for the long preparation and shooting, but also allowed them two units that shot for eight nights--providing a controlled environment that was perfect for the nature of the stunt work.
Expanding the environmental visuals were, once again, the VFX team, led by VFX supervisor Begg. He reflects: "As the film has developed and grown, we've done a lot of environment work…like big vista views of London. We haven't just handled the werewolf, we've added to the atmospherics and the various locations in which much of the action takes place."
Adds VFX producer KAREN MURPHY: "There's a huge amount of atmospherics and matte painting in this film. Hopefully, because it's a period film, you'll see a period character walking down the street at night and not realize how much we've removed."
His Lonesome Howl: Cry of the Wolf
VFX, SFX, makeup, locations and schedules were nothing when compared to the biggest challenge of the production for director Johnston. The Wolfman's toughest obstacle was one the reader might think would be minor: perfecting the haunting howl of the title creature. Johnston explains his conundrum: "When it came time to lay in the sound of the wolf howl, we tried everything from animal impersonators to a crying baby and artificial sounds. We took those sounds and digitally processed them…looking for just the right combination of things to give us the perfect howl. But we just could not find it. We wanted it to be iconic, but something audiences had never heard before."
A breakthrough would come when one of the production's sound designers came up with a unique idea. According to Johnston, "HOWELL GIBBENS said, 'What is the purest and most controllable vocal sound that you can find? It's arguably an opera singer.' So we auditioned a number of opera singers in Los Angeles and picked the perfect guy: a bass baritone opera singer."
After Johnston and his sound team recorded about a dozen howls, they knew they'd found their perfect wolf howls. The director notes: "His howls go through a range of emotions…from angry and victorious to mourning. We pitched them down about 40 percent so they became truly terrifying. When we pitched them down, we had these haunting, visceral animal sounds. They sent chills up our spines and gave us exactly what we were looking for."
Victorian Costumes: Milena Canonero's Design
Triple Oscar-winning costume designer Milena Canonero, whose previous work includes her stunning costume work for Marie Antoinette, has an extensive background working on period films. Johnston asked Canonero to make the costumes for The Wolfman very gothic, which, in 1890, included strikingly angular shapes. She used dark, rich colors, which were unlike the light, frothy look that could be seen at the end of the 19th century in England.
A perfectionist in detail, Canonero wanted to make the division between the upper- and working-class characters in The Wolfman very apparent. The upper echelon's costumes were comprised of sharp silhouettes and long elegant lines, with materials including silks, velvets and furs that were indicative of the characters' social status. The working-class characters she designed for wore outfits that were bundled up; she dressed them in fabrics including wool, linen and cotton. The upper-class men were put in top hats and bowler hats, while the working-class men's hats were given a more rough-and-ready, beaten-up look.
Most of the costumes for the principal cast were handmade and, due to the transformation and action scenes, some of the costumes were recrafted up to 20 times. Having multiple copies of many of the pieces proved very helpful, especially for scenes that included blood and fire (in which case the fabric was fire-guarded to protect the stunt double). For the larger crowd scenes, Canonero's team dressed the background actors in clothing found in costume houses from France and Italy to throughout England.
Gwen Conliffe is in mourning throughout most of the film and, therefore, was dressed primarily in black. As a member of the upper crust, she was dressed in corsets mixed in different textures and shades of black. To add a bit of color, Canonero had her team find teal velvet fabric to mix in with the mourning fiancée's dark sleeves and skirt. As Gwen eases out of her grief and finds unexpected romance with Lawrence, the team dressed Emily Blunt in lilacs and dark purples. Of the corsets, Blunt laughs: "It was all about the waist in that period, which means that my internal organs now hate me."
Though Sir John Talbot is very much aristocracy, he has rarely left his decaying home in the past several decades and no longer takes care of his image. Inspired by an Edward Gorey illustration, Canonero's team created Talbot Sr.'s clothing by using pieces that were once beautiful but now heavily worn; the result was the creation of decayed elegance. A former hunter who made dangerous excursions to India, Sir John had numerous trophies and other eclectic souvenirs as part of his wardrobe, including furs that he wears with his dressing gown and overcoat.
Lawrence has returned to England from America; when he is reintroduced to the audience, he is the star of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Because his character has traveled back and forth across the Atlantic, Canonero's team gave his costumes a look that is more expansive than a regular upper-class English gentleman's.
For the transformation scenes in which the beast emerged, the team prepped Del Toro's costumes so that his seams would expand and rip as his muscles grew. They used stretchy fabric and thread that could literally appear to burst and tear apart. As Del Toro often was dressed in costumes made of tweed, the team found stretchy nylon that matched that fabric on camera. The final piece of Lawrence Talbot's wardrobe created for the film was the production's favorite: an actual replica of the wolf-head cane grasped by Lon Chaney, Jr. in the 1941 film.
© 2010 Universal Studios.