The World of I, Frankenstein Movie
The story of I, Frankenstein is set in an unnamed gothic metropolis that both resembles our contemporary world and takes it to a more fantastical extreme. Bringing it to life took Beattie into fresh visual territory – and he took with him a team including director of photography Ross Emery (The Wolverine, Underworld: Rise of The Lycans), production designer Michelle McGahey (Tomorrow, When the War Began) and costume designer Cappi Ireland (The Tender Hook).
Early on the decision was made to shoot in Melbourne, Australia. Melbourne might not come to mind as the world’s most Gothic city, but it features such versatile geography that it was able to serve as a wide-open canvas for Beattie’s vision of all nighttime shoots and intricate set-pieces.
Born in Melbourne, Beattie knew the city could be transformed both into Adam’s past and current-day worlds. “Everything you need is there. There are great visual effects houses, great locations and great sound stages. We were basically able to create an absolutely believable European style city,” he muses.
While the film begins in the lamp-lit 18th century, the creature known as Adam soon emerges into a modern city – though one split between soaring, ancient cathedrals and the cold, underground laboratories where scientific breakthroughs are underway.
To capture these diverse images, cinematographer Emery chose the RED Epic® HD camera system for its extreme versatility. “You can take more risks and you can capture your imagination better,” Emery says of the digital cameras. “I was really pleased with the way the system worked on this film and with being able to use the cameras in such a way that the actors had more freedom to react to what was happening in the story and to each other.”
Emery utilized contrasting color palettes to evoke the way Adam is caught between the demon, gargoyle and human worlds, feeling he belongs to none of them. “We use a lot colors that are in-between primary pure colors,” he notes. “This gives the world its own look – and reminds the audiences that there is a high level of fantasy going on.”
Amidst the fantasy, Emery also honed an intense atmosphere of action, one reflecting Adam’s constant struggle to survive as a hunted being. He especially enjoyed collaborating with Beattie on Adam’s battle sequences, as mortally wounded demons burst into the flames of hell-fire.
“Adam has become quite proficient at finding the demon hordes and ‘descending’ them, as they would say,” says the cinematographer. “We tailored these action scenes to really highlight the way that Adam fights. He’s a very physical creature, with his own primal, brutal manner.”
Beattie, in turn, was exhilarated by working with Emery. “He is an absolute legend,” says the screenwriter/director. “Lakeshore originally asked me to meet with him – and it turned out we had very similar ideas about what to do and how to do it. It was amazing working with him.”
For production designer McGahey, who previously worked with Beattie on Tomorrow, When the War Began, I, Frankenstein brought a rare opportunity to design a fantasy city from the ground up. “We reflected on European and Eastern Bloc cities,” she explains. “I saw the city as over-scaled, clean but messy in the corners, as well as empty and cold. Within the city, the cathedral is a place that is ascending and the Wessex Institute is a place that is descending, so the colors reflect that. The cathedral is warm, and Wessex is very, very cold.”
These contrasts were also at work in the costume designs of Cappi Ireland, who has twice won the Australian Film Institute’s Award for Best Costumes. She especially enjoyed designing the gargoyle garments. “Gargoyles are kind of an ethereal, monastic warrior group, so they had to look powerful and strong yet also vulnerable and soft,” the designer explains. “And then of course there is Queen Leonore, who we wanted to be an ethereal shining beauty, which Miranda really is.”
Ireland purposely avoided standard gladiator garb. “We looked more at images of warrior monks, and tried to stay away from the typical leather vibe,” Ireland continues. “We wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before. We also aged all of the gargoyle costumes so they looked like they’d been worn for centuries, and showed the battles they’ve been through.”
For Naberius, she aimed for elegant evil. Ireland notes, “Sometimes you can create something sinister by making a character look really good. Bill Nighy wears beautiful, sleek, tailor-made Italian suits – so when he shows his evilness, it’s even more chilling.”
The piece de resistance for Ireland was Adam himself, especially as he appears after 200 years of roaming the earth. She set out to create the look of an outsider who has learned to blend in. “As time’s gone by, Adam’s scars have healed and he looks only a bit unusual walking down the street of modern society,” she observes. “We wanted a look that suggests that Adam is able to slip in and out of the human world, even if he doesn’t feel he’s a part of it.”
The intricate prosthetic work of makeup effects supervisors Nick Nicolaou and Paul Katte – co-founders of Sydney-based Make-up Effects Group, known for their work on The Hobbit – was equally key to creating the characters, especially the demons. Beattie was clear from the beginning that he didn’t want the demons to be caricatures, but rather to be dark, twisted riffs on human form.
Nicolaou and Katte scoured the internet for human inspiration. “We looked for images of people with wrinkles and solid jaws. They were the basis for our sculptures. We’d sculpt a human face and then we’d distort it to make it look as demonic as possible,” Nicolaou explains.
They crafted a different look for each demon, delineating their rank by their horns. “There’s the minion rank, who have pale faces, a lot of veins and breakdown in their skin. And then you get the typical demons, which have the smallest set of horns, followed by the mid-demons, such as Zuriel and Helek, who have slightly stronger horn structure, to suggest more dominance,” Nicolaou says. “And then we move to Prince Naberius who has the most elaborate horn design of all.”
Nicolaou and Katte say Adam’s makeup was one of the most demanding creative challenges of their careers – in large part because Beattie wanted to straddle a fine line between the grotesque, stitched-up appearance of a classic Frankenstein monster and a more subtly uncanny visage, befitting Adam’s long life and evolving humanity.
“For the current-day Adam, we used what we call prosthetic transfers, which are basically a three-dimensional transfer using an acetate-type film that we apply like a Band-Aid,” Katte explicates. “For the 1700’s Adam, we instead used a silicone makeup, with a more elaborate stitch design and a more contorted look.”
The duo especially enjoyed collaborating with the cast and crew. “It’s really enjoyable for us to do good work, but it’s even more enjoyable to work with people who are appreciative of what you do,” says Katte. “That made a huge difference for doing our best work.”
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