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FX Visit: Underworld 3

Lycans, vampires and werewolves oh my. There is a whole lot of bloodthirsty violence coming our way when UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS emerges from your local cinema on January 23rd. While it continues to tell the story of a Romeo and Juliet style romance in a world of transformations and ripping flesh, this time around we find out just how the war between species began. While we had brief glimpses of how they came to be immortal enemies in the series via flashbacks, Rise of the Lycans returns to the beginning. This is not Selene’s story, although it may just be she appears in the film for a brief moment as we reported awhile back, it is the history that shaped her. And frankly, while I will desperately miss Kate Beckinsale I can honestly say that Rhona Mitra seems to be a perfectly cast as the lovely vampires mother.

I really enjoy the UNDERWORLD franchise. I’ve always had a fascination with both of these vicious creatures, so to see them brought to atmospheric life was a real treat for me, thanks to Len Wiseman for that one. But now, one of the men who was also a major influence in this dark world where our worst nightmares began a centuries old war, will be talking over as director. Patrick Tatopoulos has had an amazing career in visual effects, and I’m hoping for another gothic romance with fangs as he takes us back to when the Lycans rose up and fought against the vamps. Hey, wouldn’t you fight back if you were treated like a slave? And, from what I had the experience to watch, it looks as though they fight back with a vengeance.

We were recently invited to view a few images and scenes from the upcoming film. As a fan of the series (yes, even PART 2), I was happy to attend. I arrived a few moments early to Luma Pictures, which is a visual effects house located in Venice, California. Once there, we were brought into a mid-size screening room which was set up so we could get a first glimpse of the latest chapter in the series. That was where Tatopoulos and executive producer/visual effects supervisor James McQuaide were waiting. We were greeted by the two men who were clearly looking forward to showing us what monsters they had in store.

The first sequence we were shown is a pretty damn cool piece of cinema. It involves a werewolf attack on a horse drawn carriage. What really grabbed me was the groovy use of the natural elements. The werewolves here seem to have taken a few notes from TREMORS with their plan of attack. The horse is stopped literally in its tracks as a werewolf reaches up from underneath the ground. Soon, there are a ton of these beasties, as Sonja (Rhona Mitra) and her cohort try to protect those inside the carriage. There are werewolves cut in half, others decapitated and all sorts of acts of bloodshed. When finally, Lucian (Michael Sheen) takes off the collar that keeps him in check and he transforms into the beast within. His Lycan looks amazing, it is a pretty terrific design.

Next up is something we’ve never seen in an UNDERWORLD movie. We are talking around three hundred werewolves charging towards Viktor’s fortress. It feels similar to something like THE LORD OF THE RINGS and the battle for Helm’s Deep. But unlike the orcs, the wolf men easily climb up the stone wall and rip themselves some fresh vampire meat. But it looks to be a fair fight, more than say LOTR or even 300. I loved the detail in this sequence, especially when one of the men is running towards the castle, he picks up a large arrow. Once he picks it up and gets the blade ready for action, he makes his transformation. A pretty groovy moment, even if it is only a short one.

After viewing some pretty well chosen scenes, the Q and A began. The first question was how Patrick was given the opportunity with his directorial debut to take on not only this prequel, but to also have the free reign to do the big LORD OF THE RINGS style battle that is referred to in the original UNDERWORLD.

Patrick Tatopoulos and James McQuaide

Patrick Tatopoulos: It was actually offered to me at some point. They came to me and said, hey, it's a logical choice. You've been working on the first two movies, we've known each other for a while and we think you have the eye and what it takes to do it and it just came to me. When I read the script and realized it was more about werewolves than anything else, I got really excited about it. Then I thought, this is kind of more my style. It is interesting, when you talk about LORD OF THE RINGS, I don‘t try to nowhere to be near something like that, that is just ridiculous… this is more like GANGS OF NEW YORK, a version with werewolves. It's smaller with clans fighting each other. The scale gets big at the end, there's 300 werewolves against 300 vampires. So I didn't want the scale to feel ridiculous. But I wanted to do it properly. The key thing for me was to do something a little more different than the first two films. I was excited because it was a chance to retain the style but do something a little fresh and new. That’s when it became interesting to me.

The first two movies pride themselves on a balancing practical and CGI, mostly practical. What was the ratio between practical and CG effects?

PT: On the first two movies, when you see the werewolves, you see two or three of them at a time. It's more about the vampires and werewolf in the human form so you don't see many big epic moments. I was forced to go towards CGI because there's no way I could bring 300 people in suits running. By essence, I knew from the beginning I'd be doing much more CGI stuff. Obviously, every time we could, practical would come into play. Because a lot of stuff, what you see once you get into the castle, in to a much more controlled environment… Interestingly enough, I only had one mechanical werewolf head to play with, when you have 300 in a courtyard to play with it's difficult to do with one head. Add three other [practical] werewolves with no mechanical heads which quickly looks stupid. For a brief moment you can get away with it. What they helped me for was they became a lighting reference, so we always had werewolves somewhere on the set, to not only just to maybe replace them with CGI but to add other ones around. So although there was not many of them, you had to consider the shot knowing there was other stuff happening.

James McQuaide: Someone was asking last night how many CGI werewolves we had in two vs. three. There were 29 CG werewolf shots in 2 and there are 80 in this movie. Beyond just the army of werewolves at the end, throughout the picture, there are quite a few single and double werewolf shots. The industry just sort of moved. On the first one, CG creatures - not many companies were doing that work - now it's commonplace, more so than it was seven years ago and the film sort of reflects that decision.

How about the decision with Lakeshore and you guys to do a prequel instead of doing a continuation?

JM: I think a lot of it was what Len [Wiseman] brought to the table. You know, Len’s sort of the godfather of all of these movies and this is where he thought these movies should go… in this direction. So we took his lead and obviously Screen Gems agreed with his take and that’s why we are where we are.

PT: When we did the part one, like everything else, you have to create a backstory before you make your first movie. And that story was part of the original movie as a backstory to establish itself, and Len always liked it. That’s what he told me, that was the story he wanted to do. So it was easy just drafting this script and just making… In some ways this closes the chapter of UNDERWORLD and now, whatever comes next, I don't know, they could be going back to the future. But it felt like the right time to do it.

JM: And the interesting thing about this movie, people have made this comment after seeing it, because of the way it's structured and it's so much about the backstory, you almost want to go back after you finish watching this and watch [parts] one and two. Because all of that backstory that's implied in the genetic memories and dialogue [in the first two films] you actually now see. So now, with that in your back pocket, now it all makes complete sense. So in that regard, it sort of almost builds excitement for the first two if that makes any sense.

Well this is the first one to shoot in HD, can you talk a little bit about that process?

PT: Well actually it was interesting because as you know, this is my first movie so for me, the experience of shooting on set on film, was not something I’d ever had to deal with. So when I was approached to do it in digital, I just wanted to make sure my DP was someone who was comfortable with it. Once he said no problem, we can shoot that way and get some great stuff, then it was a little bit about what we would use. We went for Genesis. Genesis… after that, I’d watched APOCALYPTO and I thought it looked amazing. To me it didn’t feel like digital, it felt like film.

Can you talk briefly about working with Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy and the rest of the cast?

PT: Well it was a bit intimidating in the beginning. Although I’d meet them briefly on the other UNDERWORLD, really briefly. And now after working with them on that level, you know, it’s very interesting… you know, Bill Nighy for example, the first time I worked with him I sat down with him and he said, ‘You know I have a tendency to go overboard sometimes. So if I get a little over the top just smack me on the back of the head…’ So when someone of his level talks to you in the beginning, it puts you at ease. The thing about Michael… I thought Michael's done THE QUEEN and FROST/NIXON, all of these big, serious kick-ass movies. This is going to be a flick for fun. He got so involved in the movie. I found that I just had to let him go a little bit just to become the character. And obviously not loose track of what I wanted to do. And one advantage, and I think when you draw, you do the concept and the visual thing, the actor respects you for that in the first place. So you let me go and explain to him where you are going. When I let him breath, he felt comfortable and then when he came back, I knew either way that he‘d do it the way I think it should be done. He was extremely passionate, it was crazy.

Rhona came on board… that was the choice of the studio in the first place. I thought she was a great choice because there's a clear sentence in one of the earlier Underworlds, I think, where [Viktor says], "You remind me so much of my own daughter." Great. Rhona was a perfect actress for that. She was really where she should be. She's very different than Kate [Beckinsale], because she is more of the warrior. Kate's very sophisticated, there's some quality in Kate you don't find anywhere else. But Rhona had that warrior, primeval, rough [quality] that fit the movie because this movie is a bit more brutal. It’s more about the werewolf, it’s more that kind of energy. And she fit with that really well. Rhona was great from the beginning, she was obviously conscious of the fact that she was going to be the next one, not replacing but she was kind of worried that she was the new Kate in some way. I said to her, "Listen, this is very simple. The character of Selene was created from your character, so don't try to match it. You're the origin of everything." That made her feel good, I had to tell her that everyday. So everyday she would come on set feeling… ‘yeah, that’s right, I’m the original character…’

Within the series, from a special effects standpoint, each Underworld film has offered us something new. The first film was gave us a glimpse at this new world of vampires and werewolves. While the second we saw the new bat creature. Is there anything new that we can expect from this film?

PT: I think the world in itself is what's new. When you watch the whole movie, it's a new setup, the castle, the period flavor all the way across is what's going to be new. There is no new character. But in terms of werewolves, you'll be seeing masses of them which we've never seen before. So it's more like the amount of them and how they act together. I mean, what is this movie, ultimately it is a story of SPARTACUS meets ROMEO AND JULIET. And I know you guys watch that stuff in terms of special effects and so do I obviously, but I cannot say that I don’t regret that you don’t see what is in between [the action sequences shown] because the biggest part of the movie to me is also what is happening at a character level. I think that is what’s new. And that is what is different and brought to the table. The scale of it, to me, we had the same type of scale on the other movies - the budget is the same from the first one - so what I really wanted to do when I got the project because I always admire that Len made such a great movie, I wanted to make a great movie on so little money. To be a visual director and make something bigger than what you've been given. And I was trying to do the same with this as much as I can with the knowledge and the expense. And I've got all the right people around me and the tools to do it. JM: From a purely technical exercise, we tried to make the transformations a bit better then the last ones. The guys here [at Luma] did the transformations in the second picture so they've taken and built on that. We've got guys on fire transforming, guys transforming to werewolves and from werewolves, three guys in one shot transforming...were trying to take the techniques from the second film and make them even grander somehow. So that’s something that is a little different than part two.

Has the change in weaponry affected how the action is orchestrated? You're no longer dealing with guns…

PT: That is an interesting point because I was very attentive to that. When you see crossbows and get into it with the sound, they can be like machine guns, with good sound they're very powerful. But the technology wasn‘t very human at the time, they just have more power… everything that shoots almost has a machine gun flavor. There's a big sequence where the Lycans escape and they're getting shot at with a crossbow and it sounds very, very different. I didn't want stuff to sound too period-y. Between this and the music you have a flavor that is much more modern then classic weapons. But you’ve seen the crossbows [in the clip] and they're huge. For me, it was playing with the sound and energy and power, creating something that wasn't appropriate for the time and make something a bit more powerful.

Do you see yourself coming back for another Underworld?

PT: I've done three of them in different capacities but I think I'd like to move on. No disrespect. I think there are still many stories that could be cool, it's a cool franchise, but I think I would love to do something new. I think I need to get into something else.

Something other then this genre or more action?

PT: The genre for sure… action, its always going to be… I guess I shouldn’t say always going to be… when Len did DIE HARD, I said, no that’s not me, I need to do stuff with creatures and shit. But there's a project in the work right now, particularly one that I'm keen on sticking with and doing. This is an interesting question because when I did this movie I felt I was not controlling the look, not because people told me what to do, there’s already two movies out there, although I was part of it because I designed the creatures and the sets. But I need to do something where I can create the world from scratch, you know, where you can create something new.

But there are some people who would look at these films and say this is your look. It was Len's two pictures but in terms of all the designs, they would see it and go, oh yeah, that is Patrick‘s design.

PT: That's nice, but I always feel like, in any case… with a guy like Len, when you design something with Len… some directors are less about design, he's very much about it. We worked together on designing the movie. If you wanted to put it another way, I’ve done it three times now, I need to create something completely different. The next film I do is not a period piece. I need to create something different, I think it is time. But this one is cool because it was period and it was a chance for me to do something a little different.

Do you want to stay in a “period” mode?

PT: The next one is not period. I’m not against it… you know what I like, I like movies like DARK CITY where there's not really a period attached.

So, is your long-mooted Dracula tale The Last Voyage of the Demeter sunk?

PT: I've worked so much on this thing and it's something that's still kind of floating in the air. It's a great project, I really want to do it. I don't know how quickly we are ready to move, but you know, it's another vampire story.

Thus, after looking at a few more werewolf transformations, the visit had ended. An I am still looking forward to UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS. I love the use of the “period drama” within this war of lycan vs. vampire. And it seems that Patrick relished shooting a film within such boundaries. The use of ancient weapons and other natural elements may make for a thrilling prequel. Let’s just hope that Patrick lets his actors put their “acting” skills to good use, and the drama works just as well as the visual artistry. I actually spoke to him after we were finished with the presentation in regards to such a question. He said that he worked as much on the visual aspect and the look of the film in preparation, so when it came time to film, he could really be there for the actors. Good news…? I’ve got a pretty good feeling about this one.

Let me know what you think. Send questions and/or comments to [email protected]
Source: JoBlo.com

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