The Red Riding Hood director discusses VFX and werewolves.
Catherine Hardwicke goes from Twilight to Red Riding Hood, going deeper into fairly tale mythology, the power of wolves and the sexuality of adolescence. She's also become hipper about the importance of VFX.
Bill Desowitz: The last time we spoke a year-and-a-half ago at the VES Production Summit, you were still trying to get this greenlit.
Catherine Hardwicke: Oh, exactly, you never know -- it's scary to the last minute.
BD: But you got to work with Jeff Okun as well as your visual effects supervisor.
CH: I know -- he's amazing, I've gotta say. He never said no; he always found some way to get the shot, even the last day, when we picture was actually locked -- there was still one more thing we wanted to do. He's sort of a hero for me.
BD: Did it turn out the way you expected?
CH: Yeah, of course, it's an evolving thing, so you're always making new discoveries. And, especially, visual effects helped save us in a lot of ways. And we did find some interesting ways to fix things or enhance stuff.
BD: More fulfilling than Twilight?
CH: I loved both projects, but it was fun because we got to create our own world in this one instead of being tied to the real world. I've been trying to do that for a long time.
BD: What inspired the look of Red Riding Hood?
CH: I would say that I looked a lot at the paintings of Bosch and Bruegel. I love their depictions of medieval life that was more wild and free and crazy and the dancing and everything. I also loved going to Burning Man, which was inspiration for the medieval festival. And then, of course, I love woods and scary things and did a lot of my own sketches before we got a production designer on it or anything. You have to do so much artwork to even get the studio excited about making the movie.
BD: What about the evocative red cape?
CH: I guess you try to dream about these things, and you look at all the paintings that have been inspired by Red Riding Hood over the last 500 years, from Gustave Dore etchings to just thrift store paintings of a beautiful girl in a red cape to Chanel commercials, and you see that it's very pervasive and evocative, and means so many things on so many levels: the crimson blood and the idea of sexuality and power, so we had to figure out a way to get that right. And the costume designer, Cindy Evans, got raw silk from India that we ended up using and we had 14 women in Vancouver, I believe, did a sewing circle, embroidering into the cape, so it has a lot of hands on love, in that case.
BD: Tell us about the journey in discovering the look of the werewolf, which was animated by Rhythm & Hues?
CH: Well, right when I read the script, I immediately started looking at pictures of werewolves, again, from the last 500 years or so because people have been fascinated by wolves: it's such a powerful and mystical animal. So there was so much to draw on, including Twilight. We set this movie back to medieval fairly tale times, and, in a way, kept the most graphic form of the wolf. Our werewolf is on four legs, not two, and when it shapeshifts, it does turn into a wolf. But one thing we tried to do is make sure that our wolf has a ferocity to it. This wolf's temper, it's hunger, has been contained because of a peace treaty with the village for the last 20 years. And then something has set the wolf off. Now, all of the power of this beast has been unleashed and it acts in an unpredictable manner. So we looked at a lot of video with Rhythm & Hues and Jeff: animals that are frightened, cornered, fighting to stay alive. We looked at beautiful movies about people that have raised wolves and can be close enough to film them, even at night, even as they stalk their prey. And we looked at other fierce animals. And Rhythm & Hues was amazing because, in some cases, I had simpler shots planned. There's one shot where it was just gonna stare down Solomon [werewolf hunter, Gary Oldman] on his horse. And they just felt it was anti-climactic and came up with a very crazy, vicious idea where the wolf springs forward and leaps onto the neck of the horse. It was quite unexpected and when I saw it, I went, "Wow!" I'm sure it wasn't cheaper, but it was much cooler than what we'd planned, and it showed me how dedicated they were to making this wild beast look amazing.
BD: You reveal the wolf in human form. Why?
CH: Sometimes when you end up with the Hulk, or even Iron Man, where the big showdown between adversaries is completely CGI. Depending on the design of the creatures, you feel like you lose the excitement of seeing these two characters fighting that you love. I did not want to do that.
BD: Why did you choose to have the wolf communicate telepathically with Valerie (played by Amanda Seyfried)?
CH: That was interesting because we were also worried about just having a talking animal, which can lead into comedy if you [awkwardly] see a mouth moving. Sometimes it just doesn't come off very good, and we found it much more haunting -- and real story point -- if only Valerie could understand the wolf. So that gets her wondering about her own darkness.
BD: What did this experience reinforce about visual effects?
CH: Try to get about 70% of the frame real, which is much more convincing. That's something I've always thought, but, of course, I can always contradict myself and find exceptions to that rule. But, for me, we tried to ground it as much as possible and then have the visual effects be more seamless: set extensions and skies. But I have to say that I love visual effects because they let us do so many things that you can't build or create any other way.
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.