Danny Fingeroth Talks with LXG s Steve Johnson about Making Monsters.
You couldnt ask for two films with two more different approaches to the action adventure genre than Ang Lees The Hulk and Stephen Norringtons League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Where Lees film is often purposefully slow and methodical, LXG is in your face and explosive from the get-go. The two movies also take extremely different approaches to how they create the monsters that are central to their storylines, the eponymous Hulk in Lees film, and the legendary Mr. Hyde in LXG.
For starters, one question that comes to mind is, with the two films in production simultaneously, was there any competition for who could build the better monster? Steven Johnson, whose Edge FX created the monster, addressed this and other monster-related topics. (Edges credits include Dreamcatcher, The Cat in the Hat and Dr. Octopus for the second Spider-Man film.)
Some of the filmmakers were a little concerned, knowing the films were coming out at the same time, that they might look similar, recalled Johnson. But it was an afterthought. Long after we finished shooting, some people were saying, Hulks coming out at the same time, theyre both big giant muscle men, what are we going to do? But, no, it wasnt a conscious effort to use a different technique.
Where the Hulk creature was done with a petulant child in mind, Leagues Mr. Hyde is arguably scarier. This is not just because hes an intelligent, articulate, focused yet raging mass of violent strength, but because you really believe youre looking at a creature burst from the repressed id of an extremely angry man. One of the things that makes Hyde such a powerful creation is how realistic he looks. You believe in his existence, his presence. Hyde was not, as Hulk was, a computer-animated creation, though Double Negative provided some CG work during the transformation scene under water. In LXG, the same actor Jason Flemyng who played Jekyll also played Hyde.
The director, Stephen Norrington, has quite a background in visual effects and makeup effects as well as animatronic effects. He wanted this character to be grounded in reality, to make it a performance-based piece, meaning he wanted the actor, Jason Flemyng, to actually wear the suit and be able to perform as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
If youve seen the film, you know that Hyde is intimidating and yet charming in his way, which somehow makes him all the more terrifying. And hes one of the good guys! According to Johnson, We made about seven suits and 12 different types of arm extensions, mechanically operated in different ways to perform different functions. But in the close-ups, and most of the full body shots, when you could really see what was going on, it was Flemyng wearing the suit. There was also a stunt performer sometimes wearing the suit, particularly for the Paris rooftop scene.
Flemyng is the one wearing it most of the time, though. He really wanted to wear it, because he wanted to play the character, so he was great to work with, Johnson said. A lot of times we were shooting with two characters at once and that really helped the filmmaking process. We could do stunts and long shots with the stunt guy, and performance-driven shots with Jason.
Youre probably wondering, how did they get average-sized Flemyng to look like he was the nine-foot-plus Hyde? Can one person wear enough prosthetics to make him seem that much bigger and taller?
We made an enormous device, a contraption the performers could wear, a contraption as opposed to a suit, Johnson added. Typically, a prosthetic creature suit is a solid foam rubber thing that fits the actor snugly on the inside and then alters the appearance on the outside. This was not the case with Hyde. Because the creature was so large, we actually had to build up layers of muscles individually, and in some cases skeletal parts such as the spine and scapulas that were driven by the performer. So, in actuality, the external surface you see on screen is really just a quarter-inch skin, over the entire body of the Hyde character. Underneath that are all the individual muscles and in some places actual heart/bone plates. Its interesting that all of this work went into something you dont see, meaning that its all under the skin. But I think thats what makes it feel so natural, because it does have all that stuff under the suit and it doesnt feel stiff, it doesnt feel like a contrived sculpture that someones wearing because it actually is moving under the surface. I think thats what makes it so successful, actually.
The thing that really sells Hyde, though, is his face. The emotions Flemyng puts across are truly human and monstrous at the same time. But how can an actor actually act while under so many prosthetics and so much makeup?
That really was his own nose, Johnson revealed. The area around his mouth is the only thing that actually was his own skin. Cheeks, cheekbones, jaw, chin, entire forehead, entire head, ears and neck are all false. The eyes are his, of course. And the appliances became very thin on his cheeks. We reshaped his cranium slightly and really reshaped his jaw in the least mobile areas, leaving the appliances extremely thin on his face so that he could still perform. And his mouth was actually restructured slightly, through a pair of dentures that he wore, so that actually changed the structure of his jaw a little bit as well, from the inside.
The question arises, why go to all the trouble to build this creature? Why not just hire a really big body builder to play Hyde? It comes down to vision, from the original vision of the creators of the LXG comics writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin ONeill to its interpretation by director Norrington.
Its all about the performance, Johnson stressed. Stephen Norrington wanted Jason to play both characters he didnt want to have a really enormous, imposing Dr. Jekyll. What really makes this thing work is the fact that Steven knows how to shoot these things. In some ways its similar to shooting a CGI character, because the Hyde character was rarely on the set with the other actors. Typically, we shot him separately and extracted a matte from that and placed him in the scene so that he appeared to be 9-1/2 feet tall. Jason is really just a normal height guy, about 5' 11". We added about four feet to his height, but by literally cutting him out and placing him in the sequences as a matte.
Keeping the tone of both the original League comics and staying true to peoples general idea of what Hyde looks like is another impressive achievement of the Hyde character. Said Johnson of this homage/extension of the character: Ive always been a real fan of the Jekyll & Hyde story, and followed all the previous J&H movies really carefully. I was just really excited to have the opportunity to create what I consider to be the ultimate Mr. Hyde. I think this thing is a bit more kick-ass than anything thats ever been attempted with the character. So I was just really excited by it Im definitely an aficionado of every single Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde movie thats ever been made, ever since the one with Spencer Tracy.
Thats a lot of heritage to live up to, especially when modern audiences look for the feel of authenticity in their fantasy and have seen so many incredible visual effects. Some of the most powerful sequences in the film are Hydes transformations from monster to human and back. They had a simplicity and a boldness that make them linger in the viewers mind long after the movie is unreeled.
Once again, that was Mr. Norrington knowing how its been done in the past and wanting to make this a really exciting sequence, said Johnson. Ive seen the movie twice, and, both times, after Jason transforms back from Mr. Hyde to Jekyll the first time, the whole audience erupts in applause.
We created two specific suits for that transformation, so youve got four stages. Youve got Jason as Mr. Hyde in the full-on suit, and youve got two intermediate stages and then youve got him as Jekyll. We shot each one of those characters in just crazy ways, and then a lot was done through editing and camera angles, and I think it ended up being very successful. But in actuality, there are really just two mid-transformation stages. We made them very asymmetrical, so that the mouth is stretched out incredibly wide on one side, one arm is much larger than the other, the rib cage is popped out on one side and not the other. The goal there was really just to get him completely fluid and allow the structure of the character as well as the camera moves and the editing to create the transformation.
And in case you were wondering, the other creature who takes Hydes potion the one the filmmakers call the Dante Creature and that Jekyll refers to as, me on a bad day was a beast of a whole other nature. Literally.
It was quite different, recalled Johnson. We actually were not involved in the Dante creature. That was done by Phil Tippetts company and was 100% digitally created. There was talk of creating facial appliances and a large insert torso piece so that we could get the reality of the Hyde character into that, but ultimately it was decided not to because they wanted it to be overblown and slightly cartoony.
So thats the Tale of the Two Monsters. Which do you prefer? In the end, its a matter of personal taste. I guess the real test is which one gives you nightmares that make you wake up screaming?
Danny Fingeroth, veteran Marvel Comics writer and editor, led the company's Spider-Man line, as group editor, during its highest-selling years. Danny has also created, developed and written comics and animation for AOL-Time Warner, ShowTime Online, Visionary Media, Brilliant Digital Entertainment and Byron Preiss Multimedia. He is the creator and editor-in-chief of Danny Fingeroths Write Now! Magazine, published by TwoMorrows, a highly acclaimed publication about writing comics, animation and science fiction. He is also at work on Superman on the Couch: What Super Heroes Really Tell Us About Ourselves and Our Society, to be published in 2004 by Continuum. The Animated Century, a documentary feature film about the history of animation, which Danny co-wrote, will appear on Bravo later this year. Danny will be teaching a course in comics and graphic novel writing at New York Universitys SCPS in September 2003.