Stunt coordinator pulls back the curtain for MTV News on stunning fight sequences and more from Tarsem Singh's 3-D odyssey into Greek mythology.
By Eric Ditzian
Henry Cavill in "Immortals" Photo: Relativity Media
We've seen a zillion big-screen takes on Greek mythology, a zillion slow-mo fight scenes, a zillion eye-popping 3-D sequences. But what's crazy about Tarsem Singh's "Immortals" is that while we've seen this type of thing so many times before, we've never seen any of it quite like this."Immortals" is, in a word, beautiful.
How did Singh and his team take the story of King Hyperion's (Mickey Rourke) attempt to conquer the world and humiliate the Gods — and Theseus' (Henry Cavill) against-all-odds quest to stop him — and make it fresh, make it unique, make it beautiful? For answers to those questions, MTV News turned to stunt coordinator Artie Malesci, who revealed five secrets about "Immortals."
The Titans Fight
"Immortals" begins with the mythical Titans, those precursors to Zeus and his Olympian clan, in prison. You just know they're going to escape at some point. And when they finally do, their fight against the Olympians is not just amazing to watch, it also proved to be the most challenging fight scene in the entire movie.
"The Titans' fight was the hardest — figuring out the choreography and the sets and the motion-capture work," Malesci said. "It wasn't until way late in the process that we got the idea about how to do it. Were we going to go with motion-capture or was it going to be animated? We spent a lot of time coming up with ideas and showing them to the director and getting his input. We ended up doing it motion-capture, but within this very challenging environment. That was very, very hard."
Battling in Three Dimensions
As Malesci explained it, coordinating stunts and fights for the big screen is never easy, but it's particularly complicated when the movie is being shot in 3-D. "It's difficult because it's two cameras. You've got to move them around," Malesci said of the dynamic, time-dilating fights. "We shot the fights at 60 frames, and they can slow it down in [post-production] to 24 frames, which makes the impact look harder."
He added, "If I wanted to smash your head into a wall, we wouldn't do it in real time. We'd do it fairly slowly. But we film it at a higher speed and ramp it down, so it looks like I really smashed your head into the wall. This way, you don't hurt people."
The Minotaur Head
The film is filled with cool weapons and gadgets — from the CG Epirus Bow that drives much of the plot to a gruesome metal bull that stands over a fire and whose hollow belly provides a deathly chamber for some unfortunate prisoners. One of the most creative contraptions is a barbed-wire Minotaur head worn by one of Hyperion's warriors. Sure, it looks cool, but it was demanding for actor Robert Maillet to wear and then to do anything other than stand around looking badass.
"We thought it was a great idea," Malesci said. "But we really had to stay within the limitations of what the actor could do. He couldn't see well but the mask still had to be used as a weapon, so we made two versions: There was one made of metal for non-fighting scenes. And for the fights, there was one made of rubber. That was a challenge trying to make rubber barbed wire that could hold its shape when we were going [into] the fight."
Gods in Heaven
The single hardest sequence to capture in the entire film, Malesci told us, is one that appears in trailers — gods floating and fighting against one another in heaven. How Tarsem and his team pulled it off has to be heard to be believed.
"It took a month to figure out how to do that," he said. "I thought we'd do it with wires. But instead, we built a glass floor 30 feet in the air. We made an actual elevator system using these giant computer-controlled winches to move the camera, starting right below the actors' feet and then dropping it as fast as we could without getting any kind of camera shake."
Give the Dog an Oscar
Malesci also pointed out one unexpected scene that left him, a veteran stunt coordinator with decades of experience under his belt, utterly impressed: a sequence in which a dog has to pick up the Epirus Bow on cue in the midst of a battle scene.
"The dog was incredible!" Malesci laughed. "This dog, his name is Crash. The dog was able to deal with anything we threw at it — fire, fighting, rocks. Amazing!"