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February 8, 2005

Constantine Production Information

Below is an interesting read on:

Designing, Creating and Photographing Hell on Earth

"Heaven and hell are riht here, behind every wall, every window, the world behind the world. And we're smack in the middle." -John Constantine

It was an ongoing collaboration between production design, cinematography, visual and computer effects and Stan Winston's creature artists to achieve the filmmakers' vision for Constantine's rich landscape, all of it coordinated and inspired by Francis Lawrence who watched as many of is original sketches expanded to fill whole soundstages.

     John Constantine's world is a dark and moody place. Visually, it's the very definition of classioc noir, with its urban night scenes, deep shadows, slivers of street lamps on wet asphalt, and gently swirling smoke - all interpreted by skewed camera angles and expressionistic lighting. "The overall look," comments Shuler Donner, "is saturated and beautiful, but gritty. It evokes a sense of period, in a way, but its totally contemporary."

     Lawrence met with renowned production designer Naomi Shohan, whose recent work on American Beauty earned her a BAFTA Award nomination. Seeking to realistically depict specific regions of Los Angeles, "not Beverly Hills, not Malibu, but downtown," the director explains, he was particularly impressed with Shohan's natural-looking work on the urban drama Training Day, remaking that, "she really understood Los Angeles, the ethnicity and textures I liked, and we bonded instantly over the approach." Together with location manage Molly Allen, Lawrence and Shohan prowled the city for the architecture and vistas of their story.

     Among the sites selected were the Hacienda Real Nightclub, housed in the basement of the historic 1930s Eastern Columbia Building in downtown's commercial and theatre district, which provided an appropriate eclectic and underground flavor as Midnite's bar with its red-hued decor and ornately carved wood and brass detailing; the 5th Street Market, whose interiors and exteriors became the liquor store in which Father Hennessey and Balthazar have their final confrontatio; St. Mary's hospital, Long Beach, which doubled as Ravenscar; and the Angeles Abbey Memorial Park in Compton, as Midnite's office and cavernous reliquary. Built in 1923, the Abbey interior features elaborate ironwork and carved limestone, which Shohan's team augmented with statures, tapestries, artwork, religious relics, and an assortment of antique weapons and armor to represent Midnite's imposing collection.

     Constantine's apartment, unusually long and narrow, was designed in a place Lawrence was already familiar with, the Giant Penny Building on Broadway, downtown, whose upstairs interior office walls had been broken out to form an extended space lined with windows. Thinking it had great potential as Constantine's home base, he showed the space to Shohan, who then added metal shutters to the windoes and bottles of holy water that Constantine has lining the walls for protection.

     Additionally, the production used six Warner Bros. Studios soundstages for such comprehensively constructed sets as the hospital's hydrotherapy room, in which several climatic battles rage between the forces of good and evil, and a representative section of the 101 Freeway, which occupied nearly 22,000 feet and took eight weeks to complete.

     Based upon the director's premise that heaven and hell exist as a parallel dimensions occupying the same space and that there is a heavenly and hellish version of every spot on earth, Shohan explains, "I imagined that hellish transformation to any landscape would be a state of constant cataclysmic shifting - exploding, imploding, blowing, burning, decaying. Hapily, Francis and I agreed that if you were in Los Angeles the quintessential hell version of the city would be a section of its infamous freeway."

     As Constantine attempts to confirm the afterlife fate of Angela's sister, Isabel, he must visit hell to look for her, a treacherous journey on which he embarks from Angela's apartment. The instant he crosses over he appears in a scorched and gutted version of Angela's room, and from there climbs out onto the street and up to the highway, buffeted by fierce winds swirling with ash, with fire, and chaos all around. "You can't beat the image of Constantine walking down the center of a decomposed 101 Freeway in hell," says Lawrence, and, going for the irresistible joke, "most people who live in Los Angeles think the 101 Freeway is hell already."

     Meticulously designed to look like the real thing, the section of road was built to nearly standard specs, with the exception of narrowing the lane width from 10 to eight feet and layering three lanes instead of four. "Rails, dividers, lamp posts and signage were all built to highway department standards," Shohan confirms. "The surface is concrete poured over wooden scaffold and dividers are concrete over carved foam."

     Among the set's most striking details are the approximatley 40 vehicles, racked up in various states of disitegration. As Shohan explains, "The cars are wrecks purchased from collectors. We wanted certain models for their paticular shapes. These were then cut-up, re-configured and embellished with foam carving to make them appear mutated. We added wire and foam-formed stalactites to look like melted metal and evereything was covered in latex-and-hemp pieces we made to have the appearnce of skin with roots or veins growing in it. Finally, the whole set was age-painted in rust and brown to complete the look of waste, decay and constant diabolical transformation."

     Coordinating with Shohan to use this detailed practical set as a foundation and starting point, Visual Effects Supervisor Michael Fink replicated and extended it digitally. Wrecked cars were remodeled in the computer so that each one could be further eroeded or blown away by acrid winds and so that digitally created demons and lost souls in hell could be moved around and through them. Fink describes the look he was striving for, as "an incredibly harsh environment like the aftermath of a nuclear blast except that instead of lasting nanoseconds it lasts forever." A visual effects supervisor since the early 1980s on a range of high-profile feature films, Fink counts among his credits an Oscar nomination for his work on 1992's Batman Returns and more recently oversaw effects on the blockbuster hits X-Men and X 2, where he collaborated with Constantine producer Lauren Shuler Donner.

Craig Hayes, visual effects supervisor at Northern California-based Tippett Studio (The Matrix Revolutions, Hollow Man), led a team of artists who replaced the set's green screens, incorporation photographic elements with digital design for what he calls "a fluidly dynamic effect," grafting objects onto existing images and generally "adding debris, airborne particles and detritus, burning palm trees and the entire hell-L.A. environment." In addition to extending and enhancing the focal point of the ruined roadway, the film required realistically scaled hell-scape vistats of Los Angeles extending out in all directions, "starting in Hollywood and going past the Capitol Records building to the right, all the way to downtown, "Fink outlines, "all of it pretty much seen as it really is, with some allowances for the scale to enhance the drama."

     Working closely with both Fink and Shohan as well as with Francis Lawrence, was Oscar-winning director of photography Phillippe Rousselot (A River Runs Through It), a master at capturing mood. With more than 30 years in the film industry in both his native France and the U.S. and credits including 1994's atmospheric Interview with the Vampire and more recently looking for something different, and when something like this comes along, that I had never seen or even thought of before, it's very motivating," he says.

     Basing much of his compositions and stylistic choices for Constantine on the graphic novel orgins of the story, Rousselot explains that he incorporated "a lot of wide angles, both hight and low, and the kinds of extreme points of view that you often see in comic books, which I thought was very important to maintain. In terms of light, we played a lot with contrast and colors, going with some very deep greens and oranges." At the same time, the cinematographer was careful not to copy the comic book style, preferring a more subliminal effect and drawing inspiration from many sources, including a folio of photographs from Cuba, that Lawrence shared with him. "You can't transfer pages into moving images; it's more the general idea of graphic novels that we were touching upon." Equally subtle were his nuanced depictions of heaven and hell, avoiding "the cliches of light and dark."

     Overall, Rousselot opted for natural lighting, guided by Lawrence's desire "to keep the light organic and simple." But simple doesn't necessarily mean small, as evidenced by the sheer number of lights used, in on instance, for Constantine's sequence in hell. A total of 60 space lights hung from the ceiling of Stage 21, designed to move freely with the winde created by seven immense industrial fans positioned along one side of the freeway set. Their irregular movement provided an intensely dramatic quality. Additionally, Roousselot ran alongside his camera crew during many close-ups holding an exttended pole with a paper-covered China light on Keanu Reeves - a personal touch that allowed the cinematographer to capture precisely the right effect.

     Rousselot's most precarious task by far was the bathtub scene, in which Rachel Weisz, as Angela, is fully submerged and held down by Constantine to facilitate her brief passage into the next world. "We wanted to have Rachel's point of view while she's underwater, when she opens her eyes and looks up. But of course there's no room in the tub so we shot it through a mirror," he says. Adding a mirror to the mix increased the potential of the unintended reflections, already complicated by the water, which, Rousselot explains, "reflects not only images but all the practical light."


When I was a kid, I could see things. Things humans aren't meant to see."
-John Constantine

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Constantine Production Information Here - courtesy of movieweb.com


Posted by dschnee at February 8, 2005 2:06 AM