Cast: Henry Cavill, Stephen Dorff, Kellan Lutz, Luke Evans, Freida Pinto, Isabel Lucas, John Hurt, Mickey Rourke
Director: Tarsem Singh
Genre: 3D Epic Adventure
Synopsis: Witness the 3-D epic battle as mere men become Immortals.
Eons after the Gods won their mythic struggle against the Titans, a new evil threatens the land. Mad with power, King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) has declared war against humanity. Amassing a bloodthirsty army of soldiers disfigured by his own hand, Hyperion has scorched Greece in search of the legendary Epirus Bow, a weapon of unimaginable power forged in the heavens by Ares.
Only he who possesses this bow can unleash the Titans, who have been imprisoned deep within the walls of Mount Tartaros since the dawn of time and thirst for revenge. In the king's hands, the bow would rain destruction upon mankind and annihilate the Gods. But ancient law dictates the Gods must not intervene in man's conflict. They remain powerless to stop Hyperion…until a peasant named Theseus (Henry Cavill) comes forth as their only hope.
Secretly chosen by Zeus, Theseus must save his people from Hyperion and his hordes. Rallying a band of fellow outsiders-including visionary priestess Phaedra (Freida Pinto) and cunning slave Stavros (Stephen Dorff)-one hero will lead the uprising, or watch his homeland fall into ruin and his Gods vanish into legend.
The 3-D epic adventure Immortals is directed by revolutionary visualist Tarsem Singh (The Cell, The Fall) and produced by Gianni Nunnari and Mark Canton, the producers of 300, as well as Ryan Kavanaugh (Dear John, The Dark Fields).
Release Date: November 24th, 2011
About the Production
When producers Gianni Nunnari and Mark Canton first met with Charley and Vlas Parlapanides, the Greek-American brothers who wrote the script that would become Immortals, they knew immediately they had found a compelling and original property. "They gave a great pitch, very precise and detailed," says Gianni Nunnari. "We really liked it, but we didn't know if we were ready to jump on another historical epic."
Their reservation was that they had just wrapped the groundbreaking period action blockbuster 300. "Obviously, 300 was a landmark in both our careers," adds Mark Canton. "It was unprecedented for the industry. It showed you can make a historical movie in a very modern way with themes that are connected to contemporary feelings and emotions and morality. But for our next project we had planned to stay away from material that was similar in nature. However, Gianni Nunnari is a master at recognising great material, and we are both students of history, as well as mythology and literature. We decided Immortals should be the second part of our partnership in making a group of historical, mythological movies."
Mark Canton and Gianni Nunnari were drawn to what they call the film's "Homer meets Joseph Campbell" sensibility. "The message is to find your responsibility in life," says Gianni Nunnari. "Once you do, you realise it's a privilege. You can live a larger life that goes beyond just yourself."
The tale of Theseus, a youth born into poverty who rises to hold the fate of civilisation in his hands, Immortals began as a short story written by Charley Parlapanides. Eventually the manuscript evolved into a screenplay on which he collaborated with his brother, Vlas Parlapanides. Both brothers had previously worked in front of and behind the camera, but Immortals was the first time they had written a big-budget feature film. Using traditional Greek mythology as a jumping-off point, they fashioned a story that begins when the gods of Olympus conquer their predecessors, the Titans, and imprison their surviving enemies in a mountain.
"In our script, everyone's forgotten, until one man, Hyperion, finds a dead Titan," says Charley Parlapanides. "He decides that he will free the Titans and conquer the world. We pictured Hyperion as the Charlie Manson of ancient Greece. He starts a murderous cult and convinces people to believe in his plan. Not only is mankind in jeopardy, but the gods are as well."
The Parlapanides brothers created an original narrative that remains true to the spirit of Greek mythology. "We use familiar archetypes, but they're spun on their heads," says Charley Parlapanides. "At the heart of the story is a man who starts off as a nonbeliever and then goes on a journey that transforms him into a hero and a martyr."
Their protagonist, Theseus, was inspired by one of ancient Greece's most prolific heroes. In this telling of the story, Theseus has been recast as a poverty-stricken youth whose mother was slaughtered in one of King Hyperion's raids. With the only person he cared about gone, the young man is bent on avenging her death.
"Theseus has been dealt a terrible hand in life," says Vlas Parlapanides. "He was born a bastard and then is thrown into an extraordinary circumstance. How he deals with that defines him. And at first he's very angry, but there comes a point when he realises the struggle is about more than just him."
Theseus and King Hyperion are in many ways two sides of the same coin, says Vlas Parlapanides. "Parallels can be drawn between Theseus and Hyperion. They've both been persecuted and subjugated. But one embraces the dark side, while the other takes a different route."
Or as Mark Canton puts it, "Hyperion has drunk from the well of evil. But he has his own ethics. It's a chess game between good and evil. That's what all our movies really are. We don't always want to have to come to the conclusion that good wins, because we know the world is not like that. We like the journey of characters through a time that impacts the future."
The producers knew they had the basis for something special, and a great deal would rest on finding a director who could fulfill its unique promise. "Based on our experience, we felt the most important component would be finding a brilliant filmmaker," says Mark Canton. "Gianni Nunnari and I both knew Tarsem Singh and wanted to work with him. He is an extraordinary talent."
"The best case scenario for a producer is when your director understands the role that everyone plays," adds Gianni Nunnari. "But if you're not a team player, you shouldn't be in this business at all. Tarsem Singh has a real vision of what he wants to achieve, and he is also very collaborative."
Producer Ryan Kavanaugh, the CEO of Relativity Media, calls Tarsem Singh, whose previous work includes two visually arresting films, The Cell and The Fall, a visionary. "He's brilliant, not just as a director, but as an artistic mind. This is a huge commercial epic, but he never treated it like that was all it was. He considered every frame of every scene and knew before we started shooting the color of sandals every person had on and what their sword would look like."
Tarsem Singh's vision for the film went far beyond simply making a Hollywood blockbuster version of a Greek myth. He says the project served as a "Trojan horse," a vehicle to realise his personal vision on a grand scale. "I love reading Greek myths," says Tarsem Singh. "But I was not interested in making a film based on the originals. I was intrigued by the relationship between gods and humans. So I thought, we could take some traditional tales and, like in Renaissance painting, use the mythology as the basis, but add things that are relevant to our time."
Tarsem Singh's creative drive and personal insights into the script began to transform the story, but the filmmakers never lost sight of the fact that Immortals is also an adrenaline-fueled action adventure, and in that spirit they have packed it with daredevil stunts, state-of-the-art effects, and the added excitement that only 3-D can deliver. "Tarsem Singh was always looking for something that hasn't been seen before," says Gianni Nunnari. "I was often surprised myself. He is exploring a new way to bring images to the screen in a fantastic ride. It's young, it's fresh, it's original. And there's a lot of testosterone in this movie."
"It's in your face," says Mark Canton. "We're not playing it safe. History is not safe. Mythology is not safe. And we're really not interested in safe."
Casting Immortals: Heroes and Monsters
The story of Immortals is driven by three larger-than-life figures: King Hyperion, a half-mad warrior bent on conquering the world; Theseus, a young adventurer set on destroying Hyperion to avenge his mother's death; and Zeus, the ruler of Mount Olympus and ultimate authority among the gods of ancient Greece. Their conflict sets off an epic battle between humans, gods and demi-gods that could annihilate humankind. In casting the leads, Gianni Nunnari says, "We needed amazing actors, but they also needed to understand that the movie is the star here."
As they began the process of finding the perfect ensemble, producers and director agreed that, to play Theseus, they wanted an actor whose fame wouldn't overshadow the character. Henry Cavill had begun to gain recognition for his starring role as Charles Brandon on the Showtime Network series "The Tudors," but had not yet been cast in the title role of the Zack Snyder-directed Superman: Man of Steel. "The script was still in development when we met with Henry Cavill," recalls Tarsem Singh, "so we took one page and had him read it one way. Then I gave him some adjustments. He did three reads altogether, each in a completely different direction. He was so versatile. I knew whatever the script evolved into, Henry Cavill would be able to go there."
Both the mythological setting and the prospect of working with Tarsem Singh captivated Henry Cavill. "I've always been into the mythology of the ancient world," he says. "When I first read the script, it was very much in its infancy, but Tarsem Singh's vision for the movie and his passion were second to none."
The character's growth through his ordeal made Theseus a satisfying challenge for the actor. "He has been ostracised by society and he, in turn, rejects society," says Henry Cavill. "The only person he has any kind of love for is his mother. But he's also intelligent. He asks questions, as opposed to just following blindly. A mysterious old man takes him under his wing and teaches him aspects of philosophy, as well as the martial arts. By the time he's an adult, he has become a very well-trained fighter."
Henry Cavill says his previous knowledge of the myths and legends that inspired the film played only a small part in creating his character. "You can draw some parallels to the popular mythology of Theseus," he says. "But this certainly is not the traditional story. This is a battle of men versus men. There are gods and there are Titans, but they do not take a direct hand in man's affairs."
So rather than conducting extensive historical research, Henry Cavill steeped himself in the world Tarsem Singh created for the movie. "Tarsem Singh showed me where his inspiration was coming from and where his visuals were going to lie," the actor continues. "He gave me important character points for Theseus. It was only a few days before shooting that we actually got a finalised script, but Tarsem Singh always had it all in his head. To research anything else would have been a risky game."
The director's passion for the project was infectious, says Henry Cavill. "You'd do anything for him, because he's doing it, too. And he's throwing 10 times more energy into the project than anyone else on set. His ability to present his vision of each moment is incredible."
The filmmaker made an exception to his no-movie-stars rule by casting Mickey Rourke as the monstrous King Hyperion. His reputation as a mercurial Hollywood icon only adds another dimension to the villain's malevolent luster. The role marks another step along the impressive comeback trail blazed by Mickey Rourke since his Oscar®-nominated turn in The Wrestler. "In real life, Mickey Rourke is self-effacing and very honest," says Mark Canton. "He's been able to come back because of his talent. Now he's getting the respect and the opportunities that he's long deserved. The kind of questions he asks, only the really great ones ask. They're not really about him. They're about what he can bring to the movie. But when Mickey Rourke comes on the set, you better know how to act, because he will mow you down if you're not at the top of your game."
Mickey Rourke brought a well-earned reputation for hard living and movie star antics to the set, which made Tarsem Singh even more convinced he was the right actor for the role. "You won't find a more original bad boy than Mickey Rourke," says Tarsem Singh. "He's the real deal and I let him go with it. I had very definite direction for the other actors, but Mickey Rourke was allowed to bring whatever he wanted. He took the simplest of lines and added to them."
Theseus has several companions on his journey, including Phaedra, a priestess and seer (played by Freida Pinto), an unsavory character named Stavros (Stephen Dorff), and a monk who protects Phaedra. "A thief, a slave, a monk, a priestess," says Tarsem Singh. "They don't seem to belong together. But that's the classic quest, isn't it?"
Mark Canton knew they'd found their Phaedra in Pinto, a young English actress of Indian descent who had just made her film debut in the Academy Award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire. "It was time for her to step up and be a real movie star," he says. "She's phenomenal looking. She's very dedicated and a real professional. She felt like the most natural part of the movie for us. There was no question that we wanted Freida Pinto."
Gianni Nunnari agrees: "There are certain actors or actresses that grow within the time of the shooting and that was Freida Pinto," says the producer.
Freida Pinto's striking beauty and otherworldly air won Tarsem Singh's immediate approval. "Phaedra needed to be exotic compared to most of the people in her world," says Tarsem Singh. "People might expect that because it's a Greek film, she would be Greek, but that's not what I envisioned. When I met Freida Pinto I just said, she's it."
Freida Pinto had been a fan of Tarsem Singh's since seeing his 2006 fantasy, The Fall. "I was impressed by the way it appealed to all the senses," she says. "I thought this film had the potential to do the same. When I first met him, I did not know what to expect. He explained the reason behind doing this film, what he expected the film to look like, and what was expected of me and the other actors. It all sounded larger-than-life and fantastical. I really wanted to be part of it."
Phaedra has lived all of her life in the company of her fellow priestesses and is reputed to have an especially strong gift for clairvoyance. But her visions, while accurate, are ambiguous. "It's a very disturbing experience for her, because she doesn't know exactly what will happen," explains Freida Pinto. "She first sees Theseus in a vision, but she doesn't know who this person is. He is holding the emperor's belt, which means he could be the savior. But she doesn't completely trust him, because she doesn't know what the vision really means. It's only as things progress that she begins to believe he is going to save the people."
For her first big studio film Freida Pinto says she feels lucky to have had Tarsem Singh to guide her. "Tarsem Singh is one of the most encouraging directors you will ever meet," she says. "Working on a big-budget project like this, time is literally money, but he was always patient and open to suggestions. When you work on a film like this, the emotions that you go through are so explosive. I'm just so excited, and that's exactly what I want the audience to feel."
Stephen Dorff, who impressed audiences and critics alike as a Hollywood playboy in Sofia Coppola's 2010 film Somewhere, plays Stavros, Theseus' eventual ally and friend. "He's an out-of-the-box character who says what he wants to say and does what he wants to do," says Stephen Dorff. "I liked Stavros' sense of humor. I liked his mystery. We don't really know who he is, and whether he's a good guy or a bad guy. He and Theseus butt heads for a while. But at a certain point, Theseus realises Stavros has got his back-and he can use the help."
Tarsem Singh immediately knew that Stephen Dorff was perfect for the role. "Stavros is the kind of guy who thinks he's special, but you can't figure out why," says Tarsem Singh. "I saw something in Stephen Dorff that was right for this. He's the right kind of cocky for the role."
Tarsem Singh's boundless energy, commitment and efficiency made him the ideal director for Immortals, says Stephen Dorff. "The only way to get this kind of film made is with a captain like him. He never stops. You can see him cutting in his head on the fly. There's no waste. When you do a film like this you want the audience to feel like they got their money's worth. I think this delivers what it promises."
Casting Immortals: Gods and Goddesses
Tarsem Singh had an original take on casting the gods of Mount Olympus, who watch with interest the action taking place on earth. "I wanted all the gods to be young," says the director. "Wisdom is implied with age, so Renaissance painters gave the gods the features of older people, but then painted a perfect body beneath that. In a film, you can't do that unless you make all the characters CGI. But my idea was that, if you are a god, there's no reason to look old. If I were up on Mount Olympus and I could look any age I wanted, I wouldn't want to have that white beard."
A posse of beautiful up-and-comers, including Luke Evans, recently seen starring opposite John Cusack in The Raven, Kellan Lutz of the Twilight series and Isabel Lucas of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, play Singh's gods and goddesses. As Zeus (Luke Evans), the head of the gods, attempts to keep his fellow Olympians from interfering in the problems of humankind, his daughter Athena (Isabel Lucas), goddess of wisdom and war, is strategising ways to help find peaceful resolutions for the humans, and his brother Poseidon (Kellen Lutz) is mischievously aiding the humans by devious means.
Zeus' role as king of the gods is to observe, not act, notes Luke Evans. "Whatever nature's course is, that's what has to happen. He sticks to it as much as he can and tries to keep the other gods in order, but they don't listen."
The young actor was excited to be working with both Henry Cavill and Tarsem Singh. "I have a lot of respect for Henry Cavill," Luke Evans says. "I've known his work for a while and we've known each other for a while as well, it's always nice to work with somebody you've met outside of a job. And I defy anybody to watch Tarsem Singh 's work and not be astounded by the visuals. He has an ability to tell a story I've never seen before in a director. Working with him was a very enticing prospect."
Kellan Lutz grew up reading Greek mythology and had developed a particular fondness for the avuncular Poseidon. "I'm a Pisces and I love swimming," he explains. "My parents used to call me a fish. Poseidon is like the favorite uncle. He's the brother of Zeus and uncle to all the younger gods. He and Zeus have a brotherly rivalry. Zeus can tell him not to do something, but as you see in the movie, he finds ways around it."
Kellan Lutz particularly likes the way the script takes an idea from Greek mythology and gives it a fresh slant. "It's original, dark and edgy," he says. "The movie has amazing visuals, great fight techniques, and great fight scenes. And it's a new twist on the stories I love."
As played by Isabel Lucas, Athena tries to sidestep her father's prohibition against helping Theseus and his comrades. "In all the stories, Zeus and Athena are always very close. She's always her father's daughter and the favorite of his children, so she thinks she can get away with it."
Isabel Lucas describes Tarsem Singh as generous and extremely patient. "With all he was dealing with on set, just before he called action, he would always say, 'In your own time.'"
The ensemble Tarsem Singh and the producers assembled helped make the sometimes arduous shoot a pleasure for actor Henry Cavill. "It was a stunning group of people to work with," he says of his Immortals co-stars. "It was a grueling shoot and I enjoyed every second of the exhaustion, all because of who I got to work with."
The Finger of God
Director Tarsem Singh arrived for his first meeting with the producers of Immortals armed with a portfolio packed with reproductions of museum-quality paintings to illustrate his unusual vision for the film. Relativity Media's Tucker Tooley, an executive producer of Immortals, recalls that this first meeting wasn't quite what he expected. "He brought in this big canvas and it looked like something you'd see in a museum," says Tucker Tooley. "At first blush, the painting looked very different from how we had imagined the movie, but when Tarsem Singh started to explain, it really made a lot of sense to us."
He proposed basing Immortals' visual profile on the work of Caravaggio, the bad-boy painter of the Italian Baroque period. A rule breaker who pioneered the use of live models for religious and mythological subjects, Caravaggio employed a saturated color palette, dramatic lighting, and a feeling of dynamic movement and overt emotion in his paintings. His style broke from the more static work of the Renaissance and earned him both praise and criticism in his lifetime. Tarsem Singh's ambitious concept impressed the producers as perfect for the subject matter.
The director worked closely with both the production designers and crew to recreate the luminosity typical of Caravaggio's work for the overall look of the film. "We call it 'finger-of-God lighting,'" says Tarsem Singh. "It's very focused and seems to come from a far-away source."
Supervising art director Michael Manson says Tarsem Singh's vision and creative courage make Immortals a new and different kind of epic. "We in the art department have a long history with Tarsem Singh, which we cherish," he says. "I've worked with him for close to 15 years, so communication comes fairly easy. It always starts with Tarsem Singh's interpretation of the script. We take that initial information to research libraries, the Internet and museums. We'll pull from our collective files for wardrobe, makeup, prosthetics and special effects. Everybody brings something to the table."
Rather than setting their story in an actual historical epoch, Tarsem Singh and his designers created an original world for Immortals. "It's not the Minoan Age or the Bronze Age," says Charley Parlapanides. "This is the Tarsem Age. It uses the Olympian gods and the Titans, but it has a unique point of view. It's not a world you will necessarily recognise. For the most part, it is straight out of Tarsem Singh's mind. He's made something new and breathtaking, and yet dark and brutal at the same time."
Costume designer Eiko Ishioka, who earned an Oscar for the spectacular costumes in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, is well known for her designs for film, theater, television and commercials. Eiko Ishioka is also a respected visual artist whose work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Her iconoclastic worldview falls into the same imaginative territory as Singh's.
"As far costumes were concerned, we decided early on not to go 'Classic Greek,'" says Tarsem Singh. "It would have been counterproductive to hire somebody like Eiko Ishioka and then tie her hands. There's no point in telling her, 'Think outside the box.' She has no idea what a box is. She comes from a parallel universe.
"At the same time," the director adds, "this is an action film. I had to make sure that she didn't make costumes that looked great but couldn't be moved in."
The Japanese costume designer, who studied design and art before she started working in film, says she approached the costume design for Immortals as a creative collaboration set in a fantasy world. But she realised that her flights of fancy needed to be based in physical reality and enjoyed collaborating with the actors to make her ideas work in a practical sense. "During the fitting process, my ideas are pretty crazy," she says. "To make sure the costumes are functional, I ask the actors for help. I feel the actor and designer should collaborate."
Freida Pinto found the process exhilarating and ultimately essential to the creation of her character. "Eiko Ishioka designed these beautiful costumes for everybody," says Freida Pinto. "But it took some effort to make them your second skin. You had to maintain a certain posture in order to make them look that beautiful at all times, but they were essential to taking the film into that larger-than-life realm. I wear this amazing red corset with a sheer red skirt and a black veil. When I put it on, I felt it against my skin and I was very confident about it. There was nothing vulgar about it. It was revealing in the right spots and just the way it needed to be. Her idea of female sexuality and sensuality is so beautiful."
Kellan Lutz found Poseidon's ornate costume challenging, especially during the film's battle sequences. "I wore a big Pisces helmet that was very tedious to fight in," he says. "It was actually difficult just to act in. I couldn't really hear because I had these seashells on my head. It sounded like the ocean. I also kept hitting myself with Poseidon's trident."
For Eiko Ishioka, the most difficult task in creating the costumes was achieving realistic armor. "I wanted to use shiny materials for a mask or helmet," she says. "But the reflective surfaces would have interfered with shooting on a green screen. I didn't want it to look fake, like a breast of armor made of wood or that kind of thing. It had to be not too shiny but I also want the audience to believe that this armor is made of metal."
Eiko Ishioka's original designs are complemented by the work of makeup designer Nikoletta Skarlatos. "Tom Foden, the production designer, sent me a visual tour of the sets so I could start to visualise the people," she says. "I did a massive amount of research before presenting ideas, because I'm a huge fan of both Tarsem Singh and Eiko Ishioka. They both inspire me and I knew this would be a chance to do something really extraordinary. In terms of references, I looked at mythology, but I also wanted to create something that had not been seen before.
"It's a very makeup-intensive movie," says Nikoletta Skarlatos, explaining that advances in technology have raised the bar for her craft. "3-D is very specific and you see things more obviously. High-def and digital shooting magnify that effect. We tried to be very precise."
Nikoletta Skarlatos worked closely with Freida Pinto to create Phaedra's look. "The eye make-up is not a traditional Indian look, nor is it a contemporary look. It's a very different and mysterious look, with certain little nuances that allude to the fact that she is an Oracle, a very special being."
Hair and make-up helped Freida Pinto slip into the skin of the mystical Phaedra. "They tried these colors in my hair that I'd never had done before," she says. "We added some extensions and a braid. It made me feel like I was from that period. I would come in with my jeans and T-shirt, get into my robe, and there would be a completely different person there: Phaedra."
Nikoletta Skarlatos, whose previous credits include Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and Thor, was also involved in creating the blood and special effects makeup. "It can be darkened, but what you see is what you get, so we had to work with the DP to create the right blood for night and the right blood for day."
Building a Spectacular New World
Immortals is loaded with visual effects, action, adventure-and nearly everything else under the sun. The filmmakers used the latest 3-D and VFX technology to seamlessly join layers of digitally created worlds and physical reality. "We kept seeing surprises on the set," says Gianni Nunnari. "The technology is an exciting part of the audience ride."
To make the creation of Tarsem Singh's imaginary world easier technically and logistically, the producers decided to house everything at Cité du Cinéma Studios in Montreal. Production offices, special effects, art department and visual effects were all under one roof.
On the technical side, Tarsem Singh worked with his long-time colleagues, director of photography Brendan Galvin and production designer Tom Foden. "I move at breakneck speed," the director says. "The learning curve can be a bit steep. This gang moves very fast with me. So while the look of this film is completely different from what we've done before, the practical support they're able to provide is critical."
Jack Geist, VFX producer, and Raymond Gieringer, VFX supervising producer, were added to the team to oversee Immortals' spectacular visual effects. "Just taking the environments into account, we had a large-scale effects show," says Raymond Gieringer. "Then within the environments we had a lot of effects: enormous battle scenes, mountains collapsing, gods and Titans battling. There are over 100 shots that involve special effects."
There was also a large physical component that supported the effects. About 20 sets were built, each containing a different virtual world, some with 360-degree views. Raymond Gieringer says the departments worked hand in hand to make sure things ran smoothly. "Their world is practical and they're going to build these sets. We need to take these sets and build the environments around them. Tom Foden and art director Michael Manson worked with us to make the process seamless."
Jack Geist and Raymond Gieringer became involved early in the development process to help Tarsem Singh conceptualise his film. The director was very precise about what he wanted, according to Gieringer. "Tarsem Singh is very specific in terms of his framing, and his composition is amazing, unlike that of any director I've ever seen before. We made a very beautiful, somewhat stylised film, with plenty of bang for the buck in terms of the virtual."
Immortals utilised several cutting-edge systems to achieve its unparalleled visual style. During pre-production, the filmmakers implemented a system called InterSense, previously used on the movie Avatar. "It allowed Tarsem Singh to see exactly what would be green screen and what would be set," says Jeff Waxman, who served as both line producer and executive producer. "We were then able to build our sets to exactly the size that we would need. We designed everything months in advance. We had matte painters design all the environments on computers. Across the hall, the art department was designing the physical sets that would fit into those environments. Having it all under one roof, Tarsem Singh could bounce between them and make changes on the spot."
Because the technology is developing so fast, Kavanaugh says they were able to go one step beyond what was possible for James Cameron when he was making Avatar. "Tarsem Singh could sit in front of a computer before he shot the scene, with it all mapped to scale," says the producer. "He could actually see the shot before he shot it and make decisions about how to shoot and what lenses to use. It also allowed him to create the perfect 3-D reality and understand which parts of what scene were going to be popping out."
During filming, the director used another high-tech system, called Moses, which gave him even more control of the shoot. "Moses is one of several systems that enable you to pre-visualise, so you can see beforehand what it will look like within the CG extension or a CG world," explains DP Brendan Galvin. "Tarsem Singh could see a person's head come over a mountain that doesn't exist. We used it in the monastery shoot, looking down from the monastery onto the encampment with the Heraklions, so you can see where all the stuff that's not actually there will be."
Tarsem Singh says the Moses System, along with his attention to detail in pre-production, allowed him to create shots that are perfectly composed. "I was able to construct a tableau," he explains. "If some films are like comic strips, this is a painting strip. The system sees past the green screen, so I could control the composition."
Working In Another Dimension
Bursting with Olympian deities, sweeping battles and breathtaking vistas, Immortals demanded a larger-than-life production style. From its inception, the film's creators knew that to bring the dynamic story fully to life, it would have to be a 3-D movie-and not just an ordinary 3D movie. "Tarsem Singh has a rare kind of vision," says Tucker Tooley of Relativity Media. "He looks at the world through a different lens and brings something to the story you would never anticipate. To realise that unique point of view, we designed the movie in 3-D from the beginning. We tailored everything about the film to maximise the stereo effects."
However, shooting the film using conventional 2-D cameras and creating the 3-D effects in postproduction gave the director more control of the depth and dynamic range than would have been possible shooting in 3-D. "Every element had to be considered," says Tucker Tooley. "Before we shot a single frame, we designed our foreground and background elements in a way that optimised the dimensionalisation process."
Tarsem Singh worked with senior stereographer David Stump of 3DCG to develop a detailed depth budget and depth script that helped ensure that the look of the picture conformed to the director's vision. "You can see the difference immediately," says the director. "We took the time and, most importantly, put in the planning to do it properly. Some people are calling this a game-changer."
The movie's groundbreaking look was executed by Prime Focus, the 3-D effects house that had previously dimensionalised such blockbusters as Star Wars: Episode One - The Phantom Menace and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Recent advances in technology, including Prime Focus' proprietary View-D software, allowed Singh the flexibility to create visuals unlike any that have been seen before.
With 4,000 artists and technicians spread across three continents, Prime Focus dedicated significant resources to realising Tarsem Singh's ambitious vision. "The great challenge in every movie is really adapting an entire team of artists to meet the needs of that director," says Prime Focus marketing executive Bobby Jaffee. "What George Lucas or Michael Bay want for their movies has nothing to do with what Tarsem Singh wants."
"Tarsem Singh's input was the basis for everything we did," David Stump says. "He asked us to give the characters a sense of volume and form. The key word was sculpture. We wanted the characters to look like they were really right there in front of you as opposed to on a screen."
For Tarsem Singh, the technology proved an organic extension of the unique visual style he has developed over an award-winning career as a commercial and feature film director. "The story could have been told in many different ways," he says. "But my aesthetic really lends itself to 3-D. My shots tend toward tableaux and I normally shoot longer masters, both of which are very effective in 3-D. I don't do a lot of fast cutting or extreme close ups, which don't work well in this format. So in the end, I didn't have to adapt my vision for 3-D; it was a perfect fit."
The dimensionalisation process can be slow and arduous, David Stump acknowledges, but it brings big payoffs in the final product. "It took months and months of work. But creating stereoscopic 3D content in postproduction gave us more control. We could place anything anywhere we wanted. In fact, we not only could, we had to, because nothing lands in the right place accidentally."
As Tarsem Singh anticipated, 3-D ultimately suited his inspired visuals perfectly. "It was a quite a benchmark we had to reach," says Merzin Tavaria, co-founder and chief creative director of Prime Focus. "The detailing of the sequences, particularly the Titan sequences, was an exciting challenge. In the end, we were very happy with the product and that we were able help Tarsem Singh achieve his vision.
"At every interval we would send shots to him and confer on how he would like to shape it in 3-D," Merzin Tavaria explains. "We worked with the depth of each image, foreground to background, and how it could be positioned in 3-D. That enabled us to push quality to an extremely high level."
The finished film has depth and volume never before seen on screen, according to Ken Halsband, executive in charge of production for Relativity Media. "What's new and unique about this particular picture is that we succeeded in creating an artistic looking 3-D movie," says Ken Halsband. "Everything from sets to costumes was designed for the ultimate 3-D experience. We used the technology better this time, more painstakingly and artistically than it has been used before."
Luminous and encompassing, Immortals raises the bar for stereoscopic effects in film. "Tarsem Singh has created an entirely new world," says Tucker Tooley. "With an environment that the audience hasn't seen, the more you integrate them into the experience, the better it is. The 3-D technology gave us an amazing opportunity to do that."
Tarsem Singh's immortal heroes, the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus, are a world apart from their human counterparts in beauty, strength and speed. The director envisioned them as idealised, larger-than-life creatures. "In the end, the gods have very little wardrobe," says Tarsem Singh. "They had to be fit. That had to be a factor in casting."
Some of their seemingly superhuman abilities are the result of Tarsem Singh's innovative use of the camera. "I wanted to take them to another level," says Tarsem Singh. "So during the battle scenes, the gods move much faster than the humans, which adds to the action. All our fights are quite different. Those that pit humans against humans take place in real time. And when gods go up against gods, they match each other's superior speed, so the difference between their speed and the humans' is imperceptible and it still appears to be real time. But when gods go up agains