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“Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright…”
In the 1930s and ’40s, Universal Pictures released a series of horror films that created a new genre of entertainment for audiences: the monster movie. By transforming themselves into such iconography as Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, The Mummy and The Invisible Man, legendary performers including Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Claude Rains committed to celluloid nightmares previously only available to the imagination of readers.
One of the most haunting of these creations has been with us since Lon Chaney, Jr. introduced him in 1941. A lone man forced to give in to the most primal side of his spirit haunted moviegoers who breathlessly watched as he transformed into something inhuman. When the moon was at its fullest, he unleashed a primal rage born from the darkest shadow of his psyche. Part man, part demon…his curse was eternal.
Inspired by the classic Universal film that launched a legacy of horror, The Wolfman brings the myth of a cursed man back to its legendary origins. Academy Award® winner BENICIO DEL TORO (Che, Traffic) stars as Lawrence Talbot, a haunted nobleman lured back to his family estate after his brother vanishes. Reunited with his estranged father, Academy Award® winner ANTHONY HOPKINS (The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal), Talbot sets out to find his brother…and discovers a horrifying destiny for himself.
Lawrence Talbot’s childhood ended the night his mother died. After he left the sleepy Victorian hamlet of Blackmoor, he spent decades recovering and trying to forget.
But when his brother’s fiancée, Gwen Conliffe (EMILY BLUNT of The Young Victoria, The Devil Wears Prada), tracks him down to help find her missing love, Talbot returns home to join the search. He learns that something with brute strength and insatiable bloodlust has been killing the villagers, and that a suspicious Scotland Yard inspector named Aberline (HUGO WEAVING of The Lord of the Rings and The Matrix trilogies)has come to investigate.
As Talbot pieces together the gory puzzle, he hears of an ancient curse that turns the afflicted into werewolves when the moon is full. Now, if he has any chance of ending the slaughter and protecting the woman he has grown to love, Talbot must destroy the vicious creature in the woods surrounding Blackmoor. But after he is bitten by the nightmarish beast, a simple man with a tortured past will uncover a primal side of himself…one he never imagined existed.
He has been given countless names by scores of cultures over thousands of years. There has long been a global fascination with the mythological creature known as the lycanthrope, a human with the unnatural ability to transform into a wolf-like creature when the moon is full. From the myths of the ancient Greeks to documentation by Gervase of Tilbury in 1212’s “Otia Imperialia,” horror stories about werewolves have dominated world cultures for centuries.
Directed by George Waggner from an original screenplay by Curt Siodmak, The Wolf Man was Universal’s latest creature film in an era that spawned imagination and nightmares. The Talbot character went on to reappear in films for the studio including Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.
While the original, with its tagline of “His hideous howl a dirge of death!” became an instant classic, at only 70 minutes in run time, it was quite a short monster movie. It solidified the fame of star Lon Chaney, Jr. and included cameos from additional Universal “monsters,” including The Invisible Man’s Claude Rains as Sir John Talbot and Dracula’s Bela Lugosi as the gypsy who discovers the curse that’s been leveled upon Lawrence.
Actor/producer Benicio Del Toro has long been a fan of this genre and began to consider paying homage to the film with his manager and producer, Rick Yorn. Yorn explains his interest in beginning the project: “Growing up, these monster films really had an effect on my brothers and me. When I first came out to Hollywood, I wanted to remake one of the old movies. A few years ago, when Benicio and I were walking out of his house, I saw the one-sheet for The Wolf Man. It shows a close-up of Lon Chaney, Jr. as the monster. I looked at the poster, then back at Benicio—who had a full beard at the time—and said, ‘How would you feel about remaking The Wolf Man?’”
Del Toro was very interested in paying homage to the genre he’d loved since he was a boy. While he realized that would require him going deep into the makeup and prosthetics it would take to pull off the signature look of the creature, he was game for the challenge. “Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy…when I was a kid, I watched these movies,” Del Toro explains. “My earliest recollection of acting was watching Lon Chaney, Jr. play the Wolf Man. We wanted to honor this classic movie and the Henry Hull movie Werewolf of London. We knew it would be exciting to make it in the classic, handcrafted way.”
Del Toro didn’t want to remake the film frame by frame, but rather update it for modern audiences. He felt the story screenwriters Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self created “gave the movie some twists and turns and a modern edge, while still honoring the original story.”
Del Toro and Yorn set about getting the project off the ground and, during a dinner with producer Scott Stuber, the men decided it was time this classic was updated.
“We have put in a few twists, but we wanted to honor the original,” says Stuber. “The Wolf Man is so iconic because, on some level, he is within us. Every person feels a sense of rage. Each of us feels a sense of that time when we went too far, got too angry, did something we shouldn’t have done. Something primal exists within all of us, and we must control it or we are doomed.”
It was never a doubt for the producer that Del Toro was perfect for the title character. Of the Oscar® winner, Stuber commends: “Benicio’s got such powerful eyes. To feel so much emotion coming from under the transformation is critical to the heart of the movie. We didn’t want to separate the actor from the Wolfman…and end up having the beast here and Benicio there. The performance is always most important in order to feel for the character. The special affects are amazing, and they enhance the performance…they don’t create it.”
The three filmmakers were joined by producer Sean Daniel, who knew something about reinvigorating monster franchises himself; Daniel helped relaunch The Mummy series for Universal Pictures. Of his involvement in the production, Daniel notes: “It was really exciting to be asked to join in on giving new life to another of Universal’s great, classic monster characters that so inspired me when I was a kid.”
Together, the producers began the search for a director who could not only translate the drama of the script, but also execute a horror film that would seamlessly blend visual effects, creature effects and CGI.
When director Joe Johnston was brought on to the project, he took over the reigns from Mark Romanek, who departed during pre-production. An Academy Award®- winning art director for Raiders of the Lost Ark, Johnston’s resume as a director includes a strong combination of character-driven films such as October Sky and epic visual effects movies including Jurassic Park III and Hidalgo.
As with all of his projects, the director was far more interested in story before spectacle. In screenwriters Walker and Self’s tale, he found “underneath the action and the blood and the terror, a love story about Lawrence Talbot and his dead brother’s fiancée, Gwen. I wanted that relationship to be the element that held the story together…the key piece that invested the audience in understanding this horrible thing Lawrence is inflicted with.”
The former art director was excited by the visual challenges that would come from turning the script into an action-horror film: “I want to show the audience something they haven’t seen before in our process of turning a man into a werewolf,” notes Johnston. “We’ve all seen these transformations in werewolf movies, and they all rely more or less on the same visual elements. It’s stretching bones and hair growing on the face.
“We’ve done transformations in The Wolfman that you could only do with the help of computer-generated animation,” he continues. “We have a great place to start the transformation, which is Benicio Del Toro, and we have a great place to end up, which is Rick Baker’s makeup. But it’s not a straight-line transformation…we go off in multiple directions to get to the end result.”
The filmmakers knew that in order to deliver the spectacular sequences, they needed to find the perfect balance between practical effects and special effects. That challenge would be one of many throughout the course of shooting and editing the film. But before any of that could begin, it was time to cast the supporting players to help Del Toro bring the infamous creature to life once again.
Notorious for his design and transformation of David Naughton in John Landis’ classic An American Werewolf in London, six-time Academy Award®-winning creature effects designer Rick Baker was asked to come aboard the production. He wanted to keep the look as close to the original Wolf Man as possible, while paying tribute to Jack Pierce’s creation from the ’40s. “Jack Pierce was my idol,” says Baker. “He was the guy I really admired, and I wanted to be true to what Jack did…but still modernize it. It’s still very much the Jack Pierce Wolf Man, but with a little Rick Baker thrown in. I wanted my Wolfman to be a little more savage and look like he could do a lot more damage than Lon Chaney, Jr.”
For producer Rick Yorn, the idea that Del Toro would be transformed by one of the greatest-living movie-makeup artists was simply a must. He notes: “Rick was our first choice; he’s a legend. You go to his shop and you see all the movies that he has worked on. It’s absolutely a museum. For us, he did such an amazing job.”
Academy Award® nominee DAVE ELSEY, who co-created the look of the Wolfman with Baker, remembers the early days of preproduction as he and Baker were paying homage to the look of the fearsome creature. “The design brief we were given for the werewolf was very open, so we could almost come up with anything,” recalls Elsey. “We were sitting in Rick’s workshop, and the more we talked, the more it seemed like the best thing would be to create a fresh version of what people would recognize as the Wolfman. Rick brings so many ideas to the table and so much enthusiasm for this type of film; it’s a dream come true for us to be working on this classic creature.”
The producers and director Johnston were well aware that the sequences audiences most would anticipate in the film would be the transformation of the human protagonist into the title character. The Wolfman takes a leap forward in that department…with extensive help from the visual effects division, an area with which Johnston is intimately familiar.
Explains the director of the synergy: “The makeup is in several different pieces. It’s applied individually. It’s not a mask, so that allows Benicio to move and to express himself. We didn’t want to rely completely on computer animation, because you can break this barrier of believability or break the laws of physics. What we’re trying to do with these transformations is to keep it as absolutely real as possible and use VFX as a tool to extend what is possible with makeup.”
Baker tested the intricate makeup on himself before having Del Toro sit in his chair for the first time; it would be a process the men whittled down to three hours. Just to see what it would look and feel like from an actor’s perspective, Baker applied the hair with glue, airbrushed his face, poured “blood” in his mouth and took pictures of himself as the wolf. “It’s very different when you’re a makeup artist and you’re trying to get this guy ready and you know the clock is ticking so fast…it’s a blur,” offers the makeup artist. “But when you’re the guy in the chair, it’s a really different time frame.”
He adds that he’s much more familiar with his creations than the talent behind them. “I spend a lot of my time with actors in the face that I’ve designed for them,” says Baker. “They come in the morning as themselves and almost immediately I stick this piece of rubber on them, and I don’t see the actor anymore…but a creation. I recognize Benicio as the wolf; I hardly ever see him as himself.”
For Del Toro, Baker’s team created an “appliance” made of foam and latex that covered the actor’s brow and nose. The edges of Baker’s appliance were made quite thin,so that they would seamlessly blend into the actor’s skin when laid on top of his face.
When Del Toro was fitted with a prosthetic chin, cragged dentures (complete with sharp canines), a real hair wig and a beard that was applied with bits of follicles glued to his face, he embodied the fearsome Wolfman.
Though the makeup application took hours, Del Toro was excited to be involved in the process. “As a kid, I always wanted to have those big teeth,” laughs the actor. “It doesn’t matter how long you’re sitting on that chair, with Rick the magic is bit-by-bit.
You close your eyes for five minutes, you open them up again and something is happening. It was easy to go for it when you have such a great team of guys working with you and doing a terrific job.”
Due to the fact that the werewolf only rears his head late on a moonlit eve, a number of night shoots were required for the production. From the beginning, the filmmakers knew it would a long slog for the crew, who practically spent the first six weeks shrouded by waterproof tents as they donned their wet-weather gear.
One of the fundamental differences between the 1941 and the 2010 versions of the monster movie is the era in which it is set. The original stuck to its present day in Wales, while this film takes us back to Victorian England in the year 1890.
The period of the film was chosen for many reasons. Foremost was the fact that a dirty, suspenseful, smoggy London lit by gas lamps and a foggy, sleepy hamlet would create a spooky atmosphere synonymous with a classic horror film.
As his crew designed the world that he and cinematographer Johnson shot, director Johnston had but one dictum for his team: “Make sure we’re all making the same film.” He explains: “My crew was all very conscious of what the period was and what it needed to look like. For the visuals, I wanted to give them a lot of flexibility and leeway to help me tell the story. I’m really happy with the way it looks: cold, gritty and bleak.”
VFX, SFX, makeup, locations and schedules were nothing when compared to the biggest challenge of the production for director Johnston. The Wolfman’s toughest obstacle was one the reader might think would be minor: perfecting the haunting howl of the title creature. Johnston explains his conundrum: “When it came time to lay in the sound of the wolf howl, we tried everything from animal impersonators to a crying baby and artificial sounds. We took those sounds and digitally processed them…looking for just the right combination of things to give us the perfect howl. But we just could not find it. We wanted it to be iconic, but something audiences had never heard before.”
A breakthrough would come when one of the production’s sound designers came up with a unique idea. According to Johnston, “HOWELL GIBBENS said, ‘What is the purest and most controllable vocal sound that you can find? It’s arguably an opera singer.’ So we auditioned a number of opera singers in Los Angeles and picked the perfect guy: a bass baritone opera singer.”
After Johnston and his sound team recorded about a dozen howls, they knew they’d found their perfect wolf howls. The director notes: “His howls go through a range of emotions…from angry and victorious to mourning. We pitched them down about 40 percent so they became truly terrifying. When we pitched them down, we had these haunting, visceral animal sounds. They sent chills up our spines and gave us exactly what we were looking for.”
Universal Pictures presents—in association with Relativity Media—A Stuber Pictures production of a Joe Johnston film: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins in The Wolfman, starring Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving. The music is by Danny Elfman; the special makeup design is by Rick Baker. The action-horror’s costume designer is Milena Canonero, and its co-producer is Stratton Leopold. The film is edited by Dennis Virkler, ACE, and Walter Murch, ACE; the production designer is Rick Heinrichs. The Wolfman’s director of photography is Shelly Johnson, ASC; its executive producers are Bill Carraro, Jonathan Mone and Ryan Kavanaugh. The film is based on the motion picture screenplay by Curt Siodmak, and it is produced by Scott Stuber, Benicio Del Toro, Rick Yorn and Sean Daniel. The Wolfman’s screenplay is by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self. The film is directed by Joe Johnston. © 2010 Universal Studios.
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