Back in early May, I got to visit the set of Underworld: Awakening when the production was filming in Vancouver. While on set, I got to participate in a group interview with Stunt Coordinator/Second Unit Director Brad Martin. Here’s some of the highlights:
- There are three big set pieces: one in a stairwell when Kate is fighting in her prime, one in The Coven where the vampires are attacked underground by the werewolves, and one in a parking structure.
- In the opening battle of the film, which shows us what happens before Selene wakes up in the future, we see her take on humans for the first time.
- For Beckinsale’s fighting style, he says there are certain kinds that don’t work, like Kung-fu and Wu-Shu. Her fighting style has a bit of Aikido and some Bourne Identity-type stuff in an anime way.
- To account for the 3D, they found that it’s not good to have a lot of quick-cutting, so they opted for longer movements and shots.
- With the wire-work, he kept it more reality-based and didn’t want a lot of “floating.”
- There’s a CG uber-Lycan, so Beckinsale had to interact a lot with the stunt guys.
Hit the jump for the full interview.
Before going any further, if you missed the recently released teaser trailer for Underworld: Awakening, I’d watch that first:
As usual, I’m offering you two ways to get the interview: you can either listen to the audio (here’s part 1 and part 2), or the full transcript is below. Underworld: Awakening gets released January 20, 2012.
What other Underworld movies did you work on?
Brad Martin: I did Underworld 1 and Underworld 2. I did the same job description.
We’re almost at the end of filming, is there one memory of filming that is the most telling about this experience?
Martin: Well, we haven’t shot the final fight yet, the final battle, but the opening battle that we did with Selene coming out before she gets jettisoned into the future was quite memorable. There was a great battle scene where we see Selene at her finest. We get to see her take out humans which is the first time we’ve seen that. We really get to see the true nature of what she’s all about.
A question about the fighting styles. Are you using an amalgam of different things?
Martin: I like to call it “Hollywood-do.” It’s whatever looks good for the movies. We take something from everything. Selene definitely has a specific fighting style. There are a certain amount of things that don’t work for her. Kung fu does not work with Kate. Wu-shu doesn’t work with Kate. There may be a bit of Aikido.
Or Krav Maga… ‘tight’ stuff basically.
Martin: Like The Bourne Identity style, but in a more anime way.
Like Jeet Kune Do?
Martin: No. We have her “trap” once in a while like in Jeet Kune Do which has some trapping in it, but it’s been more straightforward, raw fighting style with a very brutal twist to it. For instance, there’s been a lot of neck breaking, a lot of arm breaking, a lot of nerve destruction, and all that kind of stuff.
So, basically you did the first two movies and this one is the first to be in 3D, what are the main differences. It’s supposed to have a different look and is a very different looking movie. Are you doing a lot of changes in the styles from those other movies?
Martin: Well, the action is generally the same. What we’ve found out with 3D is that it’s not necessarily that great to be very “cutty,” with quick edits. So, we’re trying to keep the movements a lot longer, the shots longer. I still think there are times though that we still need to edit quickly to make the action itself look good. There’s only so much we can do with wire-work and big action moves. Sometimes you really have to break it down to a fine, specific amount of time, but, for the most part, it’s going to generally be the same.
How much wire-work are you using? Is it mostly being used for controlled falls?
Martin: With the wire-work, we have Kate dropping off of buildings like we do in every other Underworld. We have people getting thrown all over the place which is also wire-work. It’s basically throws and falls.
So, it’s not like Yuen Wu-Ping style stuff?
Martin: It’s the same idea. I mean, all wire-work kind of originated with Wu-Ping and all of the Hong Kong guys, right? It’s just that we’re taking it to a new level.
So, it’s more based in reality?
Martin: My technique and what I like to do with Selene and the wire-work we do in the Underworld movies is that I try to keep things on the more realistic level. I don’t like the floatiness. There are certain things that Wu-Ping and his brother, Cheung-Yan Yuen, do that are “floaty’ in the Hong Kong wire-work world. I wanted to make things more realistic, like ‘What if this really happened?” Take out all the floatiness of the wire-work and make it more dynamic and more impactful, that’s the goal.
So, obviously you guys have a budget you have to work with. Can you talk a little bit about the action set pieces? Are there like three big ones? Are here a lot of little ones?
Martin: I’d say there are actually three big set pieces. The first one was the stairwell I was telling you about when Kate is fighting in here prime. The second one is The Coven where we built this medieval underground set under a waterfall which is where all the vampires live. The werewolves have tracked them down now and found out where they live and now, not realizing that the werewolves are still alive, the vampires are getting invaded by the werewolves and they come down into this underground set which is really quite cool. The last set piece is going to be down in Coal Harbor and is basically a parking structure of Antigen which is where we are right now. There’s another section of where we’re supposed to be in the medical facility and there’s a big fight down in this very cool looking garage. Those are the big sets. The Coven is probably the biggest set piece we built, but because of budgetary purposes, we could only build so much.
Can you talk a little about you filming in 3D? How are you taking advantage of the 3D cameras with these action set pieces?
Martin: I definitely had to take a quick study on the whole 3D world and how it all needs to work. It’s quite a bit different compared to 2D. There’s foreground differences. In 2D, you can usually stack something in the foreground when you don’t want to see something, but in 3D that may not be a bad thing. If you’re trying to block something, you don’t want to focus on it. In 3D, you’ll always focus on what’s in the foreground. So, unless you want to see it, you have to take out things like that. There are certain things action-wise—very specifically action-wise—when you’re panning across some action or you’re following the player in the action, there’s this thing called “ghosting.” You might get a ghost image since in 3D, you’re shooting with two different cameras at the same time. For whatever reason, motion across the screen can very often “ghost.” If it’s not extremely fast, like say medium speed, it’s a very bad thing. So, there are a lot of times when we have to choreograph the action and the shots with the action as not to get the ghosting effect. That takes out a few tools I like to use.
Are you having to slow the fighter’s actions down?
Martin: Never. You can’t do that. The minute you start slowing things down is when it looks bad. In terms of 3D, we only shoot at 24 frames at regular speed and, in Post as much as I can get in there, I’ll ramp it up to 22 frames which makes it look just a little bit edgier. That being the intention when I shoot it, I’m not too worried about it knowing that we’re going to do that in Post. But you can’t shoot at 22.
Martin: Michael’s not doing too much. I don’t know how aware you all are of the story, but there is an “uber-Lycan” which is now this big twelve foot tall werewolf and he’s a complete CG creature, so we obviously don’t have to train him to do anything. [laughs]
But you have to have actors who are up there interacting with him, obviously.
Martin: Well, mainly, it’s just Kate and a bunch of my stunt guys that do that interaction. Theo does a little bit. Theo is very talented in his own right. He doesn’t have to do too much in this movie. We did a little with him in The Coven where he has a CG whip and he takes out a couple of werewolves which is pretty cool, but since everything was CG, he didn’t actually have to spin it around.
Before we get too far away from that, I’m curious about how you’re choreographing the fight scenes. We’ve talked a lot about Selene. I’m wondering about how you’re choreographing the Lycans themselves.
Martin: I have a very specific view, as I do with Selene’s style, of what I think the Lycans can do and what we can do with them and things that we shouldn’t do with them. Since they are more animal than human, there’s grabbing (which we do a little bit of) and throwing (again, we do a little bit of), but that’s almost the extent of the human motions. Everything else is slashing and biting and thrusting.
It strikes me that their posture is more open.
Martin: It’s more open and they’re lower like in a crouching position, more like a football linebacker with a lower center of gravity. Sometimes I feel a bit limited as to what we can do based on their style, but once in a while, we’re able to find some money to do some CG werewolves and we can actually do something that’s quite cool with them. Unfortunately, the guys in the suits can only do so much.
What percentage would you say is CG versus practical?
Martin: Well, the first Underworld was founded on doing everything practically. I had a wire team much like Yuen Woo-Ping. With Len Wiseman, the director of the first one as well as the producer of this one, we kind of founded everything on trying to do things practically. That was really cool. The second one held out and most of the time was mostly practical. In the third one, there was a lot of CG in there although I wasn’t a part of it. In this one, it’s quite a bit more CG than I would ever have hoped, but there’s only so much you can do with a twelve foot werewolf and some of the shots that we want. So, sometimes I find it a saving grace even though it wasn’t the tone of what we wanted to do, it helps us sometimes, most definitely, and the CG is getting so much better nowadays. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Do you have some of the same creature performers as you did on the other movies?
Martin: Well, Brian Steele who is our werewolf in the first three Underworlds wasn’t able to make this one, but Rich Citroen who was my stunt werewolf in the first two is back to be the “hero werewolf” in this one. So, yeah we have the same werewolf guy.
Is this one of these productions for you that happened very suddenly or did you have a lot of pre-production time?
Martin: Actually, all of the Underworld movies for me have been great with prep. They’ve given me ample time to do what I needed to do to make the action right and these are one of the few movies that I do where the action is a character in itself. So, it really needs that attention to make it right. I was given that. I was given ten weeks of prep on the first one and I think I had eight weeks on the second one and ten weeks on this one. So, yeah we had a lot of time to do it right. Unfortunately, the script wasn’t completely finished when we started filming, so there are some things we’re playing catch-up on right now for the ending sequence, but we’re in a good spot.
What about locations? One thing about the second movie was that there was a lot more stuff done on a soundstage, but when you’re working on a location like this, how do you rehearse and get ready?
Martin: It is difficult. We have a stage. They gave us our own little stage at the studio and we were able to rehearse and, given the specs of the location, we planned all of our stunt rigs to those specs. So, we were able to basically use the exact same rig that we were going to have on location on our stage and rehearse that way.
For more on Underworld: Awakening: