Set Visit Report: A Trip to Toronto for ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife’

Back in November Bloody Disgusting’s Mike Pereira took to Toronto, Canada to visit the set of Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D, the latest video game adaptation that brings Milla Jovovich back as Alice, this time in a whole new dimension of evil. This weekend you caught the first stills and trailer, now you can read all about Mike’s trip behind-the-scenes of Umbrella Corporations latest planned attack. Afterlife arrives in theaters September 10, 2010.

From the time of my visit to the set of Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D (November 2009), up to its theatrical release (September 2010), audiences were and will be bombarded with no less than thirteen 3D feature-length films. The filmmakers of this popular and financially-successful franchise anticipated the industry’s newfound obsession so they wisely decided to join the party. But unlike the current cost-effective, (lazy and vomit-inducing) post-3D work done in Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans and the Piranha remake, RE4 is actually shot in 3D with the same astonishing system featured in Avatar and Tron Legacy. Also, the film will contain the most Phantom camera footage shot to date for a feature. This astonishing 1000fps camera is so beautifully featured during the slow motion sequences in Sherlock Holmes and of course, the notorious, Antichrist. Paul W. S. Anderson, who wrote, produced all of the films and directed the original, returns to the director’s chair for this one. From what I witnessed on set, his careful but confident approach to this rediscovered technology looks extremely promising.

This visit was particularly memorable because it landed appropriately on Friday the 13th. The sequences that were being shot this day were at a soundstage in Toronto, Canada. While we only bared witness to one set (a 2001-like white room), it was very fascinating to see the tedious but meticulous 3D filming process. It was amazing to put on the 3D glasses, sitting in front of a pair of fairly large 3D monitors and watch the filmmakers creating a depth of field suited best for the technology. There must have been no more than a handful of set-ups by the end of the visit. Only one of them contained an actual action beat featuring Milla Jovovich, kicking Kim Coates` character in the face.

Resident Evil Afterlife

With RE4, the filmmakers are confident they won’t fall prey to issues which plague the majority of sequels. Producer Jeremy Bolt elaborates: “We just want to be fresh. We try in every movie to do something different. We think that’s why maybe we have gotten to a fourth version of the film. We’re trying to be more global but at the same time keep it a little bit relatable. The characters are kind of a little bit isolated themselves, dealing with their own issues. At the center of it is Alice (Milla Jovovich), who is kind of almost an existential type of heroine, trying to find a soul mate. She’s trying to save the world but also, find someone to be with. She’s quite a lonely character. That was very much at the heart of the last movie; those images of her by herself in the desert. We’ve kept an element of that but now she’s joined up with some of her friends again. But at the heart of it, she’s just looking for someone to be with and I think that is really important; keep all of these films relatable. We know if you go into some world that no one can really connect with, the story is never going to work.

Anderson has taken his love of one of the definitive sequels as a form of inspiration for RE4. “I thought we should try to make a conceptual jump like Terminator to T2. So it was still like the Terminator franchise but it was something bigger and grander. That was our idea with this Resident Evil. (We’re) trying to make the movie a bigger and grander an event than the first trilogy.” The larger scope is evident in the production room, which was filled with images of post-apocalyptic devastation. The Umbrella Corporation seems to nuke up every place they leave behind.

The ever lovable zombie dogs make a return but not quite in the way you last remember them. Not only are they more rotted-looking but their heads split open like a flower revealing some very nasty teeth, not to mention, tentacles. Images of John Carpenter’s masterpiece, The Thing quickly comes to mind. I had the pleasure of seeing a puppet on set, not to mention in 3D through the monitors. The creatures are bigger and more complex. The film will showcase a slew of different types like the “underwater” and “burrowing” zombies. The very muddy latter have mandibles and “chew” their way through concrete, tunneling to wherever the characters are hiding. There will also, be appearances of some of the more minor but infamous characters from the games. One concept character art caught my attention but I was told to not even dare reveal it in this article…so I won’t. All I’ll say is RE4 fans in particular will have a big smile on their face.

When asked about the game’s influence on the film, Anderson states: “I was writing the script before the game came. Once the game came out, it had huge elements that were already in the screenplay. Capcom is so funny. Every time I go to Japan and meet Capcom, it’s like seeing the Umbrella Corporation. They won’t give you straight answer about anything. So I kind of new they would tell me that Wesker was in the game, kind of, but never really confirming it. Sure enough, he was the main villain and he was the main villain in the movie, as well. Completely by coincidence, a large chunk of this movie takes place in a big ship and there was the ship in “Resident Evil 5″. We have an awful lot of stuff that they already put into “Resident Evil 5″. So I did a whole big pass on the script to bring it more in line with the imagery from the latest game because I felt the latest game was fantastic. I think it kind of reinvented the video game franchise. I wanted to take a lot of it, frankly, kind of steal from it and put it into the movie. There is a whole fight scene with Ali Larter and Wentworth Miller that’s taken almost shot by shot from “Resident Evil 5″. It’s the one when Chris and Shiva are fighting Wesker. So we’re putting Claire in there instead so it’s brother and sister fighting against Wesker. So what’s great in the game is its one continuous shot where the camera rotates around Wesker fighting the two and he kicks their asses. They never cut which of course, you can do in animation. It’s a bit more difficult in live action. Se we’re probably going to shoot the fight in 10 different segments then seam it together in visual effects. So the finished effect will be as if the camera never stops rotating around.

When it comes to the 3D technology, the filmmakers are approaching it very delicately. They’ve had to spend twenty percent more time on the visuals. Editor, Niven Howie has been cutting in 3D. He has one monitor that shows the split and another displaying the 3D. He can even switch it to one eye if it’s driving him nuts which thankfully, hasn’t happened yet. The only impact the format had on his job is pacing. “Paul’s style of shooting has been adapted for it (3D). The sets are bigger; the shots tend to be a little wider. (There are) fewer big close-ups because they’re really powerful when you go into a 3D close-up.

Resident Evil Afterlife

The set-ups I witnessed were all medium to wide shots. It definitely had this mixture of Stanley Kubrick meets John Carpenter. The shots were carefully and beautifully composed. A large amount of time was spent getting the sense of depth right on. Anderson wrote a script that emphasized depth. “I think it’s very suitable to 3D obviously. I kind of feel that I directed movies a little like they were ride films anyway. I used that term a lot in the films I directed from Event Horizon onwards. There’s a scene in Event Horizon where the characters go through this tunnel that rotates. That was taken directly off a ride from Universal Studios where it fucked with your equilibrium. I always tried to do camera moves that I felt were imesserive. So I think my style of filmmaking is very well suited to 3D anyways. I think you can probably dimentionalize some of my movies and they’d make very good 3D films because they’re full of lots of depth, tentacles coming out.

Bolt feels that the standard shooting techniques have to be adjusted for 3D. “We shot a dialogue scene yesterday between Milla and Wentworth Miller which he definitely choreographed differently because of 3D. He added layers essentially architecture and furniture between the two of them so when you play it, you get a sense of depth. Normally he would have done it in a much simpler way. What you won’t have is inserts of hands grabbing guns or feet. The tight, big Tony Scott style close-ups don’t really work in 3D. It’s too overwhelming.

Anderson is convinced that 3D is the next stage of cinema’s evolution. “As a filmmaker, I feel like I’m directing for the first time when talkies were the new thing. It’s a really exciting medium to work in and you really feel you are in the cutting edge and you know you are because all the camera equipment you take for granted doesn’t exist for 3D. They’re all build for lightweight camera packages. It’s been very difficult but the big plus side is you’re getting something very, very exciting.

Bolt is still uncertain about the effect 3D will or will not have in creating a successful horror film. “I’m just curious you know; in a horror sequence, a lot is what you don’t see. What happens in 3D is you see more so is that going to make it scarier or less scarier? I don’t know. We do sometimes feel like pioneers here, we really don’t know what is going to happen. We know the images are stunningly beautiful but as a whole, we have less coverage so it’s going to be less cutting. Is that going to make it less slow? Those will be interesting challenges in the cutting room.

On the other hand, Anderson seems confident he has a firm grasp on what will work in this exciting new format. “Coraline, I think is my favorite 3D movie because it uses both negative and positive space really, really well. (James) Cameron is very public about how he feels positive space should never be used. Everything should be negative space. It should be a window into a world where you like peer into another world. Then there are filmmakers who’ve done 3D movies that can’t get enough positive space, poking crap out of the screen. I kind of feel the best films for me so far combine both. That’s what I’m trying to do but I’m me so I probably won’t be able to contain myself to seven or eight big (3D) moments.

Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D arrives in theaters September 10, 2010.