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Joe Johnston Talks The Wolfman

Published February 8, 2010 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Universal Pictures
The Wolfman Poster The Wolfman
Complain all you want about using CGI in a werewolf movie, but that’s the way it goes. You’ll still see Oscar winner Benicio del Toro in wolf makeup by Rick Baker. Some of his movements are enhanced, and some of the other creatures are enhanced, but director Joe Johnston had a good reason for going digital.

Johnston Gives CGI to The Wolfman


“Well, it’s difficult to have a real bear and one the size that I wanted to have,” he said of one creature. “We could have used this bear that’s almost a pet from Czechoslovakia but to get it across the borders and get all the permits signed and everything, it turned out to be a lot easier to have the CG bear. It was a bear that already existed in the computer. It was basically the bear from The Golden Compass. It’s the Golden Compass bear, obviously not a polar bear and we changed its face, but the point is the data was already there. We didn’t have to design it from the ground up.”

The film also features a stag, but it would have been cruel to use a real one. “The stag also existed from some other project and again we changed him too but to get a stag to be able to stake him to the ground and have him pull against the rope and everything is more than we would want to do with a real animal. So basically, as far as the transformation goes, I know that Rick originally thought that he would do the transformations with mechanisms and prosthetics and rubber like he had done with American Werewolf in London. Nobody does that stuff better than Rick obviously. The problem I had was that I was coming in starting three weeks from principal photography and in order to have Rick do the transformation, I would have to decide almost immediately exactly what the stages of the transformation were. By letting them be CG, I could make those decisions deep into post. I just basically didn’t have the flexibility to be able to sit down and say, ‘This is exactly what I want it to be’ that early in the production.”



Johnston was pressed for time because he came onto the film after director Mark Romanek dropped out. He inherited some staff who continue onto his next film. “I inherited Rick Heinrichs as a production designer. I had never worked with him before. I knew of his reputation, and he had designed some films that I was really a fan of. He did Sleepy Hollow and another couple that I can’t remember right now. I thought he did an amazing job with especially creating the Talbot house and making it a character in the film. It is almost as much a character as some of our live-action characters because I really wanted him to create this environment that you didn’t necessarily feel comfortable in. It was a big, dark, scary, ugly house basically. Every interior is a set. We didn’t use any practical locations except for the exterior, but because I came in three weeks from start of principal photography, I sat down with Rick and I said, ‘Do you have a vision of what you think this place should be?’ And he showed me some sketches and some models and some reference that he had found and he says, ‘This is what I think it should be.’ I said, ‘That’s fantastic, go with it.’ As far as Shelly Johnson who I’ve worked with twice before, I think the only thing I told Shelly was that this movie should be more about the shadows than the light. I said, ‘I want you to create something that we haven’t seen in a long time. I really want it to look like a classic gothic horror film. Not necessarily old fashioned but I want it to reference what movies like this used to look like.’ I think that was the only input I had with Shelly. He showed me some tests that were beyond what I was hoping for and it’s the kind of thing where I felt like I was really able to delegate the look of the photography and the production design because I trusted these guys so much. I think they just did a fantastic job. That’s my favorite thing about the film is how it looks.”

Working with screenwriters, Johnston also influenced the new incarnation of a werewolf. “I did want there to be as much contrast between Lawrence and The Wolfman as possible. I think that originally, Lawrence was a little bit of a hellraiser to begin with. He was this actor who went out and partied all night, went to bed with three women at once and he hung out in opium dens and places like that. It was a different take on the character but I felt that in order to increase the contrast between who this guy was and what he was going to become, both sides of the character, the hero and the villain, I felt like he should be slightly more noble, although I don’t remember using that word.”

The Wolfman opens to theatres on February 12th.

For the trailers, stills and more movie info, go to the The Wolfman Movie Page.
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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Universal Pictures
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