‘Dune’ Director Denis Villeneuve on His Artists’ Ability to ‘Dance With Nature’
Art and Experience:
With “Dune,” Denis Villeneuve confirms that he is a visionary director. Adapted from Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, “Dune” is set in the year 10191 and Villeneuve salutes his artisans who helped him create the look and sound of the film, which covers multiple interplanetary cultures and locations.
Patrice Vermette, production design
Patrice preps a lot. He is a workaholic and it’s all about details and massive visual research — whether you dig in the past or project into the future, it requires research. I knew he would add the right sensibility in the architecture, and in the way we approach the light and texture of the film.
Patrice put his imprint on every set, every detail, even the way the sand is seen. Some of these sets were so gigantic, there was no stage to hold them, so we had to build them outside. Patrice has an amazing cultural background and we both come from the world of documentaries. He’s a maniac and I love him for that.
I had to sell Patrice to the studio because he had never done a movie of this size, and I thank the movie gods that we got him.
Greig Fraser, cinematography
I was looking for a cinematographer who had the skill to play with natural light, to embrace nature and not to impose himself on nature, but more to dance with nature. I was very impressed with his work on “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Mary Magdalene.” When it came time to make “Dune,” he was first name who came to my mind.
At the beginning of preparation, I had intuitions about “Dune,” but wanted to make sure all possibilities were studied. I wanted a camera that was flexible and versatile. I wanted to embrace the power of the desert; I wanted nature to be a main character in the movie, with as much natural light as possible. Greig and I worked with real sunlight, for exteriors and even some outdoor sets. Before Greig came on board, I was envisioning the light of the movie, the contrast, the nature of the light. The way the movie looks now is very close to my early dreams. Greig is a fantastic artist and he was a great ally.
Hans Zimmer, music
I needed a composer to bring the alien sound of the desert — the spirituality of Arrakis — to life. Hans and I agreed the score should be very feminine, and a female voice should be prominent — and that the score should seem to be coming from an alien world, and avoid using recognizable instruments, and that the score should sometimes be closer to sound effects. He wanted to explore new territories, to get out of his comfort zone and it was fascinating to watch. It was important that the music bring subtext to the scenes and depth that is close to the spirit of the book.
Every piece of music was a challenge. I remember when he brought the music for the harvester rescue, when Paul is in contact for the first time with the deep desert and with the sandworm. We didn’t approach it like a monster sequence, but rather a spiritual encounter. When I listened for the first time, I cried because he nailed it. It’s one of the most difficult pieces of music I’ve heard in a long time.
Donald Mowat, hair, makeup, prosthetics
As a makeup artist, he is so precise but Spartan; with Donald, less is more. He is always going to be as subtle as possible. He’s always working to protect the human face. The big challenge on “Dune” for hair and makeup were the Harkonnens. I wanted them to have a specific look. The Baron is a human being but he’s so heavy he needs a system to float in the air because his legs are not strong enough to bear his weight. That required a lot of R&D. We tried to define a human shape that will not be a baby or caricature, but be powerful and threatening. I didn’t want CGI. Donald and his team created fantastic prosthetics. I loved Donald’s work so much that I redesigned the opening scene of the Baron so he could be seen naked. His shape is so powerful and beautiful that I wanted to show it. When Stellan walked on set, there was silence, because he was so frightening.
Bob Morgan, Jacqueline West, costumes
A lot of clues came from Frank Herbert. He describes the looks of the military uniforms, the clothes, the suits, some specific things. I approached Bob Morgan and Jacqueline West, and she is known for historical work. I wanted the movie to look historical. When I read the book, it felt like a book written by a historian who had come back from the future. I wanted that romantic quality to the costume design and also realism, something closer to a period movie than sci-fi. They embraced that idea and came back with beautiful, powerful references.