Movies are hard to make. Directors have to deal with a million different things, from a diva starlet’s demand that she only be lit by organic free-range lights, to trying to wrangle a thousand extras in full medieval gear who want, more than anything else in this world, to pee. But it’s all worth it when that big action sequence dampens the seats of theaters across the globe, right? Well, what about the smaller stuff? The times movies put insane work into little things that nobody ever noticed? Who will cry for them? Will you?
Everything In Who Framed Roger Rabbit Was Laborious And Amazing
There is more great art hidden in Who Framed Roger Rabbit than an Argentine Nazi safehouse. Almost every frame incorporates hours of labor, all to make the cartoons interact with the real world as believably as possible. Most of which goes completely unnoticed by the casual viewer. For example, take a look at the scene in which Roger is dancing, gets stuck with the skipping record player, and starts breaking dishes over his head:
Did you ever wonder how they managed to get a cartoon to break real dishes over its head? No? You’re not some weirdo, you say? Well, they did it by building a dish-smashing machine that fit the beat of the song, and painting Roger over it:
Walt Disney PicturesPrecisely as Asimov predicted.
Then there’s the cigar-smoking Baby Herman:
That’s a real cigar he’s “smoking.” There was yet another custom-made machine for this, fully articulated, which could perform six different gestures. It’s not clear exactly which gestures, but knowing Baby Herman, we have a pretty good idea.
Walt Disney PicturesWe don’t know why it was necessary for the robot to be able to poop itself, but maybe that’s why we’re not in the movie business.
How about when Roger’s hiding from gun-toting cartoon villains in the sink?
The guns were real, and needed puppeteers to operate every single one. Then, when Roger comes up for air and spits water, that’s real water. Of course it was pumped through a machine they built solely for that scene.
Walt Disney PicturesSometimes you get to be Yoda, sometimes you get to do this.
This is all because of one subtle thing you may have overlooked: Roger may be a cartoon, but in his world, there are rules. If he swallows real water from the sink Eddie has his hands in, then it has to be real water that he spits out. If a cartoon puts a gun in Eddie’s face and it really might kill him, it has to be a real gun. They called it “bumping the lamp,” after the scene in which Eddie saws through the handcuffs binding him to Roger, and this became the whole philosophy for the making of the movie.
Look at the layers of work that went into that. By having Roger bump into everything, he feels like a real presence in the room, but that means everything has to be set up to fall over or shake when he does so — boxes, lamps, people. It all has to be timed perfectly. Having Roger bump the lamp was a particularly weighty decision, because the animators had to adjust Roger’s shadows accordingly. And it was all done so well that none of us even batted an eyelid.
But the real genius is the scene wherein Eddie and Roger arrive at Maroon Studios.
Walt Disney Pictures
While shooting this scene, Bob Hoskins made a rare slip. He accidentally looked at where a normal-sized person would be standing in front of him, not where the head of a vertically-challenged cartoon bunny would be. Zemeckis didn’t notice at the time, so when the film was handed over to the animators, they didn’t know what to do. After some head-scratching, director of animation Richard Williams worked it out: They had Roger stand on his tiptoes, bringing his head to a level with Eddie’s gaze.
Walt Disney PicturesThis is the kind of stuff they don’t teach you in art school.
They knew that getting the live-action actors to look at the exact spot where the nonexistent character’s eyes would be was essential to suspending the viewers’ disbelief, even if they weren’t totally conscious of it. That’s why the cartoon scenes in Mary Poppins feel so fake. It doesn’t look like those humans are actually interacting with those cartoon characters. But Who Framed Roger Rabbit nailed it time and time again, scene after scene. That’s one potential downside of being an animation genius: By doing their job so well, they made it so none of us noticed what they did.
Shell Cottage In Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Was Ridiculously Overbuilt
At the end of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows — Part 1 (Of 72), the gang escapes the wizard-Nazis by teleporting to a relative’s beach house, Shell Cottage. There, Dobby the house-elf promptly dies from the revelation that airborne knives can teleport too. It’s a moment so devastating that you were reasonably distracted from everything else going on in the scene, which was arguably also devastating for a few key people. Almost everything in the background of that scene had to be created from scratch, including Shell Cottage itself, the outside of which we only see in two brief glimpses in Part 1. See it? No, all the way back there.
Warner Bros PicturesYou may not have been able to see it through all your tears.
The cottage was mostly constructed at Leavesden Studios, carted to Wales, then dragged by tractor up the coast, along with a trail of confused Welsh motorists. Once there, the setmakers then individually glued 4,500 scallop shells to the roof.
Warner Bros Pictures“Wait, I see a nautilus shell there! Tear it down, start over.”
Like Batman’s pecs, that’s a lot of work for not much screen time. But hey, since they split the story into two parts, we get to see all the production designers’ hard work up close in the next film, right? Not really. We only see the cottage from the outside again very briefly (three seconds) in Part 2, when Harry goes to pay his respects at Dobby’s grave.
Warner Bros Pictures*tears continue to impair vision*
And you can’t even see the damned shells.
That shot took even more work. To stop the whole thing from being shattered by the strong Welsh winds, they had to weigh it down with nearly 11 tons of water. And that was only the beginning. Take a look at all that beautifully snarled grass. Every tuft of it was individually dressed into the sand to make it look like the Cornish coast. Because the most important thing about making a movie based on a children’s book in which kids carry magical guns and play soccer on broomsticks is staying true to Cornwall.
It Took Six Years Of Research To Make Pompeii
Pompeii is the story of gladiator/slave Milo (Kit Harrington) falling in love with aristocrat Cassia (Emily Browning) right before Mount Vesuvius destroys the titular city. It’s the worst-timed love story since Titanic. There are big explosions, a tsunami, and lots and lots of volcano-related death. You probably don’t remember that, because if you’re reading this, that means you’re human, and almost no humans watched Pompeii.
If you happen to be one of the outliers, there were still some quieter moments that you may not recall, like when Cassia and her friend Ariadne arrive in Pompeii and get out of the cart to walk through the crowded market streets.
TriStar PicturesIt was a lot like malls are today, only with a stronger fart smell.
That innocuous scene required as much work as anything else in the movie. Director Paul W. S. Anderson wanted complete authenticity, so he hired craftspeople to recreate all of Pompeii digitally — and for some scenes, physically. Right down to the exact type of bread that people ate back then.
TriStar PicturesBut only stared at briefly in the movie.
She’s thinking what we all are: “Why did they even bother?”
Even the cobbles were handmade to be as accurate as possible, based on information gleaned from years of onsite digging, all in order to create the most realistic setting for the stupidest story. We only see those laboriously handcrafted cobblestones in the background, and only for a second or two at a time.
TriStar PicturesThose raised white stones are also the proper width for a Roman chariot to pass through. Not that you care.
And the actors just walked all over them, the goddamned thespians. The whole process took six excruciating years. All for a movie two people saw.
Children Of Men Is Full Of Subtle Futuristic Quirks
Children Of Men is a 2006 film set in a dystopian world in which humans can no longer reproduce, which is either bleak as hell or ideal, depending on your faith in humanity today. We meet the main character, Theo, in London in 2027. He grabs a coffee, pushes his way past the crowd (including two policemen), then stops outside to booze up his drink, like we all do every single morning, even though we’re not supposed to mention it. He only narrowly misses being blown up by his ex-wife and her militant friends. Like we all do every single morning, even though we’re not supposed to mention it.
But while we’re following Theo in the foreground, we’re ignoring all the fun the filmmakers had with the background. There are tons of details to assure you that this is in fact the future, predicted as accurately as possible from the vantage point of the Bush administration. Let’s return to that opening shot.
Universal Pictures“I wonder what my ex is up to these days.”
See the pointy buildings in the distance? The one on the left is St. Paul’s Cathedral, the other is the Shard, modern London’s tallest building, and one of its most iconic. Here’s a real photo from roughly the same spot:
Haha, they mixed up the locations of the buildings! Idiots!
Except that the movie was filmed, shot, and released before construction even began on the Shard. All they knew was that it was going to be part of the London skyline eventually, so they did the best they could, using architect Renzo Piano’s early architectural drawings as a reference. If you see it at all, it’s only for a few seconds in the background of the opening scene, when the audience is still trying to open their M&M’s.
When Theo is pushing his way out of the crowded cafe, he passes two policemen. Can you spot the futuristic detail?
Universal PicturesDefinitely not those haircuts.
Give up? Look at the police helmet. The “Bobby on the Beat” currently wears this:
savoilic/iStockSexy and functional.
The “E II R” up there stands for “Elizabeth II Regina” — Queen Elizabeth II. Now go back and look at the helmets worn in the movie again. You can barely make it out, but it says “CR” on the badge, which means “Charles Rex,” or King Charles. By 2027, Queen Elizabeth has died, and Charles has ascended to the throne (probably the least realistic aspect of the whole movie).
Universal PicturesWe also now desperately want a male royal named “Tyrannosaurus” to ascend the throne.
They even made some trashy tabloid headlines for his reign:
Universal PicturesAlso, test tube babies have failed, even though we’ve already mastered that technology in reality.
It’s almost impossible to read, but it says “CHARLES SHOULD BE THRONE OUT.” That one shitty pun on a blurry newspaper in the background of a single throwaway scene lets you know, without question, that much like the cockroaches they are, The Daily Mail is still going strong even while the rest of society crumbles.
Blade Runner Financially Crippled Itself With Background Details
One of the many reasons Blade Runner is considered a classic is the level of detail you’ll never catch unless you watch the whole thing in slow motion (almost certainly while high, trying and failing to sync it to Pink Floyd). Those details overrun your brain the first time you see it — the neon umbrellas, the Gaudi-inspired Aztec architecture, the Millennium Falcon building …
Warner Bros Pictures
Warner Bros PicturesWorth it.
That copious background hides all kinds of amazing details, which required hours upon hours of hard work to create. Like when Roy Batty is walking down the street with fellow replicant Leon Kowalski on their way to kill Lo Pan.
Warner Bros Pictures
Check out those futuristic parking meters.
Warner Bros Pictures
Warner Bros PicturesMeanwhile, as the actual 2019 approaches, most parking meters still don’t take credit cards.
When constructing that set on a backlot street, the contemporary parking meters looked out of place. But instead of adding a Jetsons-style fin and calling it a day, the setbuilders made entirely new ones. Their meter has an electronic card register, since physical money is no longer a thing (remember, this was made in the quaint days of 1982, when credit cards were still for hipsters and communists alone). It also has a “post-mechanical case, which can be electrified” if someone tries to attack it, as well as lighting that directs traffic. If you zoom in, you see that it even has instructions/warnings for citizens parking there.
Precisely none of which we see in the movie. Hell, the streets are so thick with rain and smoke that we can barely see the characters. Production designer Syd Mead had “only been originally hired for a few days at $1,500 a day,” producer Michael Deeley later explained. “Suddenly he was on the thing for weeks. It was one factor in going over budget.” Blade Runner‘s infamous budgetary problems were one reason the theatrical cut was edited to be more appealing to mainstream audiences, which inexplicably entailed cinema’s worst voiceover, as well as some bullshit “happy ending” that utterly disfigured the film.
But damn, look at those parking meters!
Everything You See In Signs Was Built (Or Grown!) For The Movie
M. Night Shyamalan’s flawless tale of hydrophobic aliens intentionally visiting the Solar System’s wettest planet is set almost entirely at Mel Gibson’s farmhouse and the surrounding cornfields. So the crew probably spent a few weeks scouting for the perfect farmhouse/cornfield combo, offered the folks living there some cash to film, then went and added some CGI for the crop circles, right? Naive fools. Nothing is ever that simple when Shyamalan is involved.
Everything we see in the movie was built entirely from scratch. The only thing on the set put there by God was the dirt, and the producers presumably had to explain to Shyamalan that they couldn’t make it themselves. This is what the set looked like months before shooting started:
Touchstone Pictures“And over here, we will grow my plot twist.”
Not only did they grow the corn themselves, but they also built the house, the barn, the backyard, and probably Abigail Breslin. (Seriously, this was her first movie. You prove she existed before 2002.) Supposedly, all of this was necessary because they couldn’t find an existing Midwest farmhouse that the set designers were allowed to paint red, white, and blue. That was symbolically important to the story, for reasons, surely.
Touchstone Pictures‘Murica reasons.
Then there are the crop circles. We all thought those were CGI, didn’t we? Hell, in the film, Gibson himself says, “It can’t be by hand, it’s too perfect.” But it was, because Shyamalan demanded it. Production designer Larry Fulton wanted to CG most of it, “but Night doesn’t like CGI, he wants everything practical.” That meant his team had to spend weeks making real crop circles by hand — and not just the one on the farm set. In the movie, the family watches a news report showing other crop circles popping up around the world.
Touchstone PicturesFor the last one, the crew just did a middle finger with the initials “MNS” next to it.
Sure, they could have used stock footage, but that wouldn’t be insane, would it? Instead, the production team created two more crop circles — which, by the way, was “as tough as chopping down trees.”
All for a few shots, spanning a few seconds.
In a movie.
Which turned out to be Signs.
Matt Cowan makes geeky T-shirts you didn’t notice (which took a lot of work) when he’s not writing for Cracked or watching Disney movies with his daughter.
If you’re looking for an unforgettable holiday gift that requires very little work, check out the Miracle-Gro Aerogarden.
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