Though the lead actors shine in Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” which premiered earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival, it’s the special effects that really deserve attention.
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The ambitious adaptation won’t hit American shores for another two months, but UK audiences will have a chance to see it in theaters this week. To create a harrowing Shakespearean experience, the filmmakers employed Artem SFX, an award-winning physical special effects company. Working both on location and in the company’s London studio, Artem created an elements package for the production team featuring detail shots of blood spurts, smoke and flying embers. Floor effects included mist, smoke, rain and fire, while life-like prosthetics ranged from gruesome wounds to a full body dummy of one of the film’s central characters.
“Rain, mist, smoke, fire and burning embers are all key elements in the world of Macbeth, together with prosthetics and gore for the battle scenes. Artem had a tough budget in relation to the ambition for the 112 minute film but worked tirelessly to help create the frontier landscape of Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth,” said “Macbeth” producer Laura Hastings-Smith.
Mike Kelt, Artem CEO and special effects supervisor on the film, said, “It was clear from the outset that Justin [Kurzel] had a very clear idea of what he wanted. He was after a cold, atmospheric, misty, Scottish feel to permeate the film.”
The biggest challenge, according to Kelt, “was covering vast areas of landscape with a consistent mist — whole hillsides had to disappear, enveloping armies and blotting out unwanted backgrounds.”
In order to rise to the challenge, the Artem team built a bespoke tubing system that was able to cover vast areas of landscape with mist and that could be moved quickly in response to changes in wind. The industry-standard smoke gun — designed and made by Artem — was used to create denser smoke for tighter shots.
In order to intensify the foreboding mood, Artem added rain to some scenes. Again, it was necessary to cover wide areas, which demanded that the team set up huge rain stands.
“In some respects, Justin was lucky; we were often battling with the ‘real’ weather, which was atrocious throughout most of the filming, and a challenge for everyone on the production,” said Kelt. “On top of one Scottish hill we even grouped like Antarctic penguins, rotating positions to spread the pain! On that particular day we managed to cheer people up by finishing with a large burning pyre of bodies — something you might expect to be grim, but at least it offered some warmth! This can be seen near the start of the film.”
Among the grisly prosthetics were exposed intestines and throat cuts, along with a dead body double of Duncan (David Thewlis), the murdered king. Thewlis visited Artem’s West London studio to have his body cast, and despite initial doubts from the director as to how life-like the result could possibly be, the body double proved so realistic that the actor was able to finish his scenes early instead of playing dead.