The journey to hell and back for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass in “The Revenant” began with harrowing makeup and hair. It ended with an immersive soundscape that helped convey his symbolic death and rebirth. (Watch a featurette on DiCaprio’s makeup above.)
It was all very dynamic and Grigg collaborated with makeup designer Duncan Jarmon and DiCaprio’s hair stylist, Kathy Blondell, who experimented with a mixture of glycerin and grit to give his hair the texture of a man who has no means of washing the blood and dirt from it.
However, as Glass slowly begins to heal, then sustains new wounds, his face, hair, and skin constantly change. His bruises mottle and his infected gashes morph into a map of scars, according to Grigg, who was thrilled to tell the various transformations through makeup.
Hair lead Robert Pandini concentrated on the other trappers (including Oscar-nominated Tom Hardy’s Fitzgerald) and came up with backstories for each of them. He also worked on the background performers. “Basically, with the Native Americans, we tried to create a look that wasn’t stereotypical of anything,” he explained. “I did a lot of period research of different tribes but Alejandro wanted something really specific that had never been seen before — very organic and a rough look.
“So I tried to get into the people’s heads and see what they would’ve done during the day. We came up with a textured, layered and weathered look of different products (including a Japanese wax mixed with oils) to keep it organic. When they’re riding on horses during battles you wanted to see their hair flying.”
For Fitzgerald’s scalping scenes, he was fitted with a bald cap and an appliance with several rigs underneath built into the hairline to have the blood coming out.
“And Alejandro was looking for a way to tell the story not just about characters, but also the place and the environment that people found themselves in from the voice of someone in the 1820s. That goal was realized not just through layers of ambient sounds and distant animals, but also by the close-up sensation of the sounds from Glass’ perspective. And when you’re with Glass crawling through the ice and the snow, you get cold yourself because you’re feeling every flake of snow falling by the wayside.”
Bender traveled to Colorado for a week with a recordist and foley artist and made more than 300 sonic recordings with corresponding picture footage to replicate the interplay of character and camera on screen.
The director wanted the other sound editor, Martin Hernandez — who couldn’t be on location like Bender — to think in terms of narrative specifics. “Why are we here now? What is the camera’s point of view? So we started talking about those things,” Hernandez recounted.
Then they were running out of time and Hernandez recommended Randy Thom handle the sonics for the bear scene. Thom took a week to record bear vocalizations and a sick horse for the injured grizzly, underplaying for greater realism.
The bravura opening ambush had its own emotional beats to contend with. “We had this amazing temp cue from John Luther Adams (‘Become Ocean’) and Alejandro used it and it was clear that it was heading to a very subjective point of view after the naturalistic approach. We hear the arrows and then they fade away in a subjective way.”
Even though Iñárritu mapped this objective/subjective sonic approach from the beginning, it didn’t come together until mixing. And in mixing for Dolby Atmos, they played all of the sounds in relationship to Glass’ experiences, utilizing all of the speakers. For example, just before the bear attack, we witness Glass in different points and there’s a falling tree that you hear from right to left just like a panning camera.
“When you were with Glass sonically, you were with Glass emotionally,” Bender continued. “Sounds would be close to his ear or in the distance, but even when there’s a lack of sound, such as when he carries his colleague to the river, you’re still overwhelmed by the intensity.”
It’s like a symphony as “The Revenant” floats in and out of reality, memories and dreams.