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Denis Villeneuve Spent a Full ‘Year of Work’ Designing the ‘Dune’ Sandworms

The new on-screen look of the sandworms is one of the bigger questions "Dune" fans have about Villeneuve's upcoming fantasy epic.

"Dune"

“Dune”

Warner Bros/Lionsgate

Pulling off the spectacle of “Dune” requires a director to faithfully and immaculately adapt many elements of novelist Frank Herbert’s beloved book series, including bringing his giant sandworm creatures to the big screen. Director Denis Villeneuve tells Empire magazine (via /Film) that such a task was so important and so detailed for his upcoming “Dune” adaptation that he spent a full year designing and perfecting the look of the sandworms.

The creatures are of paramount importance to the success of “Dune” as they roam the desert wastelands of the planet Arrakis, a setting that becomes owned by the Atreides family. Arrakis is home to the world’s most valuable resource, a human-enhancement drug known as “the spice,” but harvesting it means risking your life against the sandworms.

“We talked about every little detail that would make such a beast possible, from the texture of the skin, to the way the mouth opens, to the system to eat its food in the sand,” Villeneuve said to Empire. “It was a year of work to design and to find the perfect shape that looked prehistoric enough.”

The sandworms in David Lynch’s infamous 1984 “Dune” adaptation were created by special effects guru Carlo Rambaldi, famous for creating the eponymous alien in Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” The creatures alone reportedly cost Lynch’s production an extra $2 million. Lynch largely relied on practical effect models and miniature sets to pull off the sandworms, whose mouths and bodies were operated by crew members. While it was a herculean task to create the sandworms, most critics agreed the visual effects in Lynch’s “Dune” were one of its weakest parts.

Villeneuve’s “Dune” stars Timothée Chalamet in the lead role opposite a cast that includes Oscar Isaac, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Stellan Skarsgard, and Rebecca Ferguson. To best capture the look of the desert planet Arrakis, Villeneuve took the production to Jordan. Chalamet said shooting in the real desert while wearing the film’s “stillsuits” costumes made the production unbearable at times.

“I remember going out of my room at 2 a.m., and it being probably 100 degrees,” Chalamet said to Vanity Fair last month. “The shooting temperature was sometimes 120 degrees. They put a cap on it out there, if it gets too hot. I forget what the exact number is, but you can’t keep working. In a really grounded way, it was helpful to be in the stillsuits and to be at that level of exhaustion.”

Warner Bros. is scheduled to open “Dune” in theaters on December 18.

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