Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Visual and Technical Wizardry
One of the biggest set pieces of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is a showdown at the plantation of antagonist Adam (Rufus Sewell), where Abraham (Benjamin Walker) takes on dozens of vampires in a dizzying, dazzling dance of hand-to-hand (and axe-to-head) combat. The plantation melee is just one of several big action scenes, which also include a Civil War battle that sees Union soldiers overwhelmed – in shocking ways – by their Confederate foes who are more than what they seem.
Additionally, there’s a stampede unlike any you’ve experienced before, where Abraham finally exacts vengeance on the vampire, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), who killed his mother. Atop and across the backs of a thousand charging horses, Abraham runs, jumps, and fights, in a fast and furious battle against his powerful nemesis. The scene is a marvel of visual effects wizardry, overseen by visual effects supervisor Craig Lyn and Weta Digital, the house responsible for the groundbreaking VFX on “Avatar” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” among other notable titles.
Abraham is many years older and well into his presidency when he makes his last stand against his vampire foes in and on top of a train speeding to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – and the Civil War’s defining battle. For this gravity-defying action sequence, the filmmakers built a full-sized and faithfully recreated locomotive and tender. Here, too, the magic of the digital world gave Director Timur Bekmambetov the necessary tools to bring his unbridled imagination to life.
These action/fight/stunt scenes were born not in Hollywood, nor in the production’s home in New Orleans, but thousands of miles away, in Kazakhstan, home to fight choreographer Igor Tsay and his Acting School of Fighting Kun-Do. There, Tsay and his team storyboarded the elaborate action sequences, which were pre-visualized and further developed in Moscow.
In the weeks leading up to production, famed stunt coordinator Mic Rodgers (“Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “Wanted,” “The Fast and the Furious”) and fight coordinator Don Lee (“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”) worked with Walker to transform the actor into a battle-hardened, axe-wielding hunter of the undead. Walker’s grueling regimen included kicking, stretching, yoga, boxing, and endless hours training with Lincoln’s vampire-slaying weapon of choice: a specially tweaked axe.
The axe and many of the other props were the work of property master Guillaume DeLouche, who put together his own facility and brought to the production the last remaining craftspeople of their kind who specialize in historically correct manufacturing of axes, knives, guns and rifles. All weapons were built using methods identical to those employed in the 19th century. Abraham’s axe itself is an engineering marvel capable of transforming into a gun. It was hand-forged by a gunsmith and bladesmith, and custom made with a hickory handle.
Home to the production was the grand, resilient and historic city of New Orleans, some of whose well-preserved homes and buildings date back 150 years. The Louisiana metropolis is rich in vampire lore as it is home to Interview with a Vampire (and its many sequels) author Anne Rice. François Audouy designed the production, grounding the film in historical reality while providing majestic and richly textured sets, including the aforementioned Southern plantation and locomotive hurtling to Gettysburg.
Another key figure in bringing Lincoln’s world to life is legendary cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, ASC, a five-time Oscar-nominee for his work on such films as “The Natural” and “The Right Stuff,” and whose many other notable credits include the luminous “The Black Stallion” and “Being There.” Using the “new” to capture the “old,” Deschanel employed digital photography and high-tech Arri Alexa camera to give the film the proper period look. Deschanel’s painstaking methods produced magical, if sometimes delayed results.
The combination of rich period atmosphere, a unique perspective on our 16th president, and the army of the undead he’s hunting, makes for a motion picture experience like no other.
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