From Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures comes the action adventure “The Legend of Tarzan,” starring Alexander Skarsgård (“Diary of a Teenage Girl,” HBO’s “True Blood”) as the legendary character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
The film also stars Oscar nominee Samuel L. Jackson (“Pulp Fiction,” the “Captain America” films), Margot Robbie (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” upcoming “Suicide Squad”), Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou (“Blood Diamond,” “Gladiator”), with Oscar winner Jim Broadbent (“Iris”), and two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds,” “Django Unchained”).
It has been years since the man once known as Tarzan (Skarsgård) left the jungles of Africa behind for a gentrified life as John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, with his beloved wife, Jane (Robbie), at his side. Now, he has been invited back to the Congo to serve as a trade emissary of Parliament, unaware that he is a pawn in a deadly convergence of greed and revenge, masterminded by the King of Belgium’s envoy, Leon Rom (Waltz). But those behind the murderous plot have no idea what they are about to unleash.
David Yates (the final four “Harry Potter” films, upcoming “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”) directed “The Legend of Tarzan” from a screenplay by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, story by Brewer and Cozad based on the Tarzan stories created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Legendary producer Jerry Weintraub (“Behind the Candelabra,” the “Ocean’s” trilogy) produced the film, together with David Barron (the “Harry Potter” films, “Cinderella”), Alan Riche (“Southpaw”) and Tony Ludwig (“Starsky & Hutch”). Susan Ekins, Nikolas Korda, Keith Goldberg, David Yates, Mike Richardson and Bruce Berman served as executive producers.
The behind-the-scenes creative team included director of photography Henry Braham (“The Golden Compass,” upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”), Oscar-winning production designer Stuart Craig (“Dangerous Liaisons,” “The English Patient,” the “Harry Potter” films), editor Mark Day (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts 1 & 2”), and Oscar-nominated costume designer Ruth Myers (“Emma,” “Unknown”). The music is composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams (“Grown Ups”).
“The Legend of Tarzan” was shot at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden, with additional photography being accomplished in the African country of Gabon and in the Dolomites of Italy, as well as on location around the UK.
Warner Bros. Pictures presents, in association with Village Roadshow Pictures, in association with RatPac-Dune Entertainment, a Jerry Weintraub Production, a Riche/Ludwig Production, a Beaglepug Production, a David Yates Film, “The Legend of Tarzan.” The film will be distributed in 2D and 3D in theatres and IMAX by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, and in select territories by Village Roadshow Pictures.
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please visit: https://mediapass.warnerbros.com
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
The gentleman summoned to #10 Downing Street by the Prime Minister of England is John Clayton III, fifth Earl of Greystoke, and a member of the House of Lords. But half a world away, and what seems like a lifetime ago, he had gone by another name…a name that has since become legend. Tarzan.
Following his work on the final four “Harry Potter” films, director David Yates says he was hoping to find another project “that was epic and filled with action and spectacle, and then along came this script. It immediately grabbed me; it was a very fresh take on this iconic figure.”
Alexander Skarsgård, who takes on the film’s title role, agrees. “I was really blown away by the script. It has all the thrills you’d want, but it also has three-dimensional characters and relationships that are beautifully drawn. I love movies that are big and fun, but where you’re also invested in the people and care about what happens to them.”
Producer David Barron remarks that the film takes the character beyond what audiences might expect. “Tarzan is one of the original action heroes, but this movie is going to surprise people who think they know the story. He grew up in the jungle, raised by apes, so his powers are his incredible strength and his senses, which are all magnified.”
In this all new adventure, Tarzan is confronted with a formidable enemy who threatens to destroy everything—and everyone—he loves. But after spending years among the British gentry, he also faces grave danger from old adversaries who have been awaiting his return to Africa.
As the film opens, Yates offers, “John is invited by Belgium’s King Leopold to return to the Congo, ostensibly to see all the good and charitable works the King has undertaken, though this seemingly grand gesture is a ruse and, effectively, a trap. He is, in fact, being lured back by the King’s treacherous envoy, Leon Rom, who intends to capture Tarzan and deliver him to an old enemy in exchange for a fortune in diamonds.”
Skarsgård says, “John grew up among the apes, but he has been away from that world for almost a decade, so he is quite hesitant to go back. He has some enemies back in the Congo; there’s definitely a dark history there. And I think, more interestingly, he’s afraid of the man he was, so going back is quite scary for him.”
Raising the stakes, his beloved wife, Jane, insists on accompanying her husband to Africa, the place she still considers home. Against his better judgment, John relents.
Margot Robbie, who stars as Jane, appreciated the film’s more contemporary approach to the couple. “It’s set in the 1800s, but it has a very modern feel to it, with universal themes that are applicable no matter what day and age it is,” she says. “There is a fantastic adventure, but with a wonderful romance at its core. I liked that it’s not the origin story of Tarzan and Jane meeting in the jungle. Their relationship is more complex now.”
The screenplay for “The Legend of Tarzan” was written by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer from their own story. Cozad reveals, “One thing that was very important to me, and also spoke to David Yates, was the sweeping romance between John, or Tarzan, and Jane.”
“I was a huge fan of the books,” Brewer recalls, “so I felt it was crucial to include certain characters and settings from Burroughs’ classic tales, and, of course, that begins with Tarzan and Jane. But we wanted to ground the story in historical events surrounding King Leopold’s occupation of the Congo, so it was interesting to involve them with people connected to that time and place.”
Though Tarzan and Jane are fictional, they interact with two main characters loosely based on figures who actually existed: George Washington Williams, a courageous soldier-turned-humanitarian, played by Samuel L. Jackson; and the main antagonist, Leon Rom, played by Christoph Waltz.
Yates observes, “The story plays out within the historical context of what was happening in the Congo at that time, which I found very compelling. And it also had themes that always intrigue me—with a character still figuring out who he is and where he truly belongs. Most importantly, when I first read the script, I felt I’d found something that had a big, beating heart.”
Alan Riche, who with his partner, Tony Ludwig, was a producer on the movie, comments, “The development of this film was quite a journey, but it was David Yates who guided us home. His considerable talents, and those of our cast and crew, combined to bring us a great movie-going experience.”
Barron, who had collaborated with Yates on the “Harry Potter” films, states, “David brought all of his experience on those films to ‘The Legend of Tarzan.’ His ease working on a feature with a big cast, massive sets and a lot of major stunts and his understanding of complicated visual effects is exactly what you need for a movie like this. He’s also the nicest person on the planet—a man of great taste and integrity—and encased in that nice exterior is a core of steel. He has a real point of view and is definitive about what he wants and doesn’t want. He’s a very intelligent listener and is always willing to take advice…when it’s good advice.”
Christoph Waltz notes, “David had a very specific vision, but was very open to my suggestions, so it was immensely gratifying to have the feeling of being heard. He had the monumental job of bringing all the different strings of the production together and tying them into a beautiful knot, and I wanted to do everything I could to support that. He is the sweetest person you could ever imagine. He gets everything he wants that way,” the actor smiles.
Their sentiments are shared by Samuel L. Jackson, who adds, “This film is largely about relationships—not only between our characters but also with the land, the tribes, the animals and everything they encounter. David paid attention to that and allowed us to nuance things in such a way that people would invest themselves in the human relationships and emotional impact as much as in the adventure.”
“David is incredibly visionary, and working with him was an amazing experience,” says Robbie. “The atmosphere on a movie set is dictated by the director and being on our set was a pleasure. That really came from David; he’s got such a gentle demeanor.”
There was another influential presence on the set who left an indelible impression on everyone involved: producer Jerry Weintraub. The cast and filmmakers are thankful they got to work with one of the giants of the industry. Skarsgård attests, “The fact that Jerry Weintraub was producing the film was one of the things that got me excited about the project. He was such a remarkable producer and human being…just a lovely, lovely man.”
Yates reflects, “Jerry was kind yet tough, insightful, funny, a true showman. He had complete faith in the people he chose to work with, and inevitably made them all feel at least ten feet tall. He was a true champion of ‘The Legend of Tarzan,’ which he had been developing for a number of years. It was an honor for all of us to bring to fruition a movie he was so determined to bring into the world. We miss him greatly.”
“Larger than life is an oft-used phrase, but in Jerry Weintraub’s case it was completely accurate,” Barron states. “He was a true one-off: passionate, articulate, thoughtful, knowledgeable and fun. He had a huge enthusiasm for everything but particularly for ‘Tarzan,’ and I know he would have been very proud of the completed film. I enjoyed our too-short collaboration and I regret there won’t be more.”
The film reunited Yates and Barron with several of their “Harry Potter” associates, including production designer Stuart Craig, editor Mark Day, and visual effects supervisor Tim Burke. The creative team also included director of photography Henry Braham, costume designer Ruth Myers and composer Rupert Gregson-Williams. It would take all their skill and experience, as well as a close collaboration between their departments, to complete the film.
Production on “The Legend of Tarzan” involved an extraordinary fusion of brilliant design, groundbreaking aerial photography and state-of-the-art visual effects, all merging to present the spectacular landscapes and wild inhabitants of Africa, while shooting almost entirely on the stages and backlot of Leavesden in England. And though the human characters interact with a variety of African species, no real animals were used in the making of the film. All of the creatures—from gorillas to lions to elephants and more—were entirely brought to life, in stunningly realistic form, through cutting-edge CGI.
During pre-production, Josh Ponte, who spent the last 15 years striving to preserve the wildlife and natural resources of the African nation of Gabon, had arranged for a military helicopter to show David Yates the splendor of the country’s lush forests, cliffs, rivers and waterfalls. The director spent four days marveling at the beauty of the terrain unfolding beneath him and knew he had found his setting. Those remote landscapes—ultimately captured in a six-week location shoot following filming at Leavesden—provided the wealth of geographically diverse backdrops that seamlessly melded with Stuart Craig’s sets.
After guiding that first scouting trip to Gabon, Ponte went on to serve as the project’s African technical advisor, becoming an invaluable consultant for virtually every department. “It was incredible having Josh with us,” confirms Barron. “He has spent a huge amount of time working in Africa, and Gabon in particular, and is extremely knowledgeable about everything from the historical context of our story to the village culture to the animals.”
“‘The Legend of Tarzan’ takes us to a world of adventure in deepest Africa, which is as exotic and awe-inspiring as anywhere on this planet,” says Yates. “We wanted to make a movie that was thrilling while touching on the themes of family and community and preserving the natural world. It celebrates the majesty of those landscapes, the dignity and grace of the people who live there, and the wonder of its animals. The story has so many facets that we think make it a rich and very exciting experience in the cinema.”
At the start of the film, Yates offers, “John has left his life as Tarzan behind and taken up the mantle of being Lord Greystoke, with his wife, Jane, at his side.”
Yet, despite having lived there for a number of years, “John is still trying to fit into life in Victorian England,” Skarsgård remarks. “There’s a part of him that he’s managed to keep hidden all this time, and understanding that was an important step in finding the character. The dichotomy between man and beast has always been fascinating to me, and when you take a character like John, that dichotomy is so extreme. You start with him as the buttoned-up British lord and then slowly peel off the layers to become Tarzan again. It was wonderful to play that transformation.”
Yates says there were several reasons he knew Skarsgård was the right actor for the film’s central role. “He had everything, beginning with the fact that he’s a really gifted actor. Of course, he had the size and could portray Tarzan’s heroic attributes, but he was also able to dig deep to convey his fragility and vulnerability. That combination made him perfect, because our Tarzan is actually quite a layered, complicated human being. Alex could deliver it all.”
One crucial quality in the casting of both Skarsgård and Robbie was the chemistry between the two actors. “It was vital to immediately feel the love between John and Jane,” Yates affirms, “because they are separated not long after arriving in Africa. Although they are kept apart for a significant amount of time, you have to believe their bond is unbreakable.”
“I think their romance is what gives you the emotional investment in the outcome of the story because, at the end of the day, you want them to be reunited,” Robbie relates. “I’m a sucker for a good love story, and the mere notion that Tarzan will go to the ends of the earth to get Jane back can make you a little giddy…especially when it’s Alexander Skarsgård,” she smiles. “He has a great presence and was so committed to his role, but beyond that, he’s just the nicest, nicest guy and a dream to work with.”
The feeling was mutual. “Margot is so lovely and has the most effervescent personality,” Skarsgård says. “It was so much fun working with her. She’s also a pretty tough Australian girl, and definitely tapped into that in creating Jane.”
The director points to Robbie’s innate strength as a reason he wanted her for the role. “Jane has to be feisty and passionate. She’s not a wilting flower waiting to be saved; she can kick some ass. Margot is not only an amazing actress, she has spunk and I love that about her. She made Jane a formidable, contemporary woman.”
Robbie makes it clear she would not have had it any other way, stating, “I’ve never wanted to play the damsel in distress, and Jane is anything but. David and I both agreed that she should be perceived as a very fiery and strong person, so I was excited about that. She is capable of fighting back, which also creates a terrific dynamic with Christoph Waltz’s character, who is the main villain. It’s more like mind games between them, which is interesting because while there are physical battles going on, you also have fighting on an intellectual field.”
Waltz plays Leon Rom, a Belgian envoy who enters into a diabolical deal—trading Tarzan’s life for a fortune in diamonds, enough to refill King Leopold’s empty coffers. Rom sets his trap with an invitation for Lord Greystoke to return to the Congo, but never anticipated that Jane would be the one caught in it. However, once there, she becomes a valuable pawn in his deadly game…the bait for his snare.
“Rom is a terrifying character and it’s somewhat daunting for Jane to go head-to-head with him,” says Robbie. “And definitely, in real life, the idea of acting opposite Christoph was also very intimidating at first. He kept me on my toes, which was a lot of fun.”
Waltz remarks, “Margot is one of the loveliest people on Earth and just wonderful to work with.”
Though it is a highly fictionalized portrait, the character of Leon Rom is partly based on a real person of the time. Waltz observes, “It gives the film an anchor in history, which is something you would not expect in an adventure story of this kind. And in this case, it’s rather elegantly done.”
Yates recalls, “We went on a real journey with Christoph in developing his character, and he brought a lot to the process, which we welcomed. His instincts go beyond just character; he is always invested in story and context, making him a wonderful partner in the filmmaking process. We had some very in-depth discussions and, in the process, uncovered a Rom that intrigued us both.”
Barron concurs, “From the moment Christoph is on screen, he’s mesmerizing. Rom is undeniably ruthless, but he brings humor to the role in surprising ways. He is fiercely intelligent and the nicest man, not to mention a total team player—everything you could want.”
Rom is not the only one who wants Tarzan to return to Africa. When John Clayton turns down King Leopold’s invitation, an American named George Washington Williams entreats him to accept, albeit with a very different motive from Rom. Samuel L. Jackson portrays the character, who was also loosely based on an actual person of the day. The actor shares, “George needs Tarzan to go to the Congo so he can go with him. He needs to find proof that what he suspects is true: despite all claims to the contrary, there is slavery going on.”
Interestingly, Jackson had recently discovered that his own ancestry has ties in Gabon, which, he says, “gave me a better place to start emotionally and, artistically, to understand who the character is. George Washington Williams was, in actuality, one of the first African Americans to go to the Congo after King Leopold claimed it as his own. Because of the time he was born, he was maybe one generation away from being someone who could have been captured and sent into slavery. In the film, it’s obviously something that touches his heart, and that gave me an opportunity to understand him on a personal level.”
On a physical level, George had no idea what he was getting into and is unprepared for the demands of keeping up with Tarzan in the jungle, generating both tension and humor. Skarsgård details, “It’s a terrain he doesn’t know, so John warns him that it will be impossible for him to keep up. But then George is always there, a couple of steps behind…panting,” he laughs.
“Over time, they start to connect and build a bond,” Yates says, adding, “I was always set on Sam for the role of George because, for me, he is one of the world’s great actors. Period. He brought authority, dignity and conviction to the role, as well as a sense of humor.”
The bargain Leon Rom strikes is with an old enemy of Tarzan’s: Mbonga, the Chief of the Mbolonga tribe, the guardians of the Opar region, which is rich in minerals…including diamonds.
Cast in the role, Djimon Hounsou notes, “Mbonga knows the wealth his country has but perhaps doesn’t understand that it can also be a serious liability in the wrong hands. He is a powerful character but emotionally scarred by something that happened in the past with Tarzan. After so many years, his anger has grown, and it’s gotten the best of him. He makes a deal with Leon Rom to lure Tarzan back to Africa, but he is blinded by revenge and doesn’t realize he’s making a deal with the devil.”
A native of Africa, Hounsou goes on to reflect, “I have always loved the beauty of Africa, but unfortunately, it is a continent that was voiceless and still is in many respects. So although the story is entirely fictional, some of its themes are still relevant in an organic way.”
“Djimon is magnificent,” Yates says. “I desperately wanted him for the role of Mbonga and was thrilled when he said yes. I needed an actor who has real substance, grace and power, with a genuine emotional quality, and Djimon possesses all of that.”
Arriving in Africa, John and Jane are reunited with their extended family, the Kuba tribe, who welcome their return in joy and song. The songs and much of the dialogue spoken by the actors playing members of the Kuba, as well as Skarsgård and Robbie, were in Lingala.
“Speaking in Lingala was by far the most difficult thing for me,” Robbie reveals. “There was one scene where Jane has a lot of dialogue in Lingala, and there was one line I just couldn’t get down. After a few attempts, it just became funny and everyone was cracking up, which didn’t make it any easier. It was hilarious.”
“I don’t know if Lingala was the language of the real Kuba in the 1890s; I imagine they had their own,” Ponte speculates. “But there are about 50 languages spoken in the region, so it was just about settling on one, and Lingala was the one they picked. We had a specialist come in to coach the actors on the dialect.”
An authority on 19th-century African history, Ponte held workshops for the actors and British-born extras. Ponte also helped arrange some of the songs heard in the village, based on his own knowledge and experience, but he discovered that some things just can’t be taught. “I started playing them a call and response chant I’d recorded and they immediately had it. I said to David, ‘You’ve just got to let them go.’ In Gabon, they call it ‘the spirits turning up.’ The spirits turned up.”
Yates comments, “We wanted to celebrate community in our film and that is especially personified in the Kuba, so we spent a long time putting the tribe together. They all brought such warmth to the experience of shooting those scenes; the energy was tangible. You would step onto the village set on the back lot and immediately felt transported to another place.”
Not all of the reunions are with humans. “The Legend of Tarzan” features an array of magnificent creatures; however, no live animals were used in the making of the film. David Barron emphasizes, “We would not use real animals because it’s very difficult to get wild animals, like big cats, elephants and great apes, to do what you want them to do in a way that’s humane—treating them the way they should be treated. And with the advancements in modern technology today, it’s not necessary. CG animals do exactly what you want, whenever you want, which is fabulous.”
Visual effects supervisor Tim Burke collaborated with a number of VFX houses, including Framestore, MPC, and Rodeo FX, to bring an assorted menagerie to the screen in strikingly lifelike fashion. In every case, the different teams began by watching documentary footage, studying the behaviors of the various animals in the wild. Some also took trips to zoos to observe them in person, noticing they behaved quite differently in captivity versus their natural habitats. Based on those reference materials, the CG animators faithfully re-created the native fauna seen in the film, including gorillas, lions, elephants, gazelles, zebras, hippopotamuses, ostriches, wildebeest, crocodiles and more.
The variety of species upped the ante for the visual effects teams. Burke explains, “Techniques have been developed to create fur, feathers and skin, but it gets very complex when you’re dealing with something on this scale—just being able to render the huge number of elements in so many shots. It’s only in the last few years that you would attempt something of this size and know you could realize it. The bar is constantly being raised, and we just have to keep chasing it.”
That bar was raised even higher in instances where the animals interacted directly with Tarzan, whether he’s nuzzling with a lioness, marveling at the nobility of elephants or reconnecting with the Mangani gorillas he once called family. “One of the things I love about Tarzan is his ability to communicate with the animals,” says Yates. “I think it’s one of the more magical aspects of the film.”
In those scenes, a stunt performer in a gray suit became a stand-in for the animal, allowing both Skarsgård and the VFX team to have the proper reference points for the action. A prime example was the fight between Tarzan and his gorilla brother, Akut. Burke recounts, “We designed a big padded suit as well as a transparent helmet that gave the stuntman the overall dimensions of Akut. It was very important to give Alex something to react to that was the same size and shape as Akut; otherwise, we’d later get into all sorts of problems with Alex putting his arms through Akut’s body or intersecting with bits of him he shouldn’t be intersecting with. It was not motion capture—it was only used as a guide for the actors and animators—but it helped massively.”
As guides, it was not only important for the stunt performers to approximate the size of the gorillas but also to mimic their actions. To that end, the stunt team, led by stunt coordinator Buster Reeves, collaborated with movement choreographer Wayne McGregor. “They didn’t have to move exactly like a gorilla,” McGregor clarifies, “but they had to embody the essence of being a gorilla. The discipline required not thinking like a human, so we did several workshops to explore what that meant. What happens to your carriage considering you’re nowhere near the same weight? How is it to walk on all fours and then shift to bipedal? What happens to your head, shoulders, arms and legs? What do the different gestures signify?”
Reeves adds, “Wayne and I really worked hand-in-hand to get the best out of the action. The hardest thing for my team was not reverting back to acting like a person because the natural inclination, especially in a fight scene, is to move as a human would. To stay within the animal realm was the biggest challenge.”
Skarsgård, however, had an even more demanding task: channeling the ever-shrinking divide between John Clayton and Tarzan. The actor attests, “A big part of playing the character is finding that arc—starting as the buttoned up, proper British lord and then letting his animalistic side slowly emerge. That transition was something David, Wayne and I talked a lot about. At the beginning of the film when he’s in London, we sprinkled in a couple of little moments that are slightly odd, and over the course of his journey, his posture and the way he moves changes.”
“Wayne brought a very original thought process to exploring the physical side of Tarzan,” Yates says. “He would always equip Alex with surprising ideas that added enormous value to our exploration of the character.”
In preparation for his role, Skarsgård immersed himself in an intense training regimen, which physical trainer Magnus Lydgback says was tailored to his character. “We started with heavy lifting and cardio and had a mobile gym on set. But if you’re playing someone like Tarzan, who needs to be more shredded and move through the jungle like a panther, you can’t stick to the gym all the time. So we switched it up with swimming, running, boxing and different types of martial arts.”
Yates was duly impressed with his star’s commitment. “Alex never stopped. He worked out for two hours at the beginning of the day and would then go back to it at the end of the day. He did everything he could to be the perfect Tarzan. And for me, he is.”
Of course, part of being the ideal Tarzan is his gravity-defying method of traversing the jungle. The director specifies, “You cannot have a Tarzan movie without him swinging through the jungle on vines, but we wanted to make it even more spectacular.”
Burke allows that the only way to achieve the desired distance, speed and fluidity of motion was to employ CG effects. “For the sequences of Tarzan doing things like swinging through the trees and diving off cliffs, we decided to create a fully CG character just to give us the freedom of movement we needed.” A Cirque du Soleil trapeze artist served as a model for the animators, showcasing the proper form and motion.
However, the face belongs to Skarsgård alone. Burke outlines, “For this film we developed an interesting way of shooting facial capture for him. We built a large circular rig of 16 RED Dragon cameras to film Alex’s facial performance in real time. From that we were able to generate a real-time geometry of his face along with flat lit textures, which we then mapped onto that CG character. It allowed us to get his actual performance with his own facial characteristics, which we then relit to match each scene. So even though the body is CG, you’re seeing Alex’s face.”
AFRICA TO ENGLAND
On a far bigger scale, the production broke new ground in the use of the small RED 6K cameras to film the breathtaking landscapes of Gabon, which would serve as the primary setting for the story. Months prior to the start of principal photography, Josh Ponte arranged to borrow the helicopter belonging to the president of Gabon to take Yates on a scouting flight. “David was like a kid in a candy shop, with his nose pressed firmly against the window,” Ponte recalls. “He was seeing places he’d only imagined in his mind’s eye. We all have an idea of what Tarzan’s world might look like, but this was the real deal.”
Nevertheless, it would prove to be logistically unfeasible and environmentally unsound to drop an entire film company into the untamed wilds of Gabon to shoot the bulk of the movie. Instead the filmmakers devised a way to lens the beauty of Gabon from the air. They commissioned the manufacture of a six-camera housing, which was fitted onto a mount built by Shotover, a company that specializes in aerial camera systems for cinema. The camera array, in two rows of three, was then mounted on a helicopter, which allowed director of photography Henry Braham to capture the different terrains of Gabon in stunning detail.
Braham relates, “It made a huge difference for me to shoot this material myself because I knew exactly what light conditions and landscape I needed for each scene and could shoot the backgrounds to match exactly, which was challenging in a fast-changing tropical environment. We also shot additional landscape material to lend more visual scale to the movie.”
For certain scenes, like traveling down rivers or inside the jungle, they used a long-line technique: suspending the array, or a conventional camera from a 50-foot wire, allowing the cameras to shoot in places inaccessible from the ground.
The six-week location shoot provided Burke’s VFX team with overlapping tiled background plates that, together, formed a larger moving image. Burke elucidates, “The six cameras provided an almost 180-degree field of view, but we then did a pass looking forward and another looking backward and then sideways, which effectively gave us a moving 360-degree tile that was photographically real and could be mapped into any shot. The results are great because you’ve got live action combined with live action, so it all feels real and seamless. I would say we definitely pushed the limits of plate shooting. I know I have never done anything as advanced or as adventurous as that before.”
During principal photography, Braham also utilized the same cameras in what he describes as “the opposite extreme from the helicopter shoot.” He explains, “For the visual language of the film, David wanted to employ a lot of close camerawork to counter the wider cinematic scale of the picture and to gain a more emotionally intimate perspective, which we developed throughout the shooting of the movie. To achieve the versatility we needed, we worked with RED to make their newly developed 6K camera suitable for these challenges. The combination of lightweight, compact technology and large negative area helped produce astounding images. ‘The Legend of Tarzan’ is one of the first movies to be shot with this technology.”
Yates, who was collaborating with Braham for the first time raves, “Henry was a force of nature. He was doing everything: lighting, handling the Steadicam, running around with the handheld… After four days, I took him aside and said, ‘Henry, this is brilliant. It all looks fantastic. But it’s a long shoot, so why don’t you let someone else operate the Steadicam or the handheld?’ But he said, ‘David, I’ll be fine,’ and at the end of filming, he was still going strong. He contributed so much to the aesthetic of the movie. He was a real partner.”
“The Legend of Tarzan” marked Yates’s fifth partnership with production designer Stuart Craig, which the director says gave him total confidence in their ability to bring Africa to Leavesden. “After all our years on ‘Harry Potter,’ I knew he could build this world. We wanted it to feel like we were in Africa, but a lush and romantic version of the continent—really heightened in a way that added to the movie feeling epic and sweeping. So the process started with Stuart and his designs and then we synthesized those sets with the CG extensions of that world from Gabon, which gave us complete control over the environment.”
Taking over two entire soundstages, Craig and his team “grew” entire jungles that had to be redressed repeatedly as the characters moved through them. Craig details, “All told, there were seven different versions of the jungle sets so you would not feel you were constantly in the same place. It’s a huge task for an art department to replicate nature on that scale, and the ever-changing scenery added to the challenge.”
Yates offers, “One of Stuart’s skills, working with (supervising art director) James Hambidge, was reinventing the jungle sets as we moved through the story. At the start, we wondered if we would be able to make it work, but Stuart rocked it. He was able to reconceive the spaces so they felt different even though they were on the same stage.”
Set decorator Anna Pinnock and greens supervisor Lucinda McLean travelled to Holland to obtain the large assortment of exotic flora needed to fill their rainforest. Special lights and an irrigation system were installed to maintain the plants, turning the stages into de facto greenhouses.
Mixed in with the natural plants, the art department fabricated a variety of trees, “designing them as pieces of sculpture,” says Craig. “As we went along, we learned the trick was not to bury the trees in the foliage, but to put the foliage behind them to throw the trees into silhouette. It’s like flower arranging, but on a massive scale,” he laughs.
Visual effects were also a key component in making the jungle, and other sets, even more vast, extending them as far as the eye could see.
The backlot at Leavesden became the site for a number of major sets, including the Kuba village, with its thatched roof huts, and Mbonga’s lair, surrounded by steep, jagged cliffs. The giant rock formations were crafted from large molds made from impressions taken at a slate quarry in Wales. The mountainous terrain forming the backdrop of the setting was captured in the Dolomites in northern Italy.
The centerpiece of the set was the working waterfall cascading over the mountain. Special effects supervisor David Watkins offers, “A lot of R&D went into making it feel real and not look like water being poured off the top of the set. We used huge in-line diesel pumps, which we sprayed off deflector plates; this separated the water and gave it layers.”
“It was essentially two waterfalls running together over a 100-foot-high cliff,” adds Craig. “It was a tremendous volume of water and the result was more spectacular than I ever imagined. And unlike a real waterfall, we could turn it off, which was an enormous advantage.”
The cast was equally impressed. “The sets were unbelievable,” declares Skarsgård. “I’ve never seen anything like it before. And it was a huge help to the actors to feel like we were actually in those environments.”
Waltz agrees, “To have movie sets that vast, with waterfalls, rivers and jungles… The scope was almost unfathomable, and it was all gorgeous.”
The special effects team also collaborated with Craig’s art department on the construction of the large wooden pier, erected on the edge of Leavesden’s water tank, which was then destroyed in a key sequence. Watkins details, “It was a big structure—100 feet long and about 40 feet high—and its demolition was all done practically, so it was quite the task. It took a great deal of preparation as it first had to serve as a functional set piece that was safe for the cast and crew to work on. We then removed all the safety reinforcements allowing it to collapse on cue.”
A number of scenes take place on Leon Rom’s steam paddle boat, which was an actual floating craft. Art director Christian Huband, who is a boat specialist, expands, “It was built on military-style floating pontoons. We created a superstructure to carry the decks, cabins and working engines that appear to power the paddlewheel. The boat was actually controlled by outboard motors, operated from hidden positions around the vessel. There was no hull, as such, but it had sides that extended just a few inches below the water line.”
The boat was first used on Virginia Water Lake in Windsor Great Park, then dismantled and trucked to Leavesden, where it was rebuilt in the tank.
Filming was also accomplished at several other UK locations, most notably the stately Kedleston Hall, which doubled for Greystoke Manor. The 18th-century Derbyshire landmark, now owned by the National Trust, had all the qualities the filmmakers desired for the Claytons’ ancestral home. Craig confirms, “It’s a huge home with massive marble columns, a beautiful piece of neoclassical architecture. The austerity of it was a key ingredient because we needed a sense of the forbidding, which contributes to our perception of John Clayton’s situation.”
The magnificent cedar tree where John and Jane share a romantic moment was chosen because of its large horizontal branches. It was found on the grounds of Highclere Castle, made famous by the series “Downton Abbey.”
Alexander Skarsgård’s costumes, designed by Ruth Myers, also mirror his character’s circumstances, undergoing a gradual but distinct metamorphosis as Tarzan reemerges. Myers says, “It was very important that John Clayton’s London clothes appear to keep him tightly constricted, so although they are beautifully cut, they look very confining in the beginning. Then, of course, as time goes on, his clothing becomes more and more deconstructed and distressed to the point when they are caked with dirt and mud, giving him a completely organic feeling.”
Jane’s wardrobe likewise starts out more restrictive, though, even in London, she shows signs of rebelling against the fashion of the day. “When we first see her, we wanted to get a sense that England is hemming her in because her upbringing in Africa was very free. So her clothes were designed with the period in mind but they’re not entirely accurate. She never wears a petticoat, which a lady of that day would always have worn. The impression is that she is a bit of a rebel.”
Margot Robbie says she particularly appreciated that Jane ditches her corset at the first opportunity. “I was really happy about that because the thought of wearing a corset for months, especially running around, was just awful. So I was right onboard with that. And I think it worked for the character perfectly. The view of what glamour is in England doesn’t matter to her, and she’s not going to turn up in a corset in the jungle because it’s just not practical.”
Color also came into play. Myers illustrates, “Margot is first seen in a blue dress, which she looks wonderful in, but blue went with the idea of London being cold. And then when she arrives in Africa, she comes back into the light.”
Leon Rom is outfitted almost entirely in white because “he is a persnickety, immaculate man,” says Myers. “Every time his suit gets dirty, he puts a clean one on.”
Myers suggests, “Although the costumes are the essence of the period, David and I agreed they should not be exactly authentic to the period. We cheated on a few little things, but there was room for that because we wanted to give our world a heightened reality.”
“Ruth was such an inspiring collaborator,” Yates says. “She brought so much passion and enthusiasm to her work and did a tremendous job.”
Myers especially enjoyed getting creative with the tribal clothes, primarily the leopard warrior costume worn by Djimon Hounsou, which obviously contained no actual leopard parts. “It was a major undertaking,” Myers says. “We took a huge amount of time on his headdress and claws. David Yates and I spent hours going over all sorts of prototypes before we came up with the final look. The costume itself was very imposing with massive shoulders and the headdress, which is meant to be frightening.
Hounsou attests that the costume had the desired effect. “From a cultural perspective for Africans, if you’re trying to emulate an animal, you must become that animal, so Mbonga is wearing the claws, skin and skull of a leopard to literally embody a leopard. I must say, the look is quite impressive; everything about it indicates he’s a force to be reckoned with. When I put the costume on, I felt like a warrior…I really felt as if I could move like a leopard.”
The African themes are also reflected in the score, composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams. “It was vital that we felt the emotional pull of Africa for Tarzan,” he affirms. “The movie opens with the beautiful voice of Zoe Mthiyane calling for us. I played with different instruments—a lot of drums, of course, and West African flutes, too.”
The composer also created themes for the different characters. He shares, “Tarzan has a theme, both brave and emotional, and I also composed a love theme for Tarzan and Jane. Tarzan is desperate to rescue her from the clutches of Captain Rom, so the melody connects them across the jungle.”
“The music is orchestral, but it’s also very tonal and atmospheric, incorporating elements from Africa,” Yates reflects. “It’s not just filling in the spaces; it goes much deeper than that. I wanted the music to explore the characters with us and go along on the journey.”
The director concludes, “The wonderful thing about making movies is you can take an audience to a mythic place like Africa, which is quite fantastic. They don’t have to travel; they can just step into the cinema and be swept away to another time and another world they might never have imagined. That’s a great privilege for a filmmaker.”
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