Artisans work behind the scenes to create magic for Oscar hopefuls8 min read
The voice behind ‘Natu Natu’
Kala Bhairav and Rahul Sipliganj are the singers who brought to life composer MM Kiravani’s Golden Globe winning and Oscar nominated song “Natu Natu” from SS Rajamouli’s “RRR”.
Featuring lyrics by Chandrabose, shot against the backdrop of the Mariinsky Palace in Kiev, Ukraine, features stars Ram Charan and NT Rama Rao Jr. in a dance-off.
Bhairav is Kiravani’s son and has seen the composer’s work since childhood. She made her film singing debut with “Raajanna” in 2011 and has since sung several hit songs. He made his filmmaking debut with 2019’s “Mathu Vadalara”.
“It was pretty simple. Rahul and I were instructed to perform the song with a non-stop attitude and maintain the energy as the song and the situation demanded. Also, getting a deep insight into the situation of the song also helped,” says Bhairav about the preparations for “Natu Natu”.
Sipliganje debuted as a film singer with “Dheera” (2009) and has since sung many hit songs, including several for Kiravani. The composer for “Natu Natu” told her that her voice would be used in the rough track and might not make it to the final version.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and I told myself ‘whatever it is, I will give it my best, because such opportunities don’t come knocking on our doors very often,'” says Sipliganj.
Sipliganj’s voice was not only reserved for Telugu-language songs, but the composer asked her to sing the Tamil-, Kannada- and Hindi-language versions as well. The singer, who did not know a word of Kannada or Tamil, credits the film’s line producer MM Srivalli and Bhairav, who supported him through the recording sessions.
— Naman Ramachandran
The man behind ‘Bones and All’ prosthetics
Jason Hammer’s twisted artistry as chief prosthetic designer on 2022’s “Bones and All” can be seen in many of the film’s bloodiest, most pivotal moments. Hammer’s influence on the feature dates back to the pre-production period, when he collaborated with director Luca Guadagnino to research the logistics of eating other people.
“[The goal] We were taking that knowledge and trying to recreate it with the materials we had,” says Hammer, owner and creative director of Hammer FX of the design process. “Because you have silicon and stuff, but they don’t work the way nature does – the way human flesh does. So you really have to manipulate it to do what you want it to do.”
The first thing Hammer’s visual-effects team tackled was the film’s brutal opening sequence, in which Maren (Taylor Russell) compulsively bites off the finger of one of her classmates as she sleeps. But silicone alone wouldn’t be enough to pull off the gory gag, as Hammer was quick to discover, so he reinforced the prosthetic finger with pantyhose to achieve a “synwy pill” effect. The prosthesis was carefully applied to the performer just before the close-up of her finger was revealed, which Hammer said took up to 90 minutes.
But Hammer’s ultimate achievement was creating the full-bodied corpse of Mrs. Harmon, an innocent elderly woman devoured by a cannibal named Sully (Mark Rylance). To reproduce the character’s intestines, Hammer says he injected silicone into the casing of the sausage and soaked it with bleach.
“We were constantly pulling from food or nature,” says Hammer. “Bananas make great brains … you break it up and mix it with some blood and it really kind of gives you a beautiful, organic, chunky but vibrant feeling that you can’t replicate with silicon.”
— Katie Reul
Cave diving in ‘Thirteen Lives’
Working in all types of situations is par for the camera operator course. For Jason Elson, working in an underwater cave on “Thirteen Lives” was something new.
An experienced camera operator, Elson (“Hidden Figures,” “Mulan” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”) began his career shooting news and documentaries in Australia and Southeast Asia before moving to the States.
“During my documentary days I had little experience shooting underwater; However, I would be far from calling myself an expert in that area,” he says. “Therefore, we hired a professional underwater DP, Simon Christidis.”
The film, which tells the true story of the rescue of a young football team and coach in Thailand who were trapped deep within a network of flooded caves during the monsoon season, required detailed planning and attention to safety for the cast, crew and staff. Fine tools.
“For me, the biggest pieces of the puzzle were waterproofing the equipment and how we would handle the ‘bagged’ cameras and capture the play,” he says. “The filmmaking process is very fluid at the best of times, you add underwater, rain and confined spaces – well, the level of difficulty is greatly increased.”
Elson added that director Ron Howard was extremely adaptable.
“Ron basically let the film dictate the visual language, which we discovered as we went along,” he says. “I think the raw style of filmmaking, almost observational documentary is very hand-held [camera shots]helped achieve this.”
Surprisingly, Elson discovered that, with all the sophisticated equipment at their disposal, a camera operator’s best friend when shooting in an underwater cave is the right pair of shoes.
“Crocos were my savior, they worked like sneakers in the water,” says Elson. “They had grip, drainage, and enclosed toes protected your toes from rocks.”
— Paul Plunkett
Archives play a big role in ‘Babylon’
When trying to recreate the early days of Hollywood for “Babylon,” Oscar-nominated production designer Florencia Martin knew the first place to research. Be it the silent film era, the mid-20th century, as he did for “Blonde” or the 1973 San Fernando Valley “Licorice Pizza,” Martin has a go-to resource for Los Angeles.
“I love the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power website,” says Martin. “Incredible archive. It’s really cool because it’s organized by different boroughs, so you get early pictures of Beverly Hills and Pasadena and downtown, so you can really see the evolution.”
In addition to the actual studio archives at Paramount, another resource Martin used was History for Hire, a prop rental company in North Hollywood that specializes in historical period props, also something of particular interest for “Babylon.”
“They have an incredible collection of film equipment from that period,” she says. “So when we recreated like silent film studios in the 1920s, all that film equipment was taken from the catalog.”
In the early days of filmmaking, some studios didn’t have roofs to take advantage of the sunlight, so Martin was happy to portray the equipment as well-worn, despite being relatively new.
“You can really see how ragtag things were and that was important,” she says Director Damien Chazelle “really wanted to get away from a primitive representation of the era. There’s a misconception that the equipment can be perfect because it’s brand new when it was shared and pieced together and they were just trying to figure it out.”
After working his way through the trenches of the art department, Martin developed an appreciation for many set designers, graphic designers,
The painters, art directors and craftsmen who brought “Babylon” to life.
“Of course you have to have a great team,” he says. “But then I definitely want to get mine
– Paul Plunkett
‘Western Front’ is active for sound and makeup
Oscar-nominated sound designer/supervising sound editor Frank Crews for “All Quiet on the Western Fronts,” the sheer scale of the production posed challenges from the start, with his small team navigating the massive crew filming the action while he was away due to the lockdown.
“There’s a saying, you have two people working on the sound and 89 people working on the picture,” says Crews. “The amount of collaboration between departments was truly outstanding.”
He credits production sound mixer Victor Prosil with noticing that the soldiers’ period-correct boots with thick leather soles studded with metal spikes would have wreaked havoc with the sound. Working with the costume department, rubber spikes were swapped out, and the collaboration also extended to installing microphones in helmets to record the immersive effect of literally walking through a war zone.
Director Edward Berger is a big fan of recording “wild tracks” on set, allowing Cruise’s team to do dedicated recordings — just sound without cameras, from the rumble of period-specific vehicles to dozens of extras screeching across the battlefield, scraps of sound for everything. whose source might otherwise slip through the cracks.
“All of those unique things are hard to do in post in a realistic way,” Kruse says. “So in the end it was really gold for us.”
While viewers understand the massive effort involved in recreating the visuals, Cruise appreciates the effort his crew took to put the audience at the center of the action.
“Alexander Buck and Benjamin Herbey, our supervising dialogue and ADR editors, they just salvaged so much from the production sound, they did such a great job,” he says. “Putting together great selections that were true to the story and lifted everything up and made it more three-dimensional.”
For period film designers, sometimes an important helping hand comes from strangers unconnected to the production. Such was the case when Oscar-nominated makeup and hair designer Heike Marker began his research for “All Quiet on the Western Front.”
“I found the ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ documentary,” he says, referring to the Peter Jackson-produced and directed documentary about recovered WWI footage. “The images of this documentary gave me a wonderful entrance into our film, I can get a lot of research material from it.”
Once Marker had the basics of the look and feel of the era’s people, he spent time with the screenplay and the film’s costume designer, Lizzie Krisle, to chart the characters’ journeys.
“He was basically tough for me from start to finish,” says Marker, describing how the main characters start out as young and clean but deteriorate as the war takes their toll. “You can basically draw faces that look tired, they look thinner, they don’t have energy, they don’t have hope anymore.”
Because the film was shot during a pandemic lockdown, Marker was initially told that the actors would have to wear masks between takes.
“I said, ‘No, it’s not possible, we don’t have enough people to run across the battlefield and touch everyone. So we discussed, basically, well, we have to find something else, a shield to put in front of the face, but the background [actors] Had to wear a mask between intakes, which wasn’t the best.”
And on days when dozens of soldiers would be produced, Marker had to quickly expand his team, bringing in additional artists to create a literal army in a short amount of time and under harsh conditions.
“What you see in front of the camera, we’re in the same situation behind the camera,” she says. “It was muddy, it’s not like we had a better place to be.”
– Paul Plunkett