Hellboy II: The Golden Army: The Set Visit!

While there may be a couple more anticipated superhero sequels in 2008 than Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the follow-up to Guillermo del Toro’s take on Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy,” after the success of Guillermo’s 2006 fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth, there’s a lot more people looking forward to seeing what he does next, since he has successfully made the transition from genre fan favorite to “visionary cinematic artist.”

Last October, Superhero Hype! flew to Budapest, Hungary to spend some time at the newly-built Korda Studios complex to see the production of the new movie, and we were amazed by what we saw both on the soundstage, the studio backlot, in the production offices filled with concept art and models of locations, and in a couple odder locations where you wouldn’t expect them to shoot a Hellboy movie. While there, we had a few chances to talk to Guillermo in between shooting, his production designer Stephen Scott, returning favorites Selma Blair (Liz Sherman) and Doug Jones (Abe Sapien), as well as the two new additions to the Hellboy cast, Luke Goss and Anna Walton.

(View 7 new Hellboy II: The Golden Army photos in the gallery!)

The sequel takes place four years after the original film at a point where Liz has now moved in with Hellboy into his BPRD headquarters, and the plot revolves around a struggle between two factions of elves with Anna Walton’s Princess Nuala on one side and her evil twin brother Prince Nuada, played by Luke Goss, on the other. The story centers around a quest for the third piece of the crown to the throne of the Troll Kingdom, an artifact that had been divided into three pieces after an epic battle. Whomever reunites the pieces would have great power and control over the unstoppable Golden Army, and the search for the elusive third piece brings Prince Nuada and his trolls to the surface world, specifically to an auction house where the third piece of the crown was being sold off, putting them into conflict with Hellboy and the BPRD.

Our journey into “Hellboy World” began during a routine bus tour through the city of Pest–interesting factoid: the Hungarian capital is made up of two cities, Buda and Pest divided by the Danube River–one of the stops being the Kiscelli Museum where the production had taken over the enormous church Cloisters built in 1743. Though the church had been damaged severely during World War II, what had been preserved was in the process of being transformed into the Troll King’s council chamber located inside an old abandoned railway yard.

The ancient space had been dressed-up with six giant boilers from “Antal & Co.” surrounding the space, all joined together by giant steam pipes with a large furnace at the front center of the hall for the king’s throne. All of the boilers looked like they were made from rusted metal but in fact, it was all timber and paper, and the pipes had all been dressed to make them look very old and rusted and we were told that they would still be adding oil, grime and soot to make them look even more ancient. They had been remodeling it for two to three weeks with plans to shoot there in about a week, and at that time, all of the furnaces and boilers would be active with smoke coming out of them and flames added later using special effects. (The place looked like it may have been inspired by Chris Bachalo’s short-lived comic book “Steampunk.”)

Production designer Stephen Scott gave us a tour of the facility and explained that the sequel would have a consistent look with the first movie but bigger, and he also talked about the process of remodeling the Cloisters to look like something from the “Hellboy” world and how they had to be extremely careful, because the structure was so old and damaged, so that none of the giant steam pipes could actually be attached to the walls, nor could they use live flame within the furnaces.

“It’s a space that I think works well,” he told us. “We’ve yet to bring in all the raised tiers for the council but basically, they’ll be forming a ‘U’ around this area with the king sitting on a throne, again made of old pipes and gauges, in front of that large opening, so his head will be surrounded by a flame effect.”

A short while later, we were taken to a restaurant for dinner, after spending some time talking to two new members of the “Hellboy Family”, Luke Goss and Anna Walton. “Hellboy II” would be Goss’ second movie with Del Toro, as well as his second superhero sequel, having played Nomak in Del Toro’s Blade II. Goss would tell us about his experiences on the film so far, and Walton would share a few details about her character’s romantic liaisons with Hellboy’s compatriot Abe Sapien, once again played by Doug Jones, though this time providing his own voice rather than it being dubbed by David Hyde Pierce, as was the case in the first movie.

You can read the two interviews below:

Interview with Luke Goss (Prince Nuada)

Interview with Anna Walton (Princess Nuala)

It was almost 8:30 at night before we finished dinner and headed over to Korda Studios itself, which is a good 40 minutes outside of the city of Budapest in a place called Etyek. It’s been mentioned a few times that Del Toro’s movie would be the first major production to shoot at the new studio, using all four stages, and we knew we were in the right place when we arrived to see three giant golden clockwork eggs outside the workshops, each of them seemingly made of gold with clockwork mechanics around the outside, which we assumed had something to do with the genesis of the Golden Army. In the production offices, we were reunited with Stephen Scott, who showed us around a series of models and artwork for the sets, some which had already been built and had wrapped, others being prepared to shoot later.

We wandered around looking at the various sketches and models including one of the more impressive sets, which was the Troll Market built within an enormous underground quarry. The quarry had been around for many, many years and most recently, it was used as a mushroom farm, but for the movie, it had been decked out with columns and arches and buildings and bridges, most of them to be filled with assorted creatures, which we’ll talk about more in the second half of our set visit next week. Scott told us that the location represented a dark and damp cavern area underneath the streets of Brooklyn where the troll community secretly resided, and later we’d be shown how they would break through to the surface world. Originally, the quarry was thought to be a good location for the Troll Council Chamber we had seen earlier, but then they realized it would be a better spot for the Troll Market.

“It’s certainly been a challenging set, because it has very strong shapes in there,” Scott remarked. “These are the columns that support the ceiling to the quarry and they’re very strong visually. They also provide an excellent support for the structures that we built in there. The whole place was painted bright white, but we went in and darkened it down and made it all gloomy and despondent and dark brown and green. It worked very well. I’m sorry it’s not around for you to see.”

Another one of the more impressive models was the one for the Golden Army Chamber, which the production built with an abandoned hockey stadium, a build which took five weeks, but it would be where Hellboy would fight the giant golden, orange and yellow beatle-looking creatures that make up the Golden Army. Words were written in a mysterious troll alphabet that surrounded the dome atop the complex, although we didn’t have enough time with the legend we saw nearby to decode.

Scott mentioned that they had also built the interior of the auction house from the early sequence involving the prince from scratch before proceeding to destroy it in his ensuing battle with Hellboy. He also told us that the BPRD headquarters from the first movie, including Hellboy’s room, would essentially be recreated with a few enhancements, but they were able to save the garbage truck used to transport Hellboy to different locations from the first movie.

We walked around looking at the artwork which showed early versions of many of the creatures, both small and huge, that would be appearing in the sequel (some of which we’ll discuss in Part 2), including the “Tooth Fairies”–they’re the tiny winged creatures you see in the trailer–“Wink,” Prince Nuada’s bodyguard and henchman also seen briefly in the trailer, and creatures with odd and unique descriptive names like “Smoke Shop,” “Bag Lady,” “Strider,” and “Berserker.” We also saw pictures of the stone giant from outside the “Lost City of Bethrmoora,” which was clearly influenced by the mythology surrounding Dublin, Ireland’s mythic Giant’s Causeway, another classic example of how Guillermo was inserting legends from around the world into the world of Hellboy, much like Mignola does in the comics.

After admiring all the gorgeous concept art and visuals that went into the look of the film, we were taken over to the studio’s main soundstage where Guillermo was filming a scene within the Angel of Death’s Lair where Ron Perlman’s Hellboy and Selma Blair’s Liz Sherman face the Angel of Death, a harrowing effeminate character played by the talented Doug Jones, who was such a pivotal part of bringing the creatures of “Pan’s Labyrinth” to life. The Angel was an amazing looking creature, not too far removed from the “Pale Man,” completely white with a blank face that was noticeably devoid of eyes and large crest on its head, but it was even more astounding when the Angel’s wings exploded open menacingly to reveal a series of eyes along the outer edge. (This can also be seen in the trailer.) We were told that these wings were extremely heavy, which must have been the case because during one take, Doug nearly fell over backwards off his stoop while trying to open the wings, which caused a lot of concern and commotion among the crew, but mostly with Doug. (We’d get a chance to talk to Doug later after he had rested a bit.) In the scene, the creepy harbinger of doom hovered over Liz Sherman as she cradled a fallen Hellboy in a pivotal scene that creates a potential set-up for a Hellboy III, involving (MAJOR SPOILER!!) Liz making a deal to spare Hellboy’s life. In the scene, the Angel hisses at Liz, “Your choice, child, the world or him?” and when she choice “him”, she was told, “The time will come when you will suffer more than anyone,” to which she responds “I’ll deal with it. Now save him.” Liz certainly has turned into a bad ass since we last saw her.

Del Toro’s long-time cinematographer, the Oscar-honored Guillermo Navarro, was lounging in one of the seats in front of the monitors and we gathered around to watch them shoot this pivotal scene from a few different angles. We weren’t able to go inside while they were shooting, but we could see that there were hundreds of jars filled with a strange glowing substance in the background, apparently souls that the Angel snacks on, and everything was covered in cobwebs. The entry to the cavern was an enormous arch that was seemingly burnt into the rock in a way that made it look like–as Guillermo lovingly referred to it–a “giant anus.” Outside the entrance was like a scene from Vesuvius, with bodies everywhere, buried and covered in ashes presumably flash-friend from the flame that came out of the opening, which made this look like an eerie vision of the underworld.

In between takes, Del Toro would come over and joviably chat and field questions from the collected press, still abundant with energy despite the estimated 105 days he’d been working on the movie by the time we arrived. He told us how he’d been influenced by “The Wizard of Oz” for this movie, with more of a fantasy feel as the characters travel to different places rather than facing creatures in our own world, and that he and creator Mike MIgnola had written a prologue comic that tells the story of the Golden Army, which will be drawn by Francisco Ruiz Velasco based on Mike’s layouts, but in the movie, that same legend would be told using puppets, since it would be too expensive to do otherwise. He also mentioned that John Hurt would indeed be returning in the sequel as Trevor Bruttenholm, Hellboy’s surrogate father, in a flashback to young Hellboy.

We watched them shoot the scene with the Angel of Death a few more times before heading out to the studio’s immense backlot where Guillermo’s production team had built an incredible recreation of a Brooklyn street scene where Hellboy would battle invading trolls and a giant creature, an area just under the Brooklyn Bridge complete with the enormous pylons that hold it up. (The actual bridge would be added later using CG.) The production department went to great lengths to make sure every detail in New York’s city-within-a-city was right including the various store fronts, which included a magic shop and a hospital, and there were even newspaper dispensers with copies of the latest USA Today and New York Times. This older neighborhood had yet to be gentrified but there was a haunting billboard looming over it, proclaiming “The City of Future Here Today”, which warned that this cozy little neighborhood was about to go through some major renovations, that is, after Hellboy did his usual amount of damage during his battle with the trolls and their giant elemental creature.

It took them 14 weeks to build this backlot set and they’d been shooting there for the past three or four weeks, destroying it as they went along, something they couldn’t do if they tried to shoot on location in New York. The most immediately noticeable thing was the enormous gaping hole in the middle of the asphalt street, which reminded this writer of the steam pipe explosion in midtown Manhattan earlier that summer. This one was caused by the giant tentacled creature that you see in the trailer, and near the gaping hole, there were a half dozen wrecked cars strewn up and down the street, and one presumes more damage would be done as they continued shooting there.

We were told that the hole goes down to the kingdom of the trolls, but it was only when we would watch the trailer where we’d see the giant tentacled creature that would come out of the hole for Hellboy to fight. In the trailer, you can see the “before” shot twice at the beginning leading up to where the voiceover proclaims “beneath the city streets” and you can see Hellboy tackling the giant elemental at the end. We were also taken into one of the warehouses, specifically into a giant meat locker filled with slabs of beef, and we were told that there’s a tunnel at the back of the locker that leads to the troll market mentioned earlier. While walking around, we experienced a brisk wind, which Scott had warned us about earlier. Because the studios had been built on the side of a mountain, making it very hard to shoot when it got up to its windiest.

It was then time to talk to some of Guillermo’s cast, and after a short wait, Selma Blair bopped into our holding area sporting much shorter hair, and a sexy black leather costume as well as her own gun (for when her fire powers malfunction). She was excited about returning and about the possibilities of doing a Hellboy III–something which might be a long wait if Del Toro jumps onto the “Hobbit” movies–and she talked about how the scene we watched being shot could play a large part in the plot of another movie.

Interview with Selma Blair (Liz Sherman)

After talking to Selma and Doug Jones (the latter interview which you can read next week), we returned to the Brooklyn street scene where we watched as Guillermo’s crew set up for that night’s action sequence and Guillermo proudly showed off Hellboy’s new gun, the Big Baby, which shoots huge bullets, each emblazoned with a baby bottle and the logo “Suck on This” on the side. They were preparing to shoot a stunt sequence in which Hellboy would be battling the giant creature, to be added with CG, and it would involve Hellboy jumping from one car to another before making a giant leap to a sign on the side of one of the buildings.

The last stop on our visit was to the creature design shop where we got to see some of the creatures that we’ll be seeing in the Troll Market sequence including bizarre curiosities like the Chamberlain–another one played by Doug Jones–Cathedral Head, Croney Troll and Fraggleump. Believe us when we say that Hellboy II: The Golden Army is all about the creatures! With that in mind, look for our overview of all the cool things we saw in the creature design shop including our first look at the newest member of the BPRD, Johann Kraus, voiced by Thomas Kretschmann, as well as an interview with Doug Jones and an extended interview with the one and only Guillermo himself.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army opens on July 11 nationwide. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our set visit next week!

Source: Edward Douglas