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‘Dune 2’: How Artisans Pulled Off Shooting the Arena Fight Scene With Infrared Technology

It took a village of Denis Villeneuve’s most trusted artisans to pull off “Dune: Part Two’s” epic Harkonnen arena fight scene.

As epic as its predecessor, Villeneuve’s sequel raises the bar with striking visuals. None is more jaw-dropping than Feyd-Rautha’s (Austin Butler) celebration sequence. The grand fight occurs early on in the film as the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard) and Lady Margot Fenring (Lea Seydoux) join the inhabitants of Giedi Prime to watch. It was up to cinematographer Greig Fraser who shot the sequence on black-and-white infrared to deliver Villeneuve’s vision.

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Fraser was no stranger to using infrared lighting.

He had used it on 2012’s “Zero Dark Thirty” and 2016’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” “It’s the same light the security camera uses, and you don’t see it. So, my fascination with infrared started because our eyes can’t see it, but the camera can,” says Fraser.

The idea came from Villeneuve, who wanted to give Giedi Prime a distinguishable look in a monochromatic world.

“He said, ‘We can’t do a gladiator scene with sand because it will look like Arrakis. How about black and white?'” But Fraser took it one step further, “I said, ‘I have a brilliant thing that I want to test and show you. So, I tested the technique with Roger Yuan who plays Lieutenant Lanville. He has no hair and he was the perfect candidate to test it on. And Denis saw it, and said, ‘Bingo.'”

With Villeneueve’s approval, the sequence was shot on an Alexa LF camera that had been modified to be an infrared camera, which meant, “all the camera could see was infrared, and that became their world.”

While Fraser had given Villeneuve a solution, it caused costume designer Jacqueline West a headache.

West says she had “a rude awakening when we started to shoot.” In keeping with the Harkonnen black color palette, she says, “Something I didn’t know was that some of the fabrics immediately turn to white. So, you could have different fabrics on a costume, and some would be in black, and then you’d have a patch of white.”

With Villeneuve, it wasn’t a case of fixing it in post and covering it up through visual effects. Rather, West went back to the drawing board where she had to remake and retest fabrics specifically for the picadors to make their outfits work.

Fraser didn’t have an answer for West as to why certain fabrics worked, “I’m sure there’s a rhyme and reason, from a material standpoint. I just know we had to do a lot of camera testing to make sure everyone was dressed in black, including Feyd.”

Butler’s Feyd-Rautha’s look was heavily inspired by Swiss artist H.R Giger. Says West, “I used Giger-esque designs with pressed leather.” Spandex and stretch fabric worked as the base of his outfit. But she enhanced it. West adds, “I also looked at medieval art, in particular, knights. They had strings of fabric on their backs, so I incorporated that into the outfit but with black leather.”

Production designer Patrice Vermette was most excited to build this set, expanding from the sets he had crafted in the first film.

He began visualizing his idea for the arena using a 3D model design and having discussions about who would have what point of view in the audience. “Denis always wanted this black plastic world to represent that culture. Everything needed to be black.”

While on a visit to Montreal, Vermette was driving by a field of septic tanks. “They were black and plastic. I thought it was interesting. I wondered what was inside, and I thought of the Harkonnen and all the inspiration for that world really came from there.”

Vermette and Villeneueve had numerous conversations about how this arena would look, but also where in the hierarchy would people sit. Says Vermette, “At one point, I had put the Bene Gesserit right on the other side of the Baron’s tower, but then we thought, they don’t need to be that close.” He continues, “As written, it was a triangular arena with white sand.”

In the end, Vermette built a section for the Baron and Bene Gesserits on a stage, while the exteriors were shot on a backlot in Budapest. With the infrared technology changing colors the way it did, he utilized wood and cement for the arena.

Editor Joe Walker says he spent a little over 16 months shaping the scene — “including the dubs.”

Part of the reason was that the scene was one of the first sequences shot early on, and visual effects needed to get involved. “They had to develop crowd extensions and the architecture above, and there were multiple angles,” Walker explains.

He recalls the first time he saw dailies of Butler. He had seen storyboards and had an idea of what was being cooked up. Says Walker, “The first footage I got was this arena footage. To me, it was like, “Holy hell in a handcart.” I also met him on set and he looks terrifying and dangerous.” He adds, “You can see the vein structure of the eyes, and the skin is very thin and transparent.”

When it came to the sound, Walker and Villeneuve knew two things: that it would not sound like a modern-day sporting event, and there would be no applause. “The noise is from chanting and stamping which is a great sound. Dave Whitehead was working for us in New Zealand and started recording a male crowd with specialized vocal skills within the punk and death metal music scene, stamping and shouting.” The scene was divided into 30 sections with a view to looking at where the crowd would be. “When is the Harkonnen crowd at 10? We wanted 10 to be when Feyd rips his shield off, and again at the end when he’s changed as a Harkonnen and is no longer just a playboy prince.”

In the time cutting it and fine-tuning it, Walker and Villeneuve sought to make it a visceral and dynamic scene. “We compressed the fight and viewpoints. Throughout the year of cutting it, we spent a lot of time cutting it…as always putting the story up front and center.” Walker continues, “The purpose of Feyd is to be the flip side of the coin for Paul, to feel there is a devastating presence in his path to survival. The face-off at the end is going to be the climax to this.”

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