One year ago, on December 16, 2015, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant enjoyed its U.S. premiere at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre. Based on true events, and on the novel by Michael Punke, the film tells the harrowing story of 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) who, after being mauled by a bear, seeks revenge against those who left him for dead.
In this exclusive Q&A with Cinefex editor Jody Duncan, makeup supervisor Adrien Morot reveals the secrets behind some of the scenes which didn’t make the final cut. Like the film itself, his is a tale of ingenuity, endurance, and raw steak.
Yes, that’s right. Steak.
Cinefex: As we understand it, there were quite a few graphic and violent shots of characters being scalped, but those appear to have been cut from the final film. The director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, wanted to capture those effects in camera – and that’s where you came in. Tell us how you realized some of the scalping effects, and where they appeared in the film, originally.
Morot: There were many scalping scenes throughout the movie, including a dream sequence in which Tom Hardy’s character, John Fitzgerald, is scalped. It’s a very weird dream sequence, all done in one shot, where he sees a skinned bear creature walking through an icy pool of blood. The camera turns towards Fitzgerald, who is looking at the creature, and behind him stands Hugh Glass. As Fitzgerald tries to reload his gun, Glass suddenly scalps him. All of that had to be done as one single action – which meant that the bear creature and the scalping all had to be there, self-contained, within that single shot.
Cinefex: How did you achieve that?
Morot: We had a bald cap, into which we incorporated a network of tubing, and we applied that to Tom Hardy. Once that was secured, we glued on top of it a silicone prosthetic appliance that looked like Tom’s forehead, complete with the scar his character had from being partially scalped as a kid. The prosthetic was pre-cut at the place where the scalping was to be done, and then lightly glued back in place. We concealed the cut line with Ultra Ice that was colored to look like skin tone.
When they shot it, Leo would run a dull blade along that pre-cut line, and then the blood from the tubing would start to pour down. We had a remote-controlled, battery-operated blood pump that was hooked up to Tom’s waist. So, we could be standing 20 feet away, and as Leo started cutting we’d activate the blood. Leo was fantastic – there’s a reason he gets the big bucks! We just had to explain it to him once, briefly, and he did it perfectly every take.
Cinefex: You mentioned that there is a “bear creature” in this dream sequence.
Morot: Alejandro was always getting inspired and coming up with these kinds of ideas. One day, he came to me on set, and said, “Adrien, I have this idea! How about we have this skinned man-bear creature crawling around in a pool of blood?” And I said, “Okay, sure. When do you want to do that?” His answer was, “Next week!”
I explained to him that it would take more than a week to come up with a skinned bear creature, and his response was that maybe we could just take a suit and stitch some raw steaks onto it.
Cinefex: Steaks? You mean, T-bones, rib-eyes, the things you eat with A-1 sauce?
Morot: Yes! Steaks! And I said, “Okay, yeah, no – I don’t think we can do that.” So I did a bunch of concept drawings on my MacPro in my hotel room, and then showed them to Alejandro to see if he liked any of them. Once he’d agreed on one of those concepts, I had my shop build bear feet that would be worn by Javier Botet, the suit performer. We were lucky to have all of his measurements because we were already doing another movie with him, and he was coming to the shop that week anyway.
Cinefex: You started with the feet – wasn’t the bear head a bigger problem?
Morot: Well, luckily, Legacy Effects had built a skinned bear for the movie, for another scene. I asked John Rosengrant if we could get that skinned bear head for our creature – which would save us a lot of time – and they very nicely sent it to us. It was great, but it was a bit too heavy and cumbersome for our purposes – it hadn’t been built with the idea of a performer wearing it. But it was still a great reference, because I had it right there in front of me as I worked.
I sculpted a new bear head in clay, with kind of a zombie, ripped-flesh texture. I sculpted it very quickly, using Legacy’s head as reference for the shape, but scaled down so it would fit on a performer. I did the mold right there on set, in the makeup trailer, in the mountains, and poured it out of lightweight polyfoam. We did some silicone detailing on top, painted it, and put in glass eyes, and teeth.
Cinefex: What did you do for the body?
Morot: First, I bought the tallest, leanest store mannequin I could find in Calgary, as reference for Javier’s body. Then, using cotton fill, we sculpted the bear shape onto that, with a sculpted ribcage and a neck that jutted forward a bit. Then we did some silicone detailing on top of everything, and painted it. The costume department provided us with a long, shredded cape for the creature to wear. He almost looked like the zombie version of a Civil War soldier. And that’s how we made the suit within a week, inside my makeup trailer.
Cinefex: And no Porterhouses were used in the making of this suit?
Morot: No, no steaks. Given how quickly it was done, you’d think it would have looked like garbage. But, it turned out pretty good. The whole movie was like that – Alejandro suddenly coming up with an idea, very excited, and asking, “Can we have it tomorrow?” Throughout, I was always playing catch-up, always three months behind where I would have been normally. And I was basically working alone at the location, because my crew back at my shop in Montreal was working on other movies. I’d be on set during the day, applying makeup, and I’d work at night producing wounds and dummies and other things needed for the next day. Then I’d drive to the set the next morning, having had very little sleep.
Cinefex: A trailer in the middle of the Canadian Rockies – that can’t have been a very good place to produce makeup effects.
Morot: I had to set up a little shop in the production office. Once I was there and saw the urgency, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to rely on my shop in Montreal to make things and ship them to me – and, as I said, they were busy on other shows, anyway. So, I told the producers, “I need to make a shop here. Can you get me some shelves? Can you build two 4-by-8 wooden shop tables?” I gave them a list of materials to order, or had one of my on-set assistants get them in Calgary. We did that very quickly. In the end, I had right there in the production office the equivalent of the shop that I had in my dad’s basement when I was 16 years old. That was kind of cool, actually.
Cinefex: “Have silicone, will travel.”
Morot: Basically, yeah. I had a little bit of everything so I could whip out anything we needed. Except a steak suit.
You’ll find our complete, in-depth article on The Revenant in Cinefex 145. The story features more of Adrien Morot’s insights and detailed coverage of the rest of the film’s effects, courtesy of visual effects supervisor Richard McBride and the pioneering teams of artists at ILM, MPC, Cinesite, One of Us, Secret Lab and Legacy Effects.