|04 Production and Costume Design|
“There’s a rocking chair by the window, down the hall. I hear something there in the shadow, down the hall. Oh, you were a vampire, and now I am nothing at all.” —Johnette Napolitano, Concrete Blonde, “Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)”
At the helm of realizing Shore’s vision for Dracula Untold were two creative minds whose work encompasses some of cinema’s most exciting fantasy adventures: production designer François Audouy and costume designer Ngila Dickson.
Production Design and Locations
Audouy is naturally attracted to stories that are set in worlds that draw you in by their originality. He shares: “I seem to be drawn to films that challenge us to imagine alternate worlds, either set in a fantastic, foreign or historical setting—where we can experience the particular closed narrative—but then the setting stays with us as a place where you can imagine the characters continuing their lives.”
Working closely with Shore and Dickson, Audouy created an environment that mirrored Vlad’s character progression from a respected leader and loving family man to a ruthless vampire warrior. Audouy provides: “When I read the script, the family story and the relationship between Vlad, Mirena and Ingeras jumped out at me. The dynamic was strong and unique to see in a Dracula film. I wanted to strengthen that narrative and create a foundation for that love story between those three people…to create a world that felt like Vlad had actually made a home and was providing for his family and for his people.”
In Romania, there are two strongholds that lay claim to Dracula: Bran Castle and Poenari Castle. Both are enormous, imposing structures set into a mountain, making them a natural fortress against invaders. Their architectural origins are Orthodox, which became the starting point for the design team. In keeping with the reality-rooted narrative, elements of Orthodox architecture may be traced in the Castle Dracula designed for the film. But as Audouy points out, that is where the design parts with reality.
The production designer shares: “Gary wanted to do something different with Dracula’s Castle, something that was exotic and unique, so we went away from the Orthodox look toward something more Eastern European, with sharper facets and triangular shapes. In fact, the design started out quite alien, very unusual, and throughout the process it became more and more grounded and plausible. You could believe it existed.”
The Great Hall was the starting point from which Castle Dracula was created, and while the majority of the castle is CGI, the Great Hall was built entirely for camera. The attention to detail is minute, down to the reliefs in the walls that were re-created from genuine stone reliefs from a Romanian church, and the finish of the walls, painted to convey dustiness, current with the thinking that granite stone was used to build these great medieval structures.
In his set designs, Audouy played around with four visual motifs, some of which feature heavily in the Great Hall, with the most iconic being fangs. Audouy explains: “With the architecture for Vlad’s world, we ended up using lots of triangles and symmetrical shapes to create a very specific form of language. If you look at the detail in the Great Hall, you see a lot of triangles and canine-type shapes, which seemed like a good fit to his character. So we have subtle cues to teeth and toothlike shapes in the architecture of the castle. If you look at the castle in silhouette you’ll see fangs in the very top part, and lots of details within the architecture itself are triangular and pointy in a fun way.”
On closer observation, however, the roofless Great Hall and the motifs at work subliminally convey a sense of Vlad’s dark past, foretelling of a darker future. Shore explains: “Another aspect to the roofless design was a means of acknowledging the original Vlad III. He had this open court, and in that area he had two dozen impaling poles with the bodies of his enemies impaled upon them. He would dine amongst them, and according to the old legends, he would drink the blood that flowed from them.”
Although an audience would not easily spot these homages to Dracula’s heritage and Vlad’s past, Shore felt it was important to the film’s integrity to acknowledge the old stories. He says: “Every one of these environments are products of the characters and story. Vlad’s Great Hall is designed around a subversion of impalement spikes and the real Vlad III’s court. With the open roof with spikes coming down, on either side of the room, everything was there to try and subvert horror into the scenes, to create these undertones without going into gore.”
Where this motif comes to the fore is in the second largest set piece built for camera: the Master Vampire’s cavernous space inside Broken Tooth Mountain, in which the Master resides and where the legend of Dracula begins and the mortal life of Prince Vlad ends.