Cinefex Diaries – The Dark Tower

Roland (Idris Elba) in Columbia Pictures' THE DARK TOWER.
Roland (Idris Elba) in Columbia Pictures’ ‘The Dark Tower.’

If you’re a constant reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Stephen King. You’ll also know that his epic series of fantasy novels The Dark Tower is right up there among my favourites. So I was tickled pink to find myself writing about the movie adaptation of The Dark Tower for Cinefex 155.

On the face of it, this was a straightforward assignment. Because The Dark Tower isn’t an effects-heavy film, my list of companies to talk to was relatively short. However, while the emphasis of any Cinefex article is visual effects, I found myself wondering just how the art and props departments tackled the job of visualising not only the semi-mythical realm of Mid-World, but also the iconic paraphernalia that fills it – not least, the legendary revolvers carried by Roland Deschain, last gunslinger in a world that has ‘moved on.’

The Dark Tower posterSo, in addition to interviewing visual effects supervisor Nicolas Aithadi and the team at lead visual effects vendor MPC – plus a supporting cast of artists at Rise and Pixel Playground – I also got on the phone with production designer Christopher Glass. During our conversation, we chatted at length about the considerable challenges of bringing Stephen King’s uber-work to the screen. What does Mid-World actually look like? Should Roland look like a cowboy or not? Just how tall is the Dark Tower anyway?

Helping me piece together the answers to these questions and more were props master Kerry von Lillienfeld – who told me exactly how he and his team manufactured Roland’s oversized guns with the sandalwood grips – and Ironhead Studio’s José Fernandez, hired by costume designer Trish Summerville to fabricate Roland’s timeworn gunslinger outfit. To round things out, I also spoke with Cosmesis Studio and Creature Shop, whose artists created the prosthetics required to bring the film’s animalistic Taheen villains to life.

I also discovered that the film’s director, Nikolaj Arcel, is an even bigger fan of the ‘Dark Tower’ novels than I am. I conducted a slightly surreal interview with Nik over the phone while he was passing through an international airport. Ignoring the occasional interruption by an over-enthusiastic flight announcer, Nik shared his concerns about making a movie version of such a well-loved series, and explained why he and the creative team took the approach they did. Our conversation came to an end only when Nik finally had to take off his shoes at the security gate.

Cinefex 155Cinefex 155 is out now, with in-depth articles on the making of Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, The Dark Tower and Kingsman: The Golden Circle. There’s also a special bonus Blade Runner retrospective, which looks back at the magazine’s coverage of Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner back in 1982.

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