One of the most successful elements of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune was the deliciously vile portrayal by Stellan Skarsgård of the villain Baron Harkonnen, but the way the visual effects team pulled off bringing the character to life is done in a way that might surprise you.
In the film, the character flies around in his home on Arrakis in long, flowing garments that lay across his very large stomach like a tablecloth on a bowling ball. And while that may sound silly, Skarsgård’s impeccable performance, his monochromatic design, and the realism of his movements make the Baron quite menacing in every scene he’s in.
While it may be commonplace to make someone fly using computer-generated imagery these days, much of how the filmmakers pulled off the effect in Dune was actually done in-camera.
Visual effects supervisor Paul Lambert explained in a recent interview that this was accomplished in an unexpected way: by utilizing a tool common on children’s playgrounds.
“There is one shot where he rises really high up and says, ‘My Arrakis, my Dune.’ He’s actually on a seesaw,” Lambert told IGN.
“Basically he sat on the end of a seesaw under his costume, and then some of the crew then pulled him up so that he then feels as if he’s rising. We were able to do that with just basically wire cleanup, rather than having to do a CG version of the Baron,” he said
The VFX specialist went on to explain that there was another that was also filmed practically, but it was too dangerous for Skarsgård to perform in, due to the character being close up to the ceiling.
“That’s actually a stunt, one of our stunt guys who’s in the Baron suit. We cut some holes in the set and basically pulled him through those holes so that he’s actually pulled up against the ceiling. And then after that in visual FX, we just painted out the wires,” Lambert said.