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Behind the Scenes of Sucker Punch

By Matt Coppa

If you thought action movies couldn’t get more thrilling than 300, imagine the toga-clad Spartan dudes as sexy girls wearing skimpy skirts and packing machine guns! In the new action fantasy Sucker Punch, directed by visionary Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen), you get just that. Talented (and we mean that in the most lascivious way) young actresses Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone and Jamie Chung play super-ninjas who beat the kishkas out of comic bad guys in a visual presentation that’s similar to the above mentioned graphic-novels-gone-big-screen.

It starts with Browning’s character, Baby Doll, a young woman who is confined to a brutal 1950s-era insane asylum and is counting down the days to her lobotomy. (Aren’t we all?) Suffice it to say the girl is distraught. To survive the horror, she retreats into her own imagination, where she and her fellow inmates fight their way through the fiercest of foes in four different scenarios that may also allow them to escape their captivity in reality. Those include an epic World War II battle, a fiery dragon fight, and a combat with deranged samurai robot warriors. Even better -- and perhaps more predictable -- the creepy asylum also transforms into a high-end brothel.

But since the movie had no comic book pedigree or pocketbook to pay the freight, it had to be done on the cheap. OK, its $85 million budget is not exactly chump change. But compared with the hundreds of millions afforded to similar effects-laden films, like Batman and Spiderman, it wasn’t so easy to pull off. To achieve the look he wanted, Snyder utilized a few of his own ninja moves.

Like 300, it was shot entirely in front of a green screen, a technique in which hangar-sized sets are bathed in -- you guessed it -- green, with the actors performing within that space. That allows the computer graphics teams to digitally create environments on the green canvas that surrounds them. It’s a process that has been around for years, but Snyder takes it to a new level. “Zack has a lot of faith in the green screen process. It keeps the budget and shooting time down and gives you total control over the look,” says visual effects supervisor John Desjardin. “It was such a huge challenge because of the sheer volume of effects.”

While Snyder may have conceptualized and written the visually inventive story, it took hundreds of FX experts to pull it together. Each of those highly stylized and fast-paced scenes had 100 computer-effects people working on every detail. But they also had to develop custom-made digital destruction plug-ins to create visually credible shots of everything from metallic robot heads exploding in slow motion to wood boards breaking in two. “For this, we needed a lot of geometry-busting software for specific types of destruction,” says Desjardin. “Breaking wood is completely tough because it has to bend and splinter, and there’s specific ways to do it. If you’re aiming for a look -- as long as it’s consistent -- everyone’s buying it.”

Then, of course, there are the actresses. No effects were needed for them; instead, to legitimately make them look like they could open up a can of whoop ass on just about anyone or anything, they trained for six hours a day, five days a week for three months. In fact, Snyder wanted these petite pretty things to deadlift 210 pounds before they were through. “They have machine guns, but they’re fighting mythical orc-like creatures,” says Snyder. “The hand-to-hand stuff is all brutal and believable. It has the same vibe as the Bourne Identity movies. In the characters’ imaginations, they can do anything.”

So how is it that they’re in each other’s imaginations, and how much of what they’re going through is actually real? “It’s really difficult to explain because, like The Matrix, you have to experience it to understand it,” says Desjardin. “Zack tossed out this line that it was like Alice in Wonderland with machine guns. But it’s also very meaningful in a lot of ways. It’s got everything: sci-fi, anime, insane battles. It’s every fan boys dream!”

Photo Credits: Getty Images


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