Immortals, released in 2011, is a sword-and-sandals epic that’s noteworthy for many reasons. One is the film’s striking visual style. Director Tarsem Singh made it clear from the early stages of the film’s development that he wanted the images to resemble Renaissance paintings.
Some may believe this would be relatively easy to achieve thanks to advances in CGI. However, crafting such a strikingly distinct style for this film was actually more complex than many realize. Singh wouldn’t make certain sacrifices during production, sacrifices other directors might have accepted.
For example, unlike his previous work The Fall, which is well-known for its stunning visuals depicting stunning real-world locations, Singh opted to shoot Immortals on a green-screen set. This was partially because the director needed an easier production experience after spending nearly 17 years scouting locations for his last film. However, using a green-screen set also gave Singh and the other filmmakers involved in the project the opportunity to create fantastic worlds that don’t exist in reality. While the story is based in ancient Greece, the visuals of the film are based less in the real world and more in mythology. Shooting on location wouldn’t have been appropriate for this type of picture.
However, that doesn’t mean Singh was content to work on a small stage. He made a point of building detailed practical sets on a large stage, with the green screen serving as the backdrop.
This served several purposes. First, it allowed Singh the freedom to craft visually complex images with middle and foreground elements that were genuine. Only the background would be computer-generated.
Additionally, in order to make the film look like Renaissance paintings, Singh needed the light source to come from far away. In an interview about the production process, he said of the lighting, “It’s gotta look like it’s coming from the finger of God like in Caravaggio.” Shooting on a large stage (even if the set was relatively small) allowed the light to appear as if it were far away. Although others tried to tell Singh that a large portion of the stage would be wasted if he was only using a small set, he made it clear he needed the space to accommodate the correct lighting style.
It’s also important to point out that the film’s producers were willing to give Singh the time he needed to realize his vision. Singh pointed out that he needed an entire year simply to complete the picture’s visual effects. While some producers and studios would have rushed their director, forcing him to work quickly in order to secure a particular release date, those involved in this project let him take his time. It’s not uncommon for films to be released with subpar visual effects because the creative team didn’t have enough time to complete their work. Immortals looks so impressive because that didn’t happen during its production.
This measured, patient approach also came into play when Singh was developing the fighting styles for the various characters in the film. He explained that because the characters are gods, and because the emotions driving them are strong, the fights had to have a unique quality that was both emotionally intense and superhumanly impressive. Thus, he decided not to rush when working on what type of fighting style the stunt coordinator should focus on.
This is another instance in which Singh chose not to rely on shortcuts. He pointed out that while CGI could essentially deliver a fight in any style, it was important to him that the characters looked like real people during the action scenes. Instead of creating the effect on a computer, he wanted the fight scenes to be choreographed and filmed in the real world. He also opted not to use handheld cameras, which are popular for action movies, explaining that they would not have done the 3D visuals justice. Handhelds also serve to conceal poor choreography with shaky camera movements.
That’s essentially why Immortals stands out in the action genre. The filmmakers behind this project had many opportunities to take shortcuts during every stage of production. By choosing not to, they created one of the most visually stunning action films ever released.