Dune: Part Two | 12 details you may have missed in Denis Villenueve’s sci-fi epic

Dune Part Two details
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The central creative team behind Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two explain how they brought the sci-fi epic to life – and the details you may have missed.

Talking to some of the creative people that helped director Denis Villeneuve bring the spectacular Dune: Part Two to the screen, and certain commonalities emerge. They talk about the scale and the challenge of making a sprawling saga, taking in dozens of central characters and many more extras, a reality. Each talks about how the director’s had a version of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel in his head since he’s a teenager, and that he’s specific and precise about what he wants.

“What’s funny is, Denis has such a sense of vision for this movie,” says costume designer Jacqueline West, who’s worked on both Dune chapters. “He sees the whole movie in his head beforehand, I think. I have to almost play clairvoyant to get it to where he wants to be.”

The other common thing that is clear, having had the privilege of talking to West, cinematographer Grieg Fraser, production designer Patrice Vermette, and editor Joe Walker, is how much passion and enthusiasm they have for Dune. The reason there’s so much craft and detail present in every shot isn’t simply because the movie has a huge budget, but because everyone involved has clearly put all their energy and thought into making the best genre epic they could.

As Walker succinctly put it, working on Dune: Part Two was “if you’ll forgive the pun, the greatest sandbox of all.”

Here’s what else the team had to say…

The Harkonnen planet Geidi Prime was inspired by septic tanks

The power-mad psychopathy of the Harkonnen had to be reflected in their planet and architecture. For inspiration, production designer Patrice Vermette initially turned to architect John Portman in Dune: Part One, with the curvaceous balconies of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Atlanta used as the basis for that film’s interiors.

We see a lot more of Geidi Prime in Dune: Part Two, though, which meant Vermette had to think more about how the wider planet should look. It was while driving around in the countryside outside Montreal that Vermette had what he describes as an epiphany.

“There was a big field, and it was filled with these black, moulded, plastic septic tanks,” Vermette tells us. “Denis had always said he imagined the world of the Harkonnens as black, moulded plastic. And when I saw that field filled with these black plastic septic tanks – the way the sun was hitting it, there was about a 30 percent gloss on it with a bit of dust.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is Geidi Prime!’ From that, I reimagined how the Harkonnen world would be, because septic tanks are a good symbol for what the Harkonnens are, and that’s what’s inside septic tanks.”

Spiders, ticks and other nasty things went into other Harkonnen designs

Credit: Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros.

Just as the now-iconic Ornithopter, first seen in Dune: Part One, was modelled on the shape of a dragonfly, Vermette looked to other insects for designs in Dune: Part Two. The Harkonnen Harvester, which towers over Paul and Chani in one of the film’s key action scenes, is modelled after various species of tick “because they suck up the blood of a human or an animal, and Harvesters suck up the Spice from the planet.”

Other Harkonnen designs were based on similarly creepy shapes from the natural world. The barrage balloon-type structures seen floating over the captured stronghold of Arrakeen “are like a cancer growing on that city.”

Elsewhere, the boudoir belonging to Lea Seydoux’s enigmatic Lady Fenring was designed to resemble an arachnid. “The other idea behind the architecture was a spider,” Vermette says. “So when Feyd walks in and she’s sitting on a bed, he walks between the legs of a spider.”

Dune: Part Two required thousands of costumes – so many that some had to be improvised

Credit: Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros.

Here are some stats for you. Costume designer Jacqueline West tells us that Dune: Part Two required the creation of around 4,000 costumes – about twice as many as the first film. To create them, West had 80 people working full-time with her in a Budapest studio, as well as factories making new Stillsuits (the old ones were damaged during the making of Dune: Part One). There was an armourer beavering away on an island on the Danube, making Harkonnen armour. Over in the UK, textile artist Matt Reitsma and his team were busy making Fremen cloaks and robes, with hand-painted or printed runes added to create a sense of history.

The number of costumes required was so great that, for some crowd scenes, West and her collaborators were almost in danger of running out of fabric.

“The crowd scenes were enormous,” she tells us. “Sometimes we’d have to improvise and make even more [costumes] – we’d just cut robes for the Fremen in the Sietch. We didn’t have time to print every one, but they’re in the far, deep background.”

The Fremen Stilltents were modelled on cockroaches and leaf veins

Dune: Part Two gave Patrice Vermette the chance to look again at the design of the Fremen Stilltents – the temporary structures that protect them from Arrakis’ harsh desert storms.

“I’m proud that Denis gave me the chance to redesign the interior of the still tent as well,” Vermette says. “It’s like a leaf. The exterior’s like a cockroach, because the cockroach can survive anything, even nuclear warfare. But the interior on part one I think was a bit too bulky. Shane Vieau, my set decorator, figured out how to make it really delicate, just like a leaf with those veins.”

The Emperor’s planet, Kaitain, was shot in a stylish Italian cemetery

The Brion tomb in San Vito in Treviso, Italy. Credit: Wikipedia.

The Italian architect Carlo Scarpa was a major influence on Patrice Vermette when it came to designing the world of Dune: Part One, and you can see Scarpa’s use of concrete and clean, elegant lines in the design of Arakeen and elsewhere. Vermette took the Scarpa influence a step further in Part Two, having managed – with the help of location manager Gabor Agoston – to secure permission to film at the Brion tomb in Italy.

One of the last buildings designed by Scarpa before his death in 1978, it was used as a stand-in for Kaitain, the home planet of Christopher Walken’s Emperor Shaddam IV and his daughter, Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh).

“It was the perfect place to introduce Kaitain, because it’s so other-worldly,” Vermette says. “In my mind, the imperial planet would have an influence on the rest of the universe, so it would influence the design of Arakkis and Arakeen. And what better tribute to shoot where the original master was. In 30 years of designing, it’s the first time that I’ve actually cried walking onto a location.”

One of the funniest lines in the movie was dreamed up on location

Credit: Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros.

A film like Dune: Part Two takes an enormous amount of design and planning, but Denis Villeneuve also allows time for actors and crew to come up with ideas on set. One example editor Joe Walker cites is a key scene where Stilgar (Javier Bardem) talks to his fellow Fremen about their growing belief that Paul Atreides is their messiah: “The Madhi is too humble to say he is the Madhi. Even more reason to know he is – as written!”

According to Walker, that line wasn’t scripted, but conceived while filming.

“There’s a scene with Stilgar talking to a group of Fremen about the fact that the [Madhi] is modest proves that he’s the [Madhi],” Walker says. “That was just the knowledge on set that they needed that beat, and they should get it now. [Villeneuve] can loosen things up very much. The rule is, there’s the script and there’s the story boards, but nature is supreme, and if there’s a better angle that departs from the storyboard, then the storyboard [is ripped up], despite the amount of time that’s gone into doing that.”

The Fremen sacred water set was built on a 28,000 foot soundstage

Credit: Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros.

One of Dune: Part Two’s most quietly effective dramatic moments sees Stilgar describe to Lady Jessica the history of the Fremen sacred water. “So many souls,” she says, as the chanting voices of the Fremen fill the ancient cave.

Although extended in places with CGI, this vast interior was largely a physical set, incorporating a huge pool of water and stone-effect walls stretching up some 30 feet.

“It was built on Stage Four at Origo Studios [in Budapest],” Vermette explains. “The pool was only a foot and a half deep – it was an infinity pool that took up a huge corner of that set. The whole side where Stilgard and Jessica walk was surrounded by two other sides we built up to 30 feet. And the rest of it was black fabric because it falls into darkness, and it would be easier for VFX to take over at that point. But it was a pretty big set that was built on a 28,000 square-foot soundstage. It’s important for Denis to create immersive sets for the actors and also for the crew because it sets the move. Obviously there’s a lot of CG but we try to build as much as possible.”

The eye-catching infrared filter used during the colosseum fight sequence has its roots in Zero Dark Thirty and The Batman

Credit: Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros.

Cinematographer Grieg Fraser originally played with infrared photography during the night vision sequences seen in Kathryn Bigalow’s hard-hitting Zero Dark Thirty (2012). Fraser then had the idea of using infrared filters on Matt Reeves’ The Batman (2022).

“I remember we were filming some shots on The Batman where he’s walking through Gotham Square at the beginning. And we had to shoot some material for the billboards that were in the background. I was going to shoot a fashion spot on Infrared, with some kind of dark-eyed, unusual-looking models.”

Regrettably, there wasn’t the time to film those ideas Fraser had in mind. But the planet of Geidi Prime, with its black sun blocking out all visible life, meant the cinematographer suddenly had the perfect venue for the technique.

As Fraser tells us, “When Denis mentioned to me about this look that he wanted to get for Geidi Prime, that he wanted it to be black and white, drained of colour, I went, ‘I need to show you this technique’. And I did a test and showed him what it was, and he loved it.”

The result is one of the most bold and visually captivating moments in the film.

The eerie ‘Picador’ figures during Feyd’s colosseum fight came from a Denis Villenueve sketch

Credit: Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros.

Remember the eerie warriors with the elongated masks in the Feyd-Rautha fight scene? During production, they were nicknamed ‘Picadors’, and originated from a quick sketch of Villeneuve’s.

“Often,” says Jacqueline West, “Denis would bring me little stick figure drawings, like he did on the Picadors in the gladiator scene, then I’d expand on them and make them full-bodied and real, and find the fabrics and everything.”

Feyd-Rautha’s armour, meanwhile, with its “embossed leather” and vaguely bio-mechanical look, was inspired by the late Swiss artist, HR Giger.

“I’ve always thought that costumes are the bridge from the actor to the character,” West says. “I like to see when you put a costume on a good actor like Austin [Butler, who player Feyd], that their body language changes. They become these intense characters. And if you don’t see that, you have to keep working. I often ask the actors, do they feel good? Do they feel like the character? If they aren’t moving differently, then I have to keep working and make some adjustments. They have to feel right in it… Then after they’ve had a rehearsal they come back in their costume and we have to go back to the first iteration that Denis first saw and approved! It’s a process.”

The addition of film grain is designed to tie in with Dune’s analogue future

You may have read elsewhere that Dune: Part Two was shot with digital cameras, then transferred to traditional 35mm film, then scanned back to digital again for presentation in cinemas. Director of Photography Grieg Fraser has previously said that the intention was to give the film a more classic look, without the crispness often found with digital cinematography. But he also tells us that there’s a story-led reason behind the film grain, too.

“I could tell through the work that [Denis] had done with Patrice [Vermette] on the design that [Dune] needed to have an analogue quality to it, the film needed to feel a little bit analogue,” Fraser tells us. “Because in the story, the world has basically banned the use of computers. And so it really needed to feel like there was an analogue quality to the film itself. And that was important in the cinematography, so I wanted to make sure that we continued that idea through the film.”

The secret to achieving epic scale is to contrast large and small

Credit: Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros.

Both Grieg Fraser and editor Joe Walker said, in separate interviews, was that one of the keys to making buildings, war machines and sandworms look huge is to contrast them with the very small. It’s why they both constantly set ordinary humans in vast landscapes, or cut from small creatures to, say, a towering Harkonnen Harvester.

“Scale is only relevant if you’ve got something to compare it to,” Fraser tells us. “Because if you look at anything, it’s only small or big compared to something else. So like the worms, for example, while they’re large – you see them crashing through a mountain – it’s not until you see a person on top of them, riding them, that you start to realise exactly how large they are.”

“In editing terms, it’s always about maintaining a balance between the epic and the intimate,” Joe Walker concurs. “There’s a shot that goes from the little desert mouse up to a giant Harkonnen Harvester, and that encapsulates, in a way, the intimacy of something very small and personal and something epic and monumental. I was always trying to marry the intimate with the landscape, most of all. So the scene of Chani and Paul where they’re together on a dune – the landscape is a play area in that. it’s an equal partner in the scene.”

Walker adds that the same is true of sound: Hans Zimmer’s booming score and the deafening roars of Dune: Part Two’s battle scenes have so much impact because they’re contrasted with moments of relative calm.

“There’s a moment where Chani shoots down a Harkonnen Ornithopter and there’s a huge fireball, and then you cut to more-or-less silence,” Walker says. “There’s a wide shot of her running, and you just hear [laboured breaths of someone running]. And then boom! And Hans [Zimmer’s music] comes in. You’re always looking for ways to refresh the ears and to find some light in between the dense, Teutonic noise.”

Paul Atreides’ fight with Feyd-Rautha parallels his training with Gurney Halleck in Part One

If Paul Atreides’ climactic duel with Feyd-Rautha seemed familiar, that’s because it was expressly designed to echo an early scene in Dune: Part One, in which Paul trains with Josh Brolin’s Gurney Halleck. As editor Joe Walker explains, “At the end of the very first training scene with Gurney [in Dune: Part One], Paul has the advantage and he has a blade against Gurney’s throat, and he says ‘Look down. We would have died together’. So without giving too much away, that parallels [Part Two] enormously.”

Nor is this the only parallel Walker created while cutting the Dune saga. “I love that in editing as well,” he tells us. “It’s a really good way to measure a story: where you are in a character’s development. Paul goes from a young man having puzzling dreams to being the messiah in the space of this drama. And it’s a great way of measuring.

“Hands, for example: the hand in the water, just before he goes to the chamber assembly, he says, ‘We’re gonna be like Harkonnens’. That again is a reference to his hand in the water. I always felt it was an augur of change, when he has his hand in the water when he’s just about to leave Caladan for Arrakis. They’re stones in the road that you recognise, and I think it’s a really elegant way of telling a story through sensation rather than information.”

Dune: Part Two is out on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-Ray and DVD on the 28th May.

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