VOD Spotlight: Building the Landscapes of “Riddick”

Vin Diesel returns for his third go-round as the antihero Riddick, a dangerous escaped convict wanted by every bounty hunter in the known galaxy. The film picks up some years after the events of the previous film, The Chronicles of Riddick, with Riddick left for dead on a sun-scorched planet and forced to defend himself from an alien race of predators.

Though Riddick required many visual effects, it was important to the production team to not have the entire film shot on green screen. Indeed, they wanted sets that could anchor the actors in their environment. Production designer Joseph Nemec designed the various environs that Riddick and the bounty hunters would experience. Eight unique landscapes were needed, but with only four soundstages, Nemec had to carefully plan when to tear one down to build another.

The landscapes depicted different aspects of the hostile planet’s terrain, from its badlands — filled with steaming sulfur pools and yellow sand that whipped about — and huge reddish rock walls with large mud pits to hoodoo rock formations and a vast, desolate savanna-like tundra. Praising Nemec, director David Twohy says: “Joe is a quick-change artist, and few people could have pulled off what he did.”

In order to expand Nemec’s tundra landscape in the film, visual effects supervisor Gunnar Hansen traveled to Kuujjuaq in Quebec, Canada. “We were helicoptered in to an area that has probably never had a human set foot in it before; the terrain was too rough to drive through. We didn’t see any wildlife at all in this stark, desolate landscape,” says the VFX supervisor. For this special shoot, Hansen’s team built an elaborate rig to hold the three high-resolution digital still cameras needed to capture the visuals.

Nemec explains what was required of his crew to create this barren tundra inside a giant soundstage: “It took about nine truckloads of dirt and rubble to shape the ground. Then we came back and poured concrete over all of that. Then we came back again with more dirt and gravel and ground materials over the top; that began to suggest the tundra. To finish, we used a combination of Styrofoam coated with plaster, other wood structures with fiberglass and plaster rocks over the top. Finally, we gave them all the same scenic treatment to match the rocks of the Kuujjuaq area.”

In the film, Riddick takes refuge in ancient burial ruins. As Nemec drew the ruins, he imagined what culture would have influenced them. “We felt the burial ruins had to be an architectural environment,” says the production designer. “We decided to take our influence from Petra in Jordan. The idea was that in a great deteriorated mountain, some ancient civilization would have carved out a shrine or ceremonial place that gave homage to the creatures on the planet.” When researching the inner carvings and the stone that was used in Petra, the art department learned that the main colors were mainly shades of terra cotta. Fortunately, it was a perfect complement to the palette that Nemec was working with, so he kept them.

Riddick_webRiddick is available starting Jan. 14 on Video On Demand. Check your cable system for availability.

© 2014 Universal Pictures. Credit: Universal Pictures