By Natasha Gan
The Revenant is a movie by Alejandro González Iñárritu that tells the grueling life-or-death journey of a fur trapper named Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the dead of winter. Set to depict the wilderness of the 1800s, The Revenant production design was the works of Oscar-nominated production designer Jack Fisk.
One of the most noteworthy scenes is Glass standing beside a towering mountain of buffalo skulls. Since 10,000 animal skulls were too expensive and difficult to obtain, Fisk casted skulls with rubber, injected them with Styrofoam and banked them in fives. The Revenant production design team then used a frame to hold all of the skulls together.
Similarly, the church in the movie — or what’s left of it — was also constructed out of Styrofoam. Fisk and his team built colossal blocks in a warehouse, plastered Russian frescoes on them and assembled everything in the chosen location before the shooting. The end result is reminiscent of Romanesque churches in Europe.
In preparing the Pawnee Indian Village, Fisk advised the carpenters to discard any preconceived aim to be perfect. Instead, they were told to achieve a realistic wear-and-tear effect on the makeshift buildings. After all, back in the 1800s, the huts were made of less-than-picturesque mud or straws. Fisk turned to journals, reports and paintings from the period to get a better picture of the setting. Set decorator Hamish Purdy helped Fisk with the interior.
All of these production milestones aside, it was actually finding the perfect location that presented the biggest challenge. The filming of The Revenant relied solely on natural lighting, so the lighting condition of a location was a major determinant. After several months of location scouting in Canada, Fisk and location manager Robin Mounsey finally agreed on the province of Alberta, with some scenes done in British Columbia and Argentina.
The collaboration of The Revenant production design team with the other crewmembers culminated into an Oscar nomination for best production design. The movie has also been nominated for 11 other categories, coming out as the movie with the most nominations this year. The elephant in the room however, is whether DiCaprio will take home the Oscar for actor in a leading role this time.
Photos by 20th Century Fox