Cast: Jamie Bell, Kate Mara, Miles Teller, Toby Kebbell, Michael B. Jordan
Director: Josh Trank
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Running Time: 100 minutes
Synopsis: A contemporary re-imagining of Marvel's original and longest-running superhero team, centers on four young outsiders who teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe, which alters their physical form in shocking ways. Their lives irrevocably upended, the team must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy.
Release Date: August 6th, 2015
The Story Of The 4
Like many modern day inventors and geniuses, Reed Richards has humble origins. At age 12, he toils countless hours in his mom and stepdad's garage in their suburban home in Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York.
There, the young inventor designs a unique matter transportation device that he cleverly cobbled together from parts scavenged from the salvage yard of his classmate, Ben Grimm. The tabletop-sized device, a 'cymatic matter shuttle," can transport objects from one place to another.
Four years later at his high school science fair, Reed's innovation catches the interest of Dr. Franklin Storm, Dean of the Baxter Institute, a school and think tank dedicated to incubating the best new ideas from high school and college students.
Dr. Storm asks the young visionary to be part of his elite group of brilliant students. Reed moves to New York City and joins the Baxter program, where he helps develop a shuttle that runs on the breakthrough technology he's developed.
One night, Reed decides to test his device, which had never been used on human beings, so he enlists his childhood friend Ben Grimm, along with Dr. Storm's son, Johnny Storm, and fellow Baxter student Victor von Doom to travel with him to another dimension that resembles a primordial Earth - an entire planet full of natural energy resources that have unlimited potential for those who can control it.
Unfortunately, the amateur astronauts' mission goes awry, leading to a explosion. Reed, Johnny and Ben are seriously injured along with fellow Baxter student Sue Storm, Dr. Storm's adopted daughter, who stayed behind in the lab. Meanwhile, Victor is missing.
In the aftermath of the Baxter incident, the government quickly ushers the four young people to a top-secret facility known as Area 57, where over the course of three years they are contained, stabilized, probed, and analyzed.
Reed, Johnny, Sue and Ben begin to exhibit unique physical conditions that provide them with incredible abilities: Reed can stretch his body into extraordinary shapes; Johnny can light himself on fire; Sue can render herself invisible and create powerful force fields; and Ben has transformed into a six-foot eight, thousand pound rock creature.
While Washington DC's political and military industrial brass assess and attempt to harness the these fantastic powers, these four young people must band together as they grapple with their new abilities and, ultimately, attempt to save the Earth from the mysterious and powerful force.
How The 4 Became Fantastic
The Fantastic Four possess a vaunted position in the venerable history of Marvel Comics. Created by the legendary Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, 'The Fantastic Four" issue #1 debuted in November 1961. The groundbreaking creation of Marvel's first superhero team humanized and brought humor to comics and ushered in the Marvel Age, preceding other iconic Marvel characters such as Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk and The X-Men. In that historic period of creativity in the early 1960s, Lee and Kirby were inspired by the atomic bomb scares that were part of the zeitgeist of the Cold War. The speculative effects of radiation from these nuclear bombs became the root of the superpowers possessed by many of their iconic characters.
The Fantastic Four stories are about characters who did not have to wear masks, and who sometimes clashed with each other. The comics were set in the real world so readers could identify even more with the Four.
A contemporary update, 'Ultimate Fantastic Four," a 60-issue series that arrived in 2004, reimagined the origins of the Four. Along with various stories and themes from the original Fantastic Four books, the Ultimate series inspired the storyline of the new Fantastic Four film.
4-Mation - The Filmmakers
Prior to the high-bandwidth Internet age, many budding young filmmakers got their start in music videos and commercials. But more recently they have been discovered from the new 'Do It Yourself" (DIY) school of short videos on outlets like YouTube and Vine.
In 2007, a budding young Los Angeles filmmaker, Josh Trank, created an 85-second 'Star Wars"-themed short, 'Stabbing at Leia's," which went viral and became an internet sensation, garnering millions of views in just a few weeks.
The video's cleverness and realism caught the attention of executives at Twentieth Century Fox. The Studio soon hired Josh Trank to make his debut feature film, 'Chronicle," a gripping story about three young men who discover a mysterious underground power that imbues them with abilities beyond their understanding, as well as heightening their darker sides. The film, shot in a found-footage format, became a global box office and critical sensation. 'Chronicle" bore a reality-tuned tone and style that would later inform Fantastic Four.
At the time, Fox had a reboot of The Fantastic Four in development. With the similar themes displayed in Josh Trank's superhero-inspired "Chronicle," and the director's fondness for the classic Marvel comics, the Studio executives knew they had the perfect person to bring an exciting new vision to Marvel's First Family of Superheroes. Josh Trank is part of a generation that grew up with comic books and comic book movie adaptations that possessed an intriguingly dark tone, which would also inspire his concept for a new Fantastic Four.
He entered the project with one key mandate: 'It starts with the movie I really want to see as a fan," he says. 'Something new that is not afraid to be subversive or to challenge how it's supposed to be done." First, he wanted to show the origins of the Four in their younger years before they become a team. Equally important, he strove to make its tone realistic, emotional and relatable. 'Their powers are congruent with the comic books, but instead of looking at them as powers, they're challenges that make each one of them a liability if they were to reenter society," Josh Trank explains.
Josh Trank placed the story and the characters in a world marked by diversity, reflecting our world today. This objective would be carried out in the film's casting, story, tone and design.
The story takes place before the team becomes celebrated around the world.. They don't wear spandex uniforms, and they have yet to adopt their familiar monikers of Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, The Human Torch and The Thing.
With Trank on board, 20th Century Fox asked Simon Kinberg to write and produce. Having produced 'X-Men: First Class" in 2010 and written and produced 'X-Men: Days of Future Past," the lifelong comic book fan was the ideal person to work with Trank on Fantastic Four.
Simon Kinberg says it was Josh Trank who provided a point of entry into the project. 'Josh Trank had such a clear vision about the tone and the voice of the movie in ways that would make it distinct from the previous movies and from any movies in this genre. Josh Trank's directive was to create a grounded, realistic, coming-of-age story."
Josh Trank adds that that one thing he always loved about The Fantastic Four is that they were never really superheroes. 'They were explorers and adventurers," he notes. 'They were always going places, running into danger on other planets or other dimensions. A lot of their struggles are very much symbolic of the normal struggles that any young person goes through."
Simon Kinberg says that although Josh Trank is ten years his junior, they shared many cinematic touchstones, including 'ET," 'Close Encounters," 'Star Wars," and 'The Terminator." That common ground helped influenced both the tone of the film and the decision to pursue a more practical approach to filmmaking, instead of completely relying on VFX.
Simon Kinberg joined a producing team that was also responsible for 20th Century Fox's other key Marvel adaptations: producer Hutch Parker, who produced both 'X-Men: Days of Future Past" and 'The Wolverine;" Gregory Goodman, who produced 'X-Men: First Class;" and Matthew Vaughn, the writer and director of 'X-Men: First Class."
Hutch Parker, a former president of production at 20th Century Fox, helped shepherd the 'X-men" franchise during his long tenure with the studio. 'What was really appealing to me about Fantastic Four was Josh Trank's vision," Hutch Parker says. 'Josh Trank has a very specific idea about what makes the comic special and that radiates through every facet of the film. He wanted to do something that he felt hadn't been done. He wanted his Fantastic Four to have an edge but still be accessible. We relate to it as a hero's journey, or, in this case, the four heroes' journeys."
In keeping with that ideal, Simon Kinberg set out to craft a screenplay that would treat the Four's transformation not as a great gift, but as a loss of control of their bodies. 'It should feel like real people suddenly hit with shocking physical changes," he explains. 'You're transformed physically, which affects every aspect of your life."
'When you first see them encountering these abilities it's not treated as a gimmick or game," adds Hutch Parker. 'For example, Johnny is suffering through the fear of thinking he's being consumed by fire."
Simon Kinberg mapped out an entire arc of where these characters could be in 10, 20 and 30 years. 'This forced me to ask questions like, how will they evolve and what will they become. The Four are not superheroes at the end of this story. They're not public. They're not even that comfortable with their powers. They don't have their code names or their costumes. This kind of origin story facilitates more nuance, character, and humanity."
While Fantastic Four has been contemporized in its tone, casting and design, it bears many of the books' iconic hallmarks. The film features several Fantastic Four icons such as the Baxter Building, the midtown New York City headquarters of the Baxter Institute where Dr. Franklin Storm presides over a class containing the foremost minds in the physical, technological and biological sciences. 'But the principal thing we kept from the original incarnation of 'The Fantastic Four" by Kirby and Lee is this notion that they are a little surrogate family," notes Simon Kinberg. 'The reason the comic has endured so many years is because of its familial dynamics. That's the essence of what we took from the original books, along with some of the fun, adventure and optimism."
'If there's a core message to Fantastic Four," Josh Trank explains, 'it's about going through things together, getting through everything life can throw at you, and ending up on the other end without quitting on each other."
Meet The 4
The filmmakers wanted an ensemble cast that would embody characters rooted in contemporary reality and social mores.
'We really wanted great, dramatic actors," Simon Kinberg states. 'Actors who come from a more character-driven background. It's the way we approach the -X-Men' movies."
Following the accident that transforms them, the Four develop a unique bond and an understanding that they will always be there for each other. The Four come to realise they are strongest when they are working together. So it was integral to cast actors who could convincingly relate to one another and play off each other - like family members.
The head of the team is the brilliant Reed Richards. Ever since he was a child, the young inventor's dream was to create a teleportation device. Years later his wish gets fulfilled when he creates a dimensional travel machine, the Quantum Gate, at the Baxter Institute. But a test mission goes awry and leaves Reed and his friends with unusual new powers. Reed himself is able to stretch his limbs to incredible lengths and morph into other guises.
'Reed Richards is one of the great minds of the comic book universe," Simon Kinberg points out. 'What makes Reed interesting is that he's an ethical person, but because he wants to keep testing the boundaries of science, he sometimes pushes past what is prudent. The Reed we created is an endlessly curious, boundary-pushing character who is more comfortable talking about science than personal stuff. Reed is so focused on his work that he usually doesn't connect with the rest of the world. But when he does connect, it's in a very amusing and sometimes deep way."
Miles Teller, one of Hollywood's fastest rising new stars, fresh off the success of 'Whiplash," the critically-acclaimed independent film 'The Spectacular Now," and the role of Peter in the hit YA film series 'Divergent," plays Reed Richards, one of the most important characters in the Marvel universe of superheroes.
'Miles Teller conveys the intelligence you need for Reed, but also some of the natural mischief," Simon Kinberg offers. 'He has some darker edges." Adds Hutch Parker: 'Miles Teller is wickedly funny, as anybody knows who has spent any time with him, but there's also a quiet reserve that we haven't seen from him before. It's inherently richer and promises something more unpredictable with the character."
Miles Teller says he quickly became aware of how beloved and famous the Four are in the pantheon of superheroes. 'I know it's a lot of people's favorite comics because they're the first superheroes to really have problems. They're the most human of all of them."
Miles Teller stresses that the film depicts Reed as a young man, and not the legendary character he ultimately becomes. 'I get to play a character that everybody knows from a certain stage in his life and take him back twenty years before," Miles Teller says. 'What I really like about Reed is his focus and hyper-intelligence. I think being the smartest person in the room is a great asset. That's a lot of power. But when you're that smart, there are few people who can understand you, and so I just liked playing somebody a little more inside himself. He's not trying to be the cool kid. All Reed wants to do his build this Quantum Gate. That's what drives him; he's a true pioneer."
Since Richards' stretching ability was created via CGI, Miles Teller notes that it was Josh Trank's direction on set that helped him visualise and perform those hyper-normal movements. Josh Trank would speak over a microphone with Miles Teller and the other actors during those VFX scenes to help describe the actions or environments that would later be created via CGI. 'As an actor the most important thing is specificity and focus," Miles Teller says. 'When you're doing these abstract things that are not possible in real life, you really can't practice it. So for me the most important thing is having a visual of it."
Another member of the team, Johnny Storm, is a young, hotshot adventure-seeker who wants nothing to do with his father, Dr. Storm's, science program. But when he gets in trouble during a street racing accident, his father insists he join Baxter, and so Johnny becomes an unwilling participant in the Institute's latest project. Following the botched mission, Johnny is transformed into a human, flying fireball. Unlike the others, however, Johnny is the quickest to adapt to and relish his new powers.
Josh Trank relates that Johnny embodies a little bit of the 'boss's son syndrome." 'Dr. Storm, the head of the Baxter Institute, is a very smart guy, but Johnny has a problem with him because his dad pays so much more attention to every other student around Johnny. So there's resentment, and Johnny doesn't want to follow in his footsteps. Even though he has a high I.Q. along with the drive, he would rather just have fun and do what he wants."
Adds Simon Kinberg: 'All of the flash that happens before and after Johnny is transformed into the Human Torch just masks what is underneath, which is a young man who wants attention from his father. He's a kid that grew up with a father who was a parent to tons of students and in some ways didn't have the focus to be the parent of his own son. So he's pulled away from his dad.
Simon Kinberg continues, 'In some ways, Johnny is the funniest, liveliest, and wildest of the Four; he's the one most people want to be. Just the notion of a guy who can set himself on fire and fly is just naturally appealing, but he's also sort of a ladies' man and a little cocky. All of those things conspire to him being considered the -movie star' of the Four. What's great is we found Michael B. Jordan, who really pulls it off."
The filmmakers also note that Jordan brought essential depth to the character. 'Michael B. Jordan has the cockiness and the showman qualities; he can play all of that. But there's also a humanity, a slight wounded feeling or vulnerability to Michael that brings additional dimensions to Johnny Storm," Simon Kinberg elaborates.
Jordan recalls that the idea of him playing Johnny Storm happened soon after he completed working on 'Chronicle." 'Josh Trank said, -I'm up for Fantastic Four,'" Jordan Storm remembers. 'I said something along the lines of -Yeah, you better cast me as Johnny,' and then we laughed and didn't say anything else about it. Then he called me a few months later and said, -You know, I think this could happen.'"
Jordan Storm notes that having the opportunity to play a character with special powers in 'Chronicle" was 'kind of like the appetizer" for Fantastic Four. 'I wanted to go full-on and take on a character that already existed. And I think the grounded nature of Fantastic Four appealed to me because it's just so relatable; you care about the characters. For me, Johnny Storm is The One. He's charismatic and very passionate about life. He's optimistic and wants to be taken very seriously, but he has a light-hearted nature about him, so there's a balance."
The film also is a coming-of-age story and a journey of self-discovery for the Four, as they must mature and deal with their new abilities. 'Johnny looks at this as a big opportunity to finally find his purpose," Jordan Storm adds. 'For Johnny, who is an adrenaline junkie, this may be his calling."
As a child, Johnny's stepsister Sue Storm was an orphan from Kosovo adopted into the family of Dr. Franklin Storm. As a young adult at Baxter she develops into a pattern recognition scientist, who can see patterns in everything and everyone. As a result of her proximity to a catastrophic event, Sue also obtains new abilities. She can render herself invisible and harness her new powers to create powerful force fields.
To honor the legacy of this bright comic book heroine, the filmmakers sought an actress with intelligence, strength and mystery. 'We were all really big fans of -House of Cards,' and Kate Mara's name was the first that came up," recalls Simon Kinberg. 'She brings a gravity to Sue that is really important to the character, who is also slightly uncomfortable with being beautiful. To Sue it might even be a disadvantage. So we wanted someone who was formidable, intelligent and powerful, even more so than the guys. Sue is empowered within the unit of the Four. In some ways she is the most mature of them."
Kate Mara remembers, 'I was even more excited about the chance to play Sue after hearing Josh's take because I'm interested in really grounded films, which is why I liked -Chronicle.' Josh Trank sold the story for me, instantly." Kate Mara also suggests that Sue is an internal person to begin with, so going invisible is an ability that is consistent with that trait.
After being adopted by Dr. Storm, it became readily apparent Sue was a gifted child. 'She has this pattern recognition gift," Kate Mara explains. 'She is very, very smart and works alongside her father with whom she has a close bond."
Kate Mara further notes that Sue's relationship with her brother Johnny is a more typical brother-sister relationship. She recalls that she shared an instant familial connection with both Reg E. Cathey, who portrays Dr. Storm, and Michael B. Jordan since they had common television series ties to either 'House of Cards" or 'The Wire." Like her colleagues, Sue does not immediately welcome her new powers.
'Obtaining them feels as if she has lost a limb," Kate Mara says. 'Josh Trank wanted it to be clear that what Sue can do with her powers does not come easily. It's exhausting, mentally and physically. It's as if to go invisible or use her force field would feel like running a marathon or holding my breath for an inhuman amount of time. It's just another thing that makes it feel like even though Sue has this special gift, she is still human. Sue doesn't feel normal and just wants things to go back to the way they were. Having powers she can't control is terrifying at first and completely isolating."
The fourth member of the nascent team is Ben Grimm, who lives with his mother and older brothers in a small home at his family's home business, Grimm Salvage Yard, on the wrong side of the tracks in Oyster Bay. Ben Grimm forges an unlikely friendship with the neighborhood egghead and inventor, Reed Richards, when he discovers Reed stealing parts from Ben Grimm's family's junkyard for his latest creation. Years later, after Reed enlists Ben Grimm to join his ill-fated teleportation mission at the Baxter Institute, Ben is transformed into a super-strong, six-foot, eight-inch, thousand pound being whose body is covered in rock, making him impervious to physical damage.
Jamie Bell, whose career was launched in the title performance in the British drama 'Billy Elliott," was chosen to play the strong-willed character.
The process that led to casting Jamie Bell began with the idea of an actor who was neither big nor brutish, but who could play the character as an outsider with a lot of bottled up energy, frustration and anger that manifests itself when he turns into a monster. 'What Josh [Trank] pursued is the inner qualities that make up the fabric of the character, the sense of quiet strength, of moral courage, of loyalty; different qualities that Jamie Bell can beautifully convey," Hutch Parker notes.
Simon Kinberg adds, 'Jamie Bell possesses real kindness and humanity, and once he transforms into The Thing it's all eye acting and voice because it's a CG character. Jamie Bell expresses that humanity and kindness solely through his eyes. It's something you'll see every time you look at his face, despite the fact that it's coming from this massive creature."
Jamie Bell says that he was sold on the film after a two-hour phone conversation during which Josh Trank pitched the entire movie to him from opening frame to the closing credits. 'That's just how Josh Trank is as a filmmaker. He's very specific. He has really good taste, and he's genuinely trying to do something different with this film, and that's admirable. It's a huge responsibility. And once I got off the phone with Josh Trank, I felt as if I'd seen Fantastic Four – and I liked the movie. What's great about it is it doesn't sound like a superhero movie, yet it still is. It has all the beats of a superhero film, but it feels like an experience of four individuals going through something crazy together and coming together and finding each other. That was really the heart of the film and I connected with that."
Jamie Bell describes Ben Grimm as 'someone who is at that point of his life where he doesn't know what he's going to do next. Ben Grimm doesn't have a lot of prospects. He's as average as they come. The only thing that makes him stand out is that he's very protective of himself and of his friends. Ben Grimm also has problems with his siblings and he gets bullied a lot, so he's constantly trying to prove himself. When he's intimidated, he likes to intimidate. But I think at heart he's a sweet guy."
Forming a close friendship with Reed Richards, Ben Grimm eventually gets called to participate in the mission aboard Reed's Quantum Gate at the Baxter Institute. The life-changing physical transformations hit Ben the hardest, completely altering his human appearance into a giant-sized rock creature. 'I think Ben Grimm gets the worst of it," Jamie Bell proposes. 'He has the worst affliction – he's literally a rock with eyes. Ben is so far removed from human form; he becomes something else entirely. And what all these kids feel in that moment is like they're alone; they have nothing; their lives are ruined; and now they have to live with these frightening conditions."
To portray the transformed Ben Grimm, Jamie Bell tried to focus on the young man inside the shell and not what he's become. 'The way I thought about it that he's actually the same eighteen, nineteen-year-old guy who's just trapped. He has the mindset he had prior to the transformation, so he's still a human in there. The thoughts or feelings of the performance don't necessarily become -I'm now this huge thing.' You just have to think as a young man who's trapped."
In addition to portraying Ben's mental state following his transformation, Bell had to take into account his six-foot-eight frame and thousand pound weight to physically portray the character, saying, 'The physicality of the role all comes from the movement, like when I was a dancer as a kid."
To obtain the correct height as an eyeline reference for the camera and other actors, Jamie Bell would often have to execute his scenes not only wearing the performance capture suit, but with his legs and feet strapped into special stunt stilts that added an extra foot of height to his frame. 'The stilts were not easy," Jamie Bell reveals, 'but they were very useful. Having that extra height on set and for the character does change your mindset a little. I mean, you're intimidating."
Jamie Bell also worked closely with noted movement choreographer Terry Notary. A performance capture specialist, Notary has performed as an actor and trained other actors in motion capture performance on films such as 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," 'The Hobbit" and 'Avatar."
Although Jamie Bell in his digitally transformed state of Ben Grimm/The Thing would not be recognisable as himself, it was important to Trank that Ben's nuances remain. 'Jamie Bell and I spent the first couple of days of preparation figuring out the internal workings of the character and what kind of person Ben is," Terry Notary recalls. 'It was important to Josh that we can identify with The Thing as a person, as someone who is trapped within that shell."
'His size has a lot do with how we changed his movement," Terry Notary explains. 'You have to embody this sense of dropping your center down and transferring your weight through your legs into the ground. It really gives the character a sense of mass and weight."
With the actors playing the Fantastic Four in place, the filmmakers set their sights on casting Victor von Doom, the seminal antagonist in the 50-year legacy of the comics. Victor is so iconic it is speculated by many that he is partly the visual inspiration for Darth Vader in George Lucas's 'Star Wars."
Victor became one of the most famous all-time villains in the Marvel Comics universe. In Josh Trank's updated origin story, the character is a brilliant but tempermental computer scientist who is lured back to The Baxter Institute by Dr. Storm to join Reed Richards and his team of scientists – as Reed is finalizing the Quantum Gate device, a technology Victor had unsuccessfully been working on for a decade at the Institute before he unceremoniously dropped out.
Simon Kinberg adds detail to the backstory he created for the character. 'Victor was one of Dr. Storm's early students at the Baxter Institute," he suggests. 'Victor is the sort of case study gone wrong. He's the student who was a troubled kid from a broken home, who lost his parents, but who possesses an off the charts IQ. Dr. Storm found Victor in an orphanage and brought him to New York to help direct his genius into productive projects. But there is a broken part of Victor that never heals, that never stops rebelling. He was working on his version of the Quantum Gate and it never fully come together, and his discipline problems got the better of him. Victor's brain is almost too big for this world."
Josh Trank says Victor is haunted by his dark childhood. 'It's something he can't really get over. When we meet him in his mid-twenties, he's very much beaten up by life because he could never really find himself in this new world after everything that happened to him as a kid. So when Dr. Storm reaches out to Victor and asks him to come back to the Baxter Institute to work on this project, it's because he deeply cares about him." Victor, however, can't shed his alienation or anarchistic tendencies.
Simon Kinberg recalls that casting the role was the most challenging. 'I think villains are the trickiest characters to cast because if you get it wrong, they can be arch and fake. The Victor that we discussed from the beginning was a nuanced, broken human, and yet a really powerful, scary character."
On the top of the filmmakers' list was English actor Toby Kebbell, who recently starred as the scheming ape Koba in the summer 2014 hit, 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes." 'Toby Kebbell is a fabulous actor and just brought this sort of mystery to Victor," Simon Kinberg says. 'I think it's important that Victor be a compelling figure."
Toby Kebbell says of his malevolent character: 'Victor is someone who has a very high intellect, but a very low tolerance for people's greed."
When Victor joins Reed, Johnny and Ben as human test subjects on the first mission with the Quantum Gate device, he is subject to the same accident that causes the others to obtain their incredible new powers. Left behind in an alternate dimension during the incident, Victor survives by being able to harness the dimension's energy, which makes him super-powerful.
But over the course of the three years that Victor has spent on this world he has also gone slightly crazy. Combined with his anger and rebellious nature, that makes him a lethal force. 'Victor sees gaining these new powers as a great opportunity," Toby Kebbell expresses. 'Unlike the Four, Victor enjoys his powers; they're not an affliction. This is actually the best thing that could have ever happened to Victor. But no one else sees it that way. Everyone sees Victor as damaged, while he thinks that what he is doing is for the good of humanity, and that's the nature of evil."
Veteran dialect coach Michael Buster, who recently used his linguistic skills to coach European actors Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender for their roles in the Oscar® winning '12 Years a Slave," consulted with British actors Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell to ensure their accents were appropriate for the characters. Buster helped Bell transform his accent into a young man who hails from the Oyster Bay area of Long Island, New York and notes that he studied the voices and inflections of such noted Long Island-raised celebrities as Billy Joel and Jerry Seinfeld to inform his vocal tutorials. Toby Kebbell had to become an Americanized young man hailing from an Eastern European country, so Buster focused on helping him create a combined American/Eastern European Slavic accent. 'We actually found a Hungarian guy who had the perfect voice to inform Victor's character," he says.
Victor and the Four's mentor is Dr. Franklin Storm, portrayed by noted character actor Reg E. Cathey. In addition to his job running the Baxter Institute, Dr. Storm is the biological father of Johnny Storm and adoptive father of Sue Storm.
A theater veteran, Reg E. Cathey says he became interested in the film when he learned it was as much driven by carefully conceived characters as it was by spectacle. 'I was completely taken with the story's human elements," he states. 'It's basically a family story; each of the Four is trying to find a place in the world. It's mythic and primal. They're a group of people who develop a special bond, who then watch as it gets destroyed. No matter how elastic Reed is, no matter how much power is in Sue's force fields, no matter how indestructible Ben is, no matter how fiery Johnny is, or how tragic Victor is, each of their souls is much stronger than their superpowers."
Noted character actor and playwright Tim Blake Nelson, who is best known for his role as Delmar O'Donnell in Joel and Ethan Coen's 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?," plays the politically-driven Chairman of the Board of the Baxter Institute and its main conduit to funding from both government and private concerns. While Dr. Storm's goal is to advance science, the chairman's agenda is more corporate driven. The wily political animal wants to find commercial uses for the Baxter students' discoveries to appease the demands of the Foundation's investors. This frequently results in seeking the involvement of high-ranking members of the government's wealthy military-industrial complex.
Tim Blake Nelson explains, 'My character is in charge of how the money is spent, and who makes certain it's spent in the right ways. Once the four young people are transformed, he becomes a liaison between the Baxter Institute and the government, in charge of how the young superheroes are exploited for military purposes."
Simon Kinberg notes that, 'If Dr. Storm represents hope and dreams and aspirations, then the chairman represents corporate greed, thinking smaller, squashing dreams, or capitalizing them and turning them into product. It's a very modern character."
As the government and other backers' pressure on him mounts, his darker, more sinister side becomes increasingly prominent. 'I think at a deeper level, he becomes seduced by what these people can do," Tim Blake Nelson says.
About The Production
Fantastic Four reunites Josh Trank with director of photography Matthew Jensen, who served as the cinematographer on 'Chronicle." Unlike his work on that film, which was shot in a found-footage, handheld style, Fantastic Four showcases more classic filmmaking techniques, with most of it shot using stabilized dolly and crane-mounted cameras and Steadicam.
Jensen employed Arri Alexa cameras, which are film-style digital motion picture cameras, using the Super 35 format. 'The Alexa cameras have proved to be great for us because nearly every scene involves some sort of visual effects," he says. 'So it's easy to work in a digital environment. I couldn't have shot Fantastic Four in the same way on film, because I worked at such low light levels and so much of the lighting is integrated into the set, so the Alexa gave me far more flexibility.
'We wanted to keep it all very grounded and realistic," Jensen continues. 'It's a careful balance. I used a lot of source-based lighting, so that the light that you see in the frame is the light that is lighting the shots. I worked with [production designer] Chris Seagers and [set decorator] Victor Zolfo and the entire art department to integrate a lot of the lighting fixtures into the set design. So we had the ability to essentially light the set from the practical fixtures."
Fantastic Four was filmed almost entirely in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For nearly 10 years, the Louisiana capital city, the second largest in the state after New Orleans, has been host to a growing infrastructure of feature films and television shows. Half of the film was shot on stages and half on location. 'We left no stone unturned scouting in the Baton Rouge area to see what the city had to offer," recalls native Louisiana-based location manager Elston Howard.
The film's primary stages and production offices were based at Celtic Media Centre, Louisiana's largest film and television production studio.
From empty soundstages, closed hospitals – even an old spiritual ministry – production designer Seagers created everything from domestic suburban settings to dystopian secret military-industrial complexes.
For the first several weeks of filming, Fantastic Four filmed on stage, fully occupying the three largest spaces at Celtic Media Center, encompassing a diverse group of sets.
Inside Celtic Studio's 31,000 square foot Stage 4, the designers created the Baxter Building underground lab, where Reed and his fellow team of scientists and technicians build the Quantum Gate shuttle that will transport them on their ill-fated inter-dimensional mission. The large-scale shuttle utilizes the advanced technology initially created in Reed's Oyster Bay garage. The design of the high-tech industrial set was inspired by a local university's particle accelerator facility, which the filmmakers featured in another scene.
For the set, which took nearly three months to construct, Seagers utilised the entirety of the vast interior stage, including the actual stage walls, as part of the laboratory. Though the lab contained technology that is more in the realm of science fiction, he wanted it to be based on tangible technologies. 'It's all about power and energy, so we tried to use coils and copper and elements to give it a sense of gravitas," Seagers notes.
In designing the lab's centerpiece, Reed's Quantum Gate shuttle, Seagers maintained a design that had already been established from earlier incarnations of the invention. 'We tried to keep the basic shape that was in Reed's original formula," he says. 'He has discovered how this shape works with his particular technology, so we tried to keep that all the way through the movie, so there's a kind of continuity."
The Baxter lab's set's design also kept to Jensen's source lighting plan. 'The Baxter Lab and Area 57 were our two biggest sets where we used this practical lighting approach," says Jensen. 'So many of the fixtures, the fluorescents, and the lighting on the walls are all things that we had talked about. We integrated LEDs into all of the fixtures so we could control them in terms of intensity and color and be able to switch them for a day look or a night look."
Celtic's Stage 6 was the primary site for the live-action portions set in the alternate dimension, which Reed discovers through his experiments with quantum teleportation. 'The idea was to make it look like the Earth, but in its primordial growth period," Josh Trank says. 'It's almost like the idea of going back in time, but without it affecting anything in our world. So instead of it being some kind of creepy, alien landscape that we've seen a million times, we're going to a place that's really dangerous, where there are natural disasters happening everywhere."
The dimension's dark, windswept terrain was entirely created with visual effects based on the key art material designed by Seagers and his art department. 'The light and textures were particularly important to Josh Trank," Seagers states. In creating the concept art for this world, his artists researched different planet surfaces. For the live action portions, particularly the team's life-altering first visit aboard Reed's shuttle, an 80-foot by 50-foot blue memory foam platform was erected surrounded by a massive 108-foot by 148-foot green screen, which the VFX artists would replace to create the mysterious dimension replete with its unusual textured surfaces, rocky terrain, dangerous plains, soaring rock columns, glowing rocks, steep cliffs, lava, and spewing orange ash.
During the week of filming the team's first visit to the alternate dimension on Stage 6, Miles Teller, Michael B Jordan, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell wore special extra-vehicular activity (EVA) space suits that required them to be hooked into cooling units in special cooling stations between scenes.
Following several weeks of stage filming at Celtic Studios, the crew relocated to an area hospital that had closed its doors in 2013, to film scenes that take place in an expansive gray, concrete, glass and steel top-secret government installation known as Area 57. There, the intrepid Four are trained to contain and wield more control over their remarkable new powers and, per the government's ultimate plan, to weaponize them for battle.
'Chris Seagers pitched these concepts of Area 57 being this narrow and long corridor - a locked down, tight confinement-type look," recalls location manager Howard. 'We just started asking questions of the Baton Rouge state film commission about how we were looking for a hospital from the early-to-mid 1900s, because we knew we'd get that kind of architecture and especially those long corridors. Most modern hospitals now don't have corridors like that anymore. We brought Chris to the hospital and he thought it was amazing."
With demolition of the hospital location to begin as soon as filming was wrapped, the property owners gave the production permission to gut anything that was needed to create the film's sets. The art department spent nearly two months stripping away most of the ground floor level of the shuttered hospital campus to construct Area 57's gray concrete glass and steel high-tech holding rooms, observation areas, surveillance rooms, testing labs, and living quarters. The lab sets were decorated with advanced medical testing equipment and monitors, while the Four's living quarters were each customized to their special physical needs and powers. This included Sue's living quarters/library, and Johnny's scorched chamber, the latter decorated with burned concrete and steel furniture impervious to his red-hot flame.
Of all the living quarters in Area 57, Sue Storm's room probably has the most character. Set decorator Zolfo says, 'Sue's room is very clinical; it becomes sort of a cocoon that she's hiding in. Sue goes through this experience where she becomes really introverted, and doesn't come out of this self-induced silence until Reed re-enters the picture. We tried to make it look like she's comfortable, but it's still very cold."
The color palette of Area 57 is muted and grayed out. Zolfo adds, 'It's dark and atmospheric. This isn't about bright, sunny superheroes."
The film's military technical advisor, Johnny Hoffman, worked closely with the background actors and stunt personnel, who portray the government facility's quick-reacting Army security force, to ensure that their movements and tactics were authentic. Hoffman, a former Navy SEAL who served as the Taliban Fight Coordinator for Peter Berg's drama 'Lone Survivor," also consulted with the film's wardrobe and props departments to further enhance the authenticity of the depiction of U.S. soldiers.
A wing of Reed's Baxter Building underground lab was constructed at an area radiation research center. Its key feature is a 1.5 GeV electron storage ring. The $150 million facility, which has never before been used in a film production, also served as the visual inspiration for the design of the Baxter lab that was created on stage at Celtic Studios.
In Downtown Baton Rouge, on the corner of 3rd Street and Convention Street, the old Louisiana State Office Building became the exterior of the fabled Baxter Institute. To transform the surrounding Baton Rouge streets into New York City, the art department had to blacktop the roads and add continental crosswalks and bus lanes, while the picture car coordinator brought in several New York City buses, taxis and NYPD vehicles. Although the summer temperature in Baton Rouge soared into the 90s, the 200 extras had to be outfitted in cold weather clothing made for a New York winter.
George Little ('Zero Dark Thirty," 'The Hurt Locker") designed the costumes and oversaw a 30-person department. George Little says most of the wardrobe in Fantastic Four adheres to an organic black, brown and gray color palette, consistent with the film's production design.
'We went through probably fifty or sixty drawings of each character's costumes, done by concept artist Keith Christensen, constantly refining or changing them," notes George Little.
As a precautionary measure to protect them from whatever harsh environmental elements they may be subject to as they travel to an alternate dimension, Reed, Johnny, Ben and Victor don extra-vehicular activity (EVA) suits they have developed. 'The EVA suits were based on research we did on what scientists are doing for future missions to Mars, where they are trying to come up with suits that are not the bulky things we normally see," George Little says. 'Also, we don't know where the Four are going – it's not necessarily space, but it is definitely not of this Earth, so the suit had to offer protection that you would find in a prototypical space suit."
In fashioning the EVA space suits and the Four's post-transformation containment suits, Little relied on the temperature-controlled smart fabrics from Italian textile company Eurojersey. The warp-knit polyamide microfiber and LYCRA® elastomer suits were breathable for long days of filming and could stretch, which was useful for the action and stunt sequences. Based on the costume department's designs and fabric needs, the suits themselves were made by specialty costumes company Film Illusions ('Thor," 'Star Trek").
The containment suits, which allow the wearer to interface their neural transmission to control his or her conditions, were partly inspired by suits made for people with neuromuscular disorders such as MS and cerebral palsy. (Jamie Bell wore a traditional spandex motion capture performance suit, as he would be transformed into The Thing using CG.)
In the story, Johnny Storm's and Sue Storm's containment suits were designed by the government during their stay at Area 57. Upon escaping from the facility, Reed constructs his own costume that allows him to rein in his super-flexibility. He kitbashes the suit together from fabric and parts he salvages while in hiding in Argentina. 'Reed has escaped to South America and built his suit from scrap material – coils, bands, plumbing parts, whatever he can come up with," says Little. 'We wanted to make sure it had a just put together feel, rather than something that was very clean or superhero-ish."
For scenes where Johnny is aflame, Michael B. Jordan wore a special interactive fire light suit that was then fully rendered via CGI during post-production. The custom suit was outfitted with a series of hundreds of bright, pulsating yellow and orange LED lights that would serve as a practical light source to shine on the set pieces to simulate the light of the flames.
Lighting Johnny became a personal project for director of photography Matthew Jensen. 'Not only is he on fire, but he is a walking light source. So it was very important to me that we not cheat the lighting. Normally in that type of situation you'd have some sort of movie lighting that is just outside the frame to cheat the fire coming from the character when he lights walls or people. But I insisted that Michael as Johnny actually wear his light. That's where the digital effects came in because we knew they would be covering up his body with flames. So we built this light suit, and because the technology in LEDs is so sophisticated we were able to build it from head to toe. It was all run remotely from our dimming console. So Johnny could walk around and light the set just with that suit."
Sue Storm's containment suit holds her spectral force field flares and controls her visibility. 'Basically, there are certain parts of the suit that don't disappear when she fades in and out," explains George Little. 'It's not that she doesn't want to disappear, but the people holding her captive don't want her to disappear; they'd like to know where she is."
The event that transforms the Fantastic Four in the Baxter Building lab also has profound effects on fellow traveler Victor von Doom, who's been accidentally left behind in the alternate dimension. The EVA space suit he was wearing during the episode becomes permanently infused with his skin, while his helmet also merges to create a mask over his face. The rest of him is covered in a dark, ragged cloak, made from the flag the Four left behind.
During his three years in isolation this alternate dimension, Victor's appearance takes on the organic sheen of its surface. According to George Little, 'Victor imploded and the atoms have fused his suit with his body along with the other substances on the planet.
The colors of the suit were created from all the organic materials from the dimension, and all burned." Manufactured by specialty costumes company Film Illusions, Victor's skin/suit (neck, body, hands and gloves) was fabricated out of silicon and spandex, while his mask and helmet were produced out of clear urethane that was intrinsically painted from the inside. 'The intrinsic painting gives him a depth of feeling of the person underneath, rather than just a mask," George Little adds. 'This is actually his head. This is his face. This is who he is."
Overseeing this massive VFX undertaking on Fantastic Four was Academy Award® winning visual effects supervisor Kevin Mack.
To create the alternate dimension, Mack had to digitally build environments based on Seagar's designs. 'The idea is that it's a parallel dimension to ours; maybe it's a version of Earth or some other planet altogether," Kevin Mack explains. 'It's very much like a primordial Earth, yet it's different because it's in another dimension and has developed differently. Its characteristics are eventually reflected in what happens to our characters and the powers they acquire from it."
Kevin Mack notes that the organic elements contained in this dimension become most prominent in the transformation of Ben Grimm. 'Ben develops this incredibly dense, strong, rocky hide," Kevin Mack states, while noting it won't be exactly like any particular version of The Thing fans are already familiar with. 'Rather than just a kind of matte, evenly textured surface, Ben has a much more complex surface with different reflective characteristics, color and texture. As he moves, his rocky surface crunches and cracks and reforms."
Noted concept artist Keith Christensen ('X-Men: Days of Future Past," 'Man of Steel") crafted a one-third scale model maquette of Ben sculpted out of 40 pounds of plastilina clay. The maquette laid the foundation for the character's CG rendering.
Transforming Ben into a hulking six-foot eight-inch rock creature, took the combined efforts of the on-set visual effects artists as well as the team at MPC (Moving Picture Company), the global visual effects house whose recent credits include 'X-Men: Days of Future Past," 'Godzilla" and 'Guardians of the Galaxy."
Kevin Mack explains the challenges of creating Ben Grimm's character based on the medium of performance capture. 'Using several witness cameras from multiple angles, we were able to see everything Jamie Bell did, and capture every nuance of his performance, to integrate into the CG version of the character. 'It had to be tempered with a careful artistic interpretation of the performance. Jamie Bell did some amazing things with his face and body to take on the character. It gave the animators something really great to work with."
Release Date: August 6th, 2015