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Darren Aronofsky Salutes His ‘Noah’ Production Artisans

Most awards buzz centers on fourth-quarter films, but many earlier 2014 works deserve to be remembered. For example, “Noah.” Paramount debuted the film back in March, but long after the release, filmmaker Darren Aronofsky was enthused about talking with his collaborators on the film, which scored an impressive $362 million globally.

Cinematography, Matthew Libatique
We wanted to reinvent the biblical epic. The edict was no robes, no long beards, no sandals, no Middle East deserts. The Noah story is prehistorical. Everything was new, everything was a miracle — like the first rainbow. So we wanted to create a universe unto itself. We did a lot of research, but much of the look and lighting was dictated by Iceland. We chose Iceland because it’s the newest piece of earth on the planet. We wanted to go to the true primordial place on the map. The lighting there is unique and Matty had huge challenges, because the cloud systems were insane and we had huge landscapes to light. We were also shooting with a special effects team. Plus, the rain sequence was a huge challenge. We dumped more water on our actors than any film in history. And Matty had to figure out a way to light it. In the ark itself, the only light source is the fire from the furnace. So how do you get lighting that’s true and acceptable to the audience?

Production design, Mark Friedberg
We needed to create a universe that was cohesive. We wanted to create something that you didn’t know exactly when it was, but there was something cohesive about it. That was the challenge I gave Mark and he ran with it.

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It was also about figuring out look of film. It was about this fantastical, mythical world. Once we committed to Iceland, Mark pushed to have the whole aesthetic — the colors, the textures of Iceland — to infect the costumes, the makeup, the visual effects even animal sequences.

And he built an ark! It was a huge challenge, because you’re talking about one of the most iconographic pieces of architecture in the history of art: It’s been represented for hundreds of years. We looked at every single piece of art that represented the ark, but it’s funny, we never found what was described in the Bible. The most literal part is the shape and measurement of the ark. We kept coming back to simplistic design. It didn’t need to navigate, just to survive the flood. We brought in shipbuilders, to make sure our ark could handle that. It was a huge undertaking. And Mark had to build it twice. There was a huge structure in Long Island, and he also built a three-story building for interior scenes. It was his idea to make the bottom level mammals, second level was reptiles, and the third was birds. It allowed me to move vertically and horizontally. It was important to put the actors 70-80 feet in air, to capture the majesty of it.

Editor, Andrew Weisblum
It was a very long and hard process. I wish they gave awards to editors who are forced to go through the whole process of testing films, because he had to keep experimenting and coming up with new ideas. We tried everything. We eventually ended up with the movie that was most like the script and that was greenlit. He was a good sport about it.

He’s a genius at editing performances; he can cut the hell out of performances, as he did with “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan.” For example, the scene when Noah gets drunk on beach. It’s a very challenging scene, to see your hero descend into self pity; how do you make him watchable and sympathetic. Noah goes from the sympathetic protagonist to the antagonist, and then we needed to bring the character back from that. Russell gave us that in the performance, but finding that line (in the editing) was no easy task.

Andrew also comes from a visual-effects background. He had been the visual-effects editor on “The Fountain.” He has ability to mock up a sense of what things will feel like and help me visualize that in the editing process.

Visual effects, ILM and Dan Schrecker
Normally when you make big effects movies, you build assets that you use over and over again — like robots who are throughout the film. With “Noah,” there were so many different types of effects. But ILM really delivered. They did motion capture with the Watchers, plus animals — I wanted the animals to be reinvented — and the rain: Water effects are really challenging. Plus there is the creation sequence, from the Big Bang to Adam & Eve. It was all done with stop-motion effect. Every frame is an individual image for an artist to work on. It was a tremendous amount of work. They really rose to the occasion. The creation sequence is like three pages of script, but for me it was one of the reasons to make the film. It sums up the film in a lot of ways. Noah explains why he turned his back on creation: There’s beauty and also what man has done to it.

Music, Clint Mansell
I didn’t want typical epic music, but it still needed to have that epic scale. We talked about trying to figure out something timeless. We didn’t want to bring ethnicity into it because the story takes place before culture; it’s something more primal, more connected to the earth because we were only 10 generations from creation. So we didn’t want a specific feel of time and place. We stayed away from piano and brass. We had one day of choir; I didn’t want it to sound like church music, but music that could be from any time period.

The creation sequence was so hard, but he came up with this sweet melody. We created themes that relate to different characters. We needed a theme for Noah, which is about living at peace with the planet; a theme for Emma’s character, the mother of humanity. So we would talk about big ideas and he would weave them together to help tell the story.

Clint pushed the orchestra and the Kronos Quartet, to do sounded unique, but with a sweeping feel that grounded the film. The orchestra covered everything, we had a week with the Kronos Quartet, it became a mix. They’re like Jimi Hendrix of violins, they rip and shred and make crazy sounds with their instruments. It was the first score recorded in Atmos.

Song, Patti Smith
That was a great gift. I was thinking about “Noah,” and I was president of the jury at Venice and she was at the Biennale. We hung out, and were walking around Venice at 2 a.m. and I started telling her I needed a lullaby to be sung in the film. She said, “You may not believe this, because I’m known for my punk, but a lot of my songs are based on lullabies.” She begged me to write it! A huge theme in the film is this conflict between justice and mercy. At beginning, God wants justice, then ultimately there’s a rainbow and mercy. I thought the lullaby should be all about mercy. The song appears twice in the film and I said “Patti, you gotta play it with the Kronos.” And they all played live together. And that plays at the end of the film.

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