Rick Heinrichs has been a film production designer since the mid-Nineties, working on a fairly fantastical group of movies, including The Big Lebowski, Sleepy Hollow, Planet of the Apes (2001) and the last two Pirates of the Caribbeans. He entered the movie world as the alien designer in 1980’s The Watcher in the Woods, and joined forces with Tim Burton, producing, designing and sculpting in 1982’s Vincent and then as visual effects consultant in Beetlejuice.

We met Rick Heinrichs in the The Wolfman studios, walking around the stately and decaying Talbot Hall. Such is the quality of the construction and design that’s it’s impossible to resist the temptation to walk up to the walls and tap them, just to make sure they really are part of a set construction.

The classic Universal films were all filmed in the studios and backlot, but this movie seems to have a lot of locations.

Creating the atmosphere of a Horror movie... © Universal
Creating the atmosphere of a Horror movie... © Universal
I have done so many films on stages, so I was attracted by the idea of taking the Horror film and giving it, not a Hammer Horror feel, but much more of a real period identity.

It’s fantastic to be here [in England] and explore all the great stately homes and get a real feel for the locations. It’s so different from what we get in the States.

I did Sleepy Hollow here also, but at the same time that had a kind of a manufactured feel. We were outside on location for that; we built the village. So that was much more of a situation where people were controlling it from the top down.

It does mean that you have to come to England, research and scout all these locations to find what’s right. Even in the countryside today there are still things that need to be eliminated, changed, extracted via visual effects or hidden by us.

So it’s been a learning experience for me coming over and trying to adapt locations. We are mostly done with our location shooting and at the more stage-bound end of the show. There is still quite a bit of that, and we do in fact have a few exteriors on stage, which is kind of a hallmark of Sleepy Hollow, but the feel of this is something that really could have happened, grounded in reality.

The look of the sets does seem rather Gothic.

A classic Horror setting - something in the bedroom... © Universal
A classic Horror setting - something in the bedroom... © Universal

‘Gothic’ is one of those words. I guess you would describe it as ‘Victorian Gothic’, a late Victorian period. There are certain touchstones to address if you’re doing a Horror film. Certain things are just more creepy and cool and scary – if they’re overgrown or if you add smoke or defuse the lighting.

There are a lot of animal shapes, and a certain colour scheme to the sets.

That’s intentional; the fact we’re using green so much. You want a sense of this house. You want it, to some degree, to express the character of the people who live in it, And there is a creeping overgrowth that we were trying to get that envelopes Talbot Hall.

What‘s great about this particular Victoria period is there was always this conflict between civilized and natural. The Victorians would go out into the world, collect animal skins, heads and artwork. They brought the world into their homes.

There is definitely that Victorian character of the gatherer, that you actually accumulate the world and put it in your house. And we want to have that overgrowth feel when you enter the interior, the conflict between the civilized and the natural.

So you have a definite colour palette?

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) and Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) and the Grand Staircase © Universal
Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) and Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) and the Grand Staircase © Universal
It’s hard to tell until you actually see this in theatres, [to see] what they’re going to be doing with the saturation of the colours. I think there will be some de-saturation.

The palette is more earthy, greens and browns; the idea of Nature that has been captured and is mouldering away. We’re holding back, obviously, the colour red for very specific things.

There’s a little bit of blue in there, particularly for the entry hall. The big, great hall is to show Sir John’s version of the Victorian accumulation of the world. It wants to feel like a decayed, mouldering pile of leaves, overgrowth and organic debris.

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) romances Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt) © Universal
Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) romances Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt) © Universal

In the dining room he brought Nature in by having a mural. I was hoping that you would have scene, which show them at the table, I’m not sure if that’s going to come across or not.

The Victorian world was very black and white, there was a formality to it, Look at the black and white photographs, the artists of the period. and the men are very formally dressed either in black and white, or various types of browns or tweedy coats. One of the characters in our story is the manservant of Sir John and so we got to involve a look of the Indian influence in how he was dressed, trying to make sure he wasn’t completely in contrast to what the rest of them were wearing.

Not an example of Victorian women's dress, but of period lighting... © Universal
Not an example of Victorian women's dress, but of period lighting... © Universal
The women were often very formally dressed in black and white, but also we see in some of the paintings of the period, pink and other colours that if you were established in a fairly limited palette and you see those colours, they’re really beautiful and draw attention to it. So women were like flowers, and the men were the establishing structure.

The other side of this was the city vs the country, the city of London and also the countryside. There is this earth tone palette to our country, and then the city is much more formal.

So what are you happiest with so far?

I always like the thing I’m doing right now; so it’s the interior of Talbot Hall, I’m very excited with how that has come out. Actually there’s a lot of great-looking stuff I’m really pleased with. We did a theatre set. We don’t often get to do theatre, but it’s within the context of the film. Lawrence Talbot, the actor, gets to perform; that was a lot of fun.

Being around all these locations was a treat for me; getting the look of Talbot Hall, the village; all that. There’s so much production value. I think that helps an audience enjoy the experience. On a lot of different levels I would say it was a joy to work on all the paintings, sculptures and the Victorian period.


Jan Vincent-Rudzki

UK editor of Film Review Online