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March 14, 2024
Peter Calder

Dune: Making The Unreal Real (2 minute read)

After I saw the first Dune in theatres, I knew right away I was going to see the second.

Specifically, the production blew me away. Some of the actors who worked on the films said that being on set was like going back in time; in terms of technology, they filmed in huge deserts in Abu Dhabi and Jordan, as well as interiors in gigantic sound stages like old films did back in the day.

When you think of a sci-fi film, most of the time, you think of space, aliens, lasers and CGI. Dune tried to have as little CGI or VFX as possible, thus creating these actual worlds and spaces in real life, not on a green screen.

In the mid-1900s, this was how you had to make films; you couldn’t edit much in post-production or effectively change scenery to depict a different environment.

The Sets of Dune were extravagant, to say the least; I couldn’t believe that they shot the film here on Earth. Why were the sets so big and detailed? Most films approaching this kind of stylized look would probably go the VFX/green screen route because, in many ways, it’s cheaper, easier and more easily changed or adjusted later.

Denis Villeneuve, the director, has noted and explained why they chose not to use green screens and VFX as little as possible. One, the actors can be physically in the environment, inspired, and bounce off of each other more easily from an emotional and intimate level. It is not just the actors, though, but the crew as well.

When a full room or layout of a set is built and dressed almost 360 degrees, the crew can change how they would like to shoot, adjust camera angles and positioning, and be inspired. They are also able to see the lighting in real-time; lighting is one of, if not the most important aspect of production, and when you create a beautiful environment, you can play with the lighting to create extraordinary imagery.

The set design is also meticulously engineered to directly correspond to the story and world they’re in. The bunker-like structures of Arrakis create a sorrowful environment for the characters to live in, and creating the space enables and helps the actors convey these feelings of comfort.

One thing I noticed about, specifically the second film, Dune: Part Two, was the generous use of wide and close-up angles. I think the wide shots help show and establish the environment of the story and accent the beautiful set builds that were created.

A lot of the close-up angles drive the narrative forward, giving further emotional context between characters. It’s nice to see such a large-scale film rely more on practical set environments rather than CGI and VFX.

Especially when you watch on IMAX, the world just immerses around you.

I hope there will be a resurgence in large-scale set builds. A film I wrote an article about last year was Rear Window, which is one of my favourites, was shot in that mid-1900s period on huge soundstages. Imagine filming an outdoor neighbourhood with five-story buildings, but it’s actually all filmed in a room, which I remember when I found out, baffled me.