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  • Orbitae Films

"Dune: Part Two": how they did it?

Updated: Jul 4

In the past, attempts to bring the story of Dune, by Frank Herbert, to the big screen were made, but without success. Jodorowsky, in the 1970s, envisioned and assembled a dream team to bring the story to life, but the project never received the green light. Then, in 1984, David Lynch's controversial version was released.

Dune movie VFX
Dune: Part Two | Official Trailer | ©Warner Bros

In 2021, it was Denis Villeneuve's turn and, this time, it was a success. The second installment, released in early 2024, continues in this vein. It has a distinct, epic, and captivating look. But how did they do it? What technologies were used? Here are our top 3 techniques used to bring this monumental science fiction film to life.


THE FREMEN'S BLUE EYES

Changing eye color on screen is a well-known challenge, sometimes leading adaptations, like those of Harry Potter or Daenerys Targaryen, to deviate from the original descriptions. Contact lenses, impractical, and manual visual effects, costly in time and resources, limit these changes.

Dune movie VFX
Dune: Part Two | Official Trailer | ©Warner Bros

For "Dune: Part Two", the DNEG team innovated with a more efficient solution. Unlike the first film, where manual addition of blue eyes was the norm, this sequel introduced artificial intelligence. They trained a machine learning model on shots from the first film, so the algorithm could automatically recognize and color human eyes blue.


Although it required adjustments to avoid some errors, such as changing the eye color of non-Fremen characters and some minor touch-ups, this revolutionary method, described by Paul Lambert, VFX supervisor at DNEG, marks a significant advance in post-production techniques.


IN PREVIS WE TRUST

The use of the Unreal Engine tool was crucial for planning and producing the film. At the SXSW festival, a panel called "Dune Two, Real-Time Tech & the Implications for Storytelling" highlighted how integrating this technology brought the film to life, thanks to Previs.

“I would encourage many people in my position to explore Unreal, to explore other pre-visualization techniques that can help you support your director as much as you can,” Jessica Darhammer, co-producer.
Dune movie VFX
Dune: Part Two | Official Trailer | ©Warner Bros

According to Jessica Derhammer, co-producer of the movie, given the magnitude of the film and the added complexity of shooting in various locations, including the desert, there was a lot of prep involved. So, they had to align pretty early on the creative side with the logistics. The question quickly became, "practically, how are we going to shoot this in six months?".


That's when they decided to use Unreal Engine to previsualize the sets and even the characters. Drones were also deployed to scout locations. The data was then imported into Unreal Engine, allowing them to work in advance on blocking, lighting, shadow areas, sunlight hours, angles, and much more.


"You’re not making these decisions in a vacuum. You’re actually looking through the real camera lens and then you can pop out of that view and see what’s required of the scene around it; where can I position my lights? How many lights do I need? [...] And it really allows the filmmakers to all congregate and make informed decisions together that serve every individual department”, confirms Brian Frager from Epic Games.

GLADIATOR SCENE ON HARKONNEN

To capture the unique atmosphere of the Harkonnen planet, a specific infrared shooting technique was employed, transforming the images into black and white and giving the scenes an unreal and sinister aspect.

Dune movie VFX
Dune: Part Two | Official Trailer | ©Warner Bros

The technique used relied on the infrared on the camera sensor, a method already exploited in other films like "Nope," to create the night effect, and even by Villeneuve himself for visual effects in other projects. In this case, the goal was to produce a feeling of scary unreality, where the characters' skin becomes almost translucent.


This artistic decision, once made, was irreversible during shooting, highlighting the team's commitment to this particular aesthetic vision. As the director explained to IndieWire: "“I had to warn the studio that there was no way back. It’s not an effect that we did in post-production" and adds, "I love the commitment and the risk of it".


This method also posed a real challenge for the makeup and costume departments, requiring exhaustive tests to ensure the adequacy of colors and textures under the effect of infrared. The reactions of materials to specific light and heat conditions were unpredictable; even tattoos hidden under traditional makeup were revealed under infrared.

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