Sharlto Copley knows a thing or two about tackling films with heavy VFX. He starred in District 9 acting opposite aliens designed by Weta Workshop and Imagine Engine, used performance capture to bring the title character of Chappie to life, and also tackled a number of other films with a considerable amount of digital effects like Maleficent, the criminally underseen Europa Report, and then some. However, even with all that experience, his latest movie, Beast, demanded Copley tackle some VFX firsts.
Copley plays Martin Battles in the film, a game reserve manager, wildlife biologist, and anti-poacher working in South Africa. When Martin’s good friend Nate (Idris Samuels) comes to visit with his two daughters (Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries) after the passing of his wife, Martin is eager to help them heal via the wildlife on the reserve. However, Martin is shocked when the group encounters a vicious rogue lion, one with a relentless determination to kill the creatures responsible for slaughtering his pride — humans.
With Beast now playing in theaters nationwide, I got the chance to catch up with Copley and dig into the VFX feats on display in the film. The movie is loaded with extremely impressive state-of-the-art CGI from top to bottom, but there’s one especially incredible marriage of live-action and digital that pops up in the first act. Copley explained:
“There’s a scene in the movie basically that just blew my mind. I basically wrestle in a fun, playful way because the character loves lions, Martin loves lions, and watching the shots afterwards, even coming from visual effects and being in visual effects for years, my brain was kind of looping on itself going like, ‘It’s not a lion. It wasn’t a real lion!’ [Laughs] I’m touching the fur and I’m playing with it. It was crazy. And it was a stunt guy with the gray tights and lion paws. I mean, it looked ridiculous on set!”
In addition to Beast posing a slew of VFX challenges, director Baltasar Kormákur insisted on adding another mighty ambitious quality to his visuals; a significant amount of Beast is captured in oners, lengthy uninterrupted shots. That filming style sparked another first for Copley. It meant he’d have an especially unique collaboration with Steadicam operator Dale Rodkin. Here’s how Copley put it:
“It was actually a very unique situation between actor and first camera operator because it was Steadicam most of the time. So Phillippe [Rousselot] is obviously a big component, but the actual operator, a South African guy actually, Dale Rodkin, was unbelievable with the amount of engagement between the cameraman and the actors and the director. I’ve never had that on a movie before because we were doing so many oners. So Dale would constantly be looking at like, ‘Well, could you do this? If you move this way, can I move in this direction?’ Sometimes we did some shots, you know, do a seven-minute take. You rehearse the whole morning and then you just have three chances to get it when the sun is just perfect.”
Not only does Copley like to star in highly unique and ambitious films, but he’s also eager to make one of his own. It’s been a little while since the film was first announced, but Copley is still forging forward with his directorial debut, Sapien Safari, and he promises the piece will spark discussion.
“I’m doing a film that I wrote and directed and will act in called Sapien Safari. I play an alien naturalist and earth is a privately owned reserve by a wealthy, philanthropic alien. And it’s very satirical, science fiction, comedy, and it’s probably gonna get me into all kinds of trouble. And the itch that I have to scratch is just, somebody make a movie with balls who’s prepared to say stuff that’s on people’s minds, but everyone’s nervous. I feel like creatives are nervous of their own shadow, so I’m gonna make something and step off a cliff and either just die or people will go like, ‘Finally!’ You know? It’s one or the other. I’m not a half measures guy so we’ll see.”
Looking for more from Copley on Beast? Be sure to check out our full conversation in the video interview at the top of this article!