About The Film
In his films District 9 and Elysium, filmmaker Neill Blomkamp invited viewers to reimagine our world. In those films, Blomkamp combined pulsing action with a social conscience that made the films unforgettable. In his new film, Chappie, Blomkamp is at it again.
Set just a few years from now, the world is under the thumb of autonomous, robotic police droids, called Scouts. “They can’t be reasoned with, they can’t be negotiated with, they cannot be swayed,” says Blomkamp.
With the entire city under the so-called “protection” of the police droids, in comes an entirely new creation – Chappie, the first robot that can think and feel for itself. Once a police droid, Chappie is stolen and put to entirely different purposes.
There are those, like Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), see a thinking robot as the end of mankind – after all, when a machine can think, what does it need a human for? But others, like Chappie’s creator, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), see Chappie as a living, breathing, and entirely human form of life – and the last hope for humanity, even if he isn’t human himself.
“The idea was to take something as unhuman as a robot – especially a police robot – and give him complete human characteristics, to the point that he becomes more emotional than the human characters,” says Blomkamp. “That’s the backbone of the irony of the movie – a police droid becomes sentient, and begins to display characteristics that are more moral, ethical, and conscientious than human beings tend to.”
In the film, Blomkamp tells the story of a young, impressionable mind – the robot, Chappie – who falls in with the most unlikely of influences. “Chappie is quickly pulled into the seedy, crime-ridden underworld of Jo’burg, and he’s raised by two parents – one good, and one bad,” says Blomkamp. From here, Chappie is caught between powerful forces – and when those forces face off, an entire city hangs in the balance.
Simon Kinberg, who produces the film with Blomkamp, notes that Chappie fires on all cylinders because Blomkamp does what he does so well: the film combines the big ideas that obsess the filmmaker with an action-packed, highly entertaining story unlike any other. “He’s made an action movie that is also a dramatic character story that is also an intellectual study about what it means to be human, what it means to have intelligence. The most important thing in the film is that the audience falls in love with Chappie, that their hearts break when Chappie is hurt and are excited when he is victorious. You root for this robot. The movie does a lot of different things in a way that only Neill can do.”
“The film raises questions – when would a robot be considered human?” asks Sharlto Copley, who plays Chappie in the film. “Is it because they can paint, or like a certain kind of music? For humans, it would probably be if the machine had feelings – if we were connecting with a machine in the way that we connect with people. I think that’s what would make most people call a machine ‘alive’ – if it experiences emotions in the same way as us.”
The lead role of Chappie – a Scout who is given consciousness by artificial intelligence – is played by Sharlto Copley. Copley performed the role on camera, performing in each scene opposite the other characters. Not only did this allow Chappie to feel like a very real and authentic character, but it helped the other actors to bring their characters out to the fullest. Later, in post-production, Blomkamp worked with the wizards at the VFX facility Image Engine to bring Chappie to fruition, painting the robot Chappie over Copley’s performance and creating the robot from Copley’s movements. The way that Copley emoted in his scenes informed everything about the robot – from the way Chappie moves, or sits, or holds his head… even Chappie’s ears.
In many films with CG characters, the filmmakers sometimes choose to film the scene with only the live-action actors as they perform against only a single point. That was never going to happen on Chappie. “There was never going to be a world where we filmed with a tennis ball on the end of a C stand,” says Kinberg. “It was always going to be real and in the moment.”
“Sharlto’s performance is the thing that brings Chappie to life,” Kinberg continues. “He is so human and sad, touching and vulnerable. You feel it in his body language and voice – everything takes its cue from Sharl. The way the robot’s eyes move, the way its ears move, and certainly the way its body moves – all of that is dictated by Sharlto’s performance.”
Kinberg also says that having Copley performing the scenes helped all of the actors. “For the other actors, when you’re interacting with a real person, it all feels more real, human, textured and grounded,” he explains.
Copley says that in some ways, the role was like any other. “Neill said, ‘You just play the role, and we put the robot on top,'” the actor explains. “The film should work with me in the grey suit – you should still be able to watch the film and be moved by it.”
Copley notes that Chappie is unlike any role he’s ever played before. “It was quite interesting for me, movement wise,” he says. “I had to be very aware of every mannerism. The essence of Chappie is in how he moves and how he reacts – and not necessarily what he’s saying.”
Even though he would never be seen on film, Copley wore two pieces of costume attire to help get the character right. “I wore a chest plate, to keep my back and chest proportions the same as Chappie’s,” he notes. This allowed Copley to know what spaces he could fit in and how the robot would sit or stand in certain positions. In this way, when an actor grabs Chappie’s shoulder or chest, the actor’s hands are in the right place when Copley is replaced by Chappie in the computer.
But the chest plate wasn’t all. “I wore a grey suit with tracking markers for the animators. It was skin tight, and skin tight clothing is not gangster,” he says. Needing something that would help him feel like a gangster, Copley added a pair of shorts and a belt. “During the gangster scenes I would loosen my belt and drop the shorts half way down my backside. That was my trick, to transform from grey suit man into gangster Chappie. It helped create the right kind of gangster movements.”
Copley says that the unconventional style of shooting and animating the film was a great benefit. “Animators will tell you there’s a huge difference between animating something from scratch and working with what an actor has already done,” he says. “It’s a lot easier for them to create a moving character if the base performance is already there. Obviously, it’s also a lot better for the other actors to have a grey suit actor actually on set that they can interact with.”
“Chappie’s animators are incredible,” adds Copley. “They’ve managed to capture and translate every nuance of my performance. In addition, they had the challenge of trying to translate my facial movements onto Chappie, who has almost no face. They did an incredible job. I feel like they elevated what I gave them together we created some kind of unique being. ”
Taking on the role of the film’s villain, Vincent Moore, is Hugh Jackman. As an engineer who is very opposed to the idea of artificial intelligence, Vincent takes Chappie’s advancement personally, as Simon Kinberg explains. “Vincent is a twisted, militaristic, aggressive, insecure, brilliant scientist who believes the world needs this massive weapon he’s created,” Kinberg says. “He’s sacrificed everything for this program. He was a soldier, and to get what he wants, he takes some insane, extreme tactics. He’d light the city on fire to get what he wants.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun playing a character as Vincent Moore,” says Jackman. “He’s an Australian, so it was nice to use my own accent. The key to understanding Vincent is he will not lose. Even when the odds are against him, even when all the signs are pointing in another direction, that’s when he fights harder. He feels what he is doing is so important, that he can’t accept anybody else’s direction or even the fact that anyone else can win.”
Because he rarely plays a villainous role, Jackman relished the opportunity to play a realistic villain with a justifiable point of view. “The best villains don’t think they’re villains,” he says. “He brings a genuine argument to the table, and he’s convinced that what he’s doing is right and necessary. What makes him a villain is his inability to lose. That trumps everything and he becomes very destructive, very angry and vengeful.”
Kinberg, also a producer of the recent X-Men films, has worked with Jackman on four films. “He has that movie star magnetism,” explains the producer. “He’s had it since that first X-Men movie, I’ve seen it on stage. In this movie, he obviously still has that, but it’s completely different, because he’s playing the villain. I think Hugh was excited to be playing an Australian – there’s a certain Australian archetype of the athletic bully, and he was definitely accessing that. This was a chance for him to play a whole different side of himself as a performer.”
Vincent’s opposite is Deon Wilson, Chappie’s creator, played by Dev Patel. A young engineer developing artificial intelligence, he’s in direct opposition to Jackman’s Vincent. “Most of all, Vincent hates artificial intelligence,” says Jackman. “He thinks that’s humans playing God. He argues that crime is unpredictable, so it’s a human issue, and it’s vital for any weapon to be controlled by a human.”
Deon represents the new wave of programmer, according to Blomkamp. “He has the spark of youth about him,” says the writer-producer-director. “I wanted him to be a prodigy – an Oxford or MIT artificial intelligence research student that the company gets their hands on, but who quickly finds that the company’s goals for him are very different from his own goals – and so all of his spare time goes to his own true love.”
“Deon’s real passion is in creating artificial intelligence – being a party to creating the next step in evolution – but I think it’s also because he just wants a companion,” says Kinberg. “He doesn’t connect with too many people – he lives in his head and his computer. He falls in love – as a brother, a friend, and a mentor to Chappie.”
Patel says that the character changed between the time he first read the script and shooting the scenes. “When I first read him, I completely related to his heart. I knew he was intensely passionate about artificial intelligence, but I was worried he might be too passive in some scenes. Then, I got to the set and I met Sharlto and NINJA and YO-LANDI. After meeting them, it was a natural reaction to give the character more of a backbone, to be more defensive and aggressive about his work.”
What was it about NINJA and YO-LANDI? “I didn’t really know of them before we started shooting; I’d heard whisperings about this crazy band from South Africa, Die Antwoord,” he recalls. “They’re absolutely fascinating; they play a version of themselves, which is great, because it’s just truth. It’s as raw and organic as possible. They bring themselves to this movie, and create this wild juxtaposition.”
Acting opposite Copley, Patel watched as Copley created a wholly original character. “Sharlto is kind of like Deon – he’s so crazy passionate that you get a bit overwhelmed when you meet him,” he says. “Even though he was going to be a CG character, he was so expressive. His diction, his tone of voice, the character choices he made. Acting opposite him was quite easy. Sharlto is a lot older than me, but I was playing a father figure to him, which was strange. I think Deon genuinely cares about this robot; he wants it to succeed, and that’s why he keeps going into Ninja and Yo-Landi’s den.”
Kinberg says that Patel was the first and, ultimately, only choice to play the role. “The reality of the world is that right now, a bunch of kids in garages are making the technology that will transform our world. So, when we started talking about casting Deon, everyone we even discussed was under the age of 30 – and for Neill, his first choice was Dev. Dev feels intelligent, but he also feels very sweet and human, open-faced, a little wounded. The audience can identify with that – not as a nerdy scientist, but what it’s like to be lonely, to want a friend, to want to be acknowledged. In the end, I talked to Dev’s agent, and I said, ‘This is a call that very few agents get, but he’s the only option for the part so he has to do it.'”
Overseeing these dueling programs in her company Tetra Vaal is CEO Michelle Bradley, played by Sigourney Weaver. “All she cares about is the bottom line,” says Kinberg. “She doesn’t really care about the technology, or even whether it’s helping or hurting crime; she just wants to make as much money as possible. Neill may be making some commentary on CEOs there, but I think more than anything he finds it comical and absurd, the way she really just doesn’t care.”
How does Blomkamp feel about Weaver – one of his sci-fi heroines – performing in his movie? “I’m still surprised when I can get people who have crafted my own creative interests – my childhood, to some degree – to work on the films that I want to make,” he says. “So, having her on set was quite bizarre but also very natural. She’s very easy to communicate with and she’s very talented. It was effortless, but then every once in a while I’d realize it was actually Ripley on set, and that was mind-blowing.”
For Weaver, the feeling of respect is mutual. “He’s one of those masterminds,” she says. “He’s comfortable with all of the technology – not only the classic science fiction technology, but what’s really happening. He sent me links to robots that are being made now that are just amazing – you still think of that stuff as the future. He’s also dazzling visually, but what I really love about working with him is that he’s both relaxed and knows what he wants. That makes it easy for the actors – he guides you in the direction he needs you to go.”
When Chappie is endowed with consciousness from Deon’s new program, he falls into the most unlikely hands – NINJA and YO-LANDI VI$$ER. In the film, they are low-level gangsters looking for the score that will set them on the path to riches, but in real life, they are the rap-rave duo Die Antwoord, an act like no other. “They defy definition and explanation,” says Kinberg. “You have to see them to fully understand what they’re about, because they’re so completely unique. They’re a rap group, a cultural phenomenon, they’re insane artist-performers.”
In the movie, they are acting under their own names, but playing characters. “The characters of Ninja and Yo-Landi are former musicians who have been forced to turn to crime for survival,” Kinberg explains. “They don’t want to live this life, they want to get out of Johannesburg, but there are not many other choices for them.”
For two novice actors playing characters under their own names, it’s not surprising that the characters share key similarities with the actors’ stage personae – but Kinberg says there are key differences as well. Of the characters, he says, “Ninja has a very strong, aggressive vibe about him, while Yo-Landi has a sweetness about her, but they’re both badass people who are comfortable even in the scariest places in Johannesburg. In real life, NINJA and YO-LANDI have an intelligence – they have crafted a place for themselves in the world – while in the movie, they are victims of the world. They’re less self-conscious and less in control of their destiny.”
Of their characters, NINJA says, that in the movie, the robots are oppressive. “We’re going, ‘Damn these robots, they’re everywhere,'” he says. “We can’t do our thing, because these robots are taking over.” That leads to the characters kidnapping a police droid – who becomes Chappie.
NINJA says that he and YO-LANDI wanted to be a part of the movie for the chance to work with Neill Blomkamp. “Neill is our favorite director in the world,” says NINJA, “so when he asked us to be in Chappie, it was, like, complete freakout. And he asked us to star as ourselves, which is just a bit of a dream come true.”
“The reason why we like District 9 so much is because nothing like that had ever come out of South Africa,” says YO-LANDI. “Usually, South African movies are quite boring. This was super fresh, done properly, and it was Hollywood but all of its flavor was all about South Africa.”
Blomkamp encouraged the stars to bring much of themselves to the parts. Not only did he let NINJA and YO-LANDI choose the guns they wanted – but to influence the colors as well. “We said, ‘Can we paint our guns luminous pink and luminous yellow? Can we paint the bullets candy colors as well?'” Ninja relates. “He asked us what car we wanted, and I said, ‘Can I get my car, except souped-up?’ And Neill went and souped it.”
The parts were created especially for the performers. What’s the difference between the NINJA and YO-LANDI on stage as rappers, and the Ninja and Yo-Landi of the film? On stage, YO-LANDI says, “I usually have a more punk-style life and more of an attitude. For the movie, Neill kept pushing for a softer side of me, a more maternal side, not so punk, just soft towards Chappie and motherly. It was a little bit different and cool to explore that side – I wouldn’t have thought of it. It’s another side of YO-LANDI that I hadn’t fully explored, and that was a cool, unexpected twist.”
NINJA says that there it’s a side that sometimes does come out in real life. “YO-LANDI’s got this pit bull called Angel,” he says. “When she speaks to Angel – ‘oh, you’re so cute’ – she speaks in this high pitch. I said that she should speak to Chappie like that – she started to speak to the robot in that cute, high-pitched voice.”
Creating Chappie and the Moose
Blomkamp’s road to Chappie began more than 10 years ago. As a young director and visual effects artist, Blomkamp created a show reel of fake commercials that would show agents the kind of work he was capable of producing. “I was just messing around, and I designed that robot in 2003 in Lightwave,” he explains. “It was influenced by a lot of Japanese influences and anime; I’m not as into anime and manga now, but I wanted the genesis of the entire film to remain true to what it was – this bizarre, weird, fake commercial. I wanted Chappie to be very much like that robot.”
So, long before principal photography began, the filmmakers were deep into designing the look of Chappie on screen. The process fell to teams at two companies: Image Engine, where the visual effects were overseen by Visual Effects Supervisor Chris Harvey, and WETA Workshop, where the physical effects team was headed by WETA Specialty Props Effects Supervisor Joe Dunckley. Together, inspired by the robot that Blomkamp had designed 10 years earlier, they would design a robot that would function both in the computer and as a physical prop.
Two-and-a-half years before filming began, the filmmakers shot test footage in Johannesburg to show that their plan would work. With the proof of concept a success and the film greenlit, Image Engine and the team at WETA Workshop worked together, back and forth, refining and perfecting the design. “This was a different process for us,” Harvey says. “On Elysium, everything was built at WETA and then came to Image Engine to create digitally. On this movie, Neill went with a different approach. Neill spent months working through original concept art with WETA, then sent that art to Image Engine as 2D sketches. From that artwork, we fully realized the characters in three dimensions. We were able to solve a lot of animation mechanics before the practical models were built; we were able to refine the design so that we knew he would actually work.” From there, Image Engine shared the digital models with WETA Workshop, working back and forth to refine the design, so that the WETA team could build a practical model.
Dunckley says that Blomkamp’s direction for the design of Chappie was to aim for reality. “He wanted it to be real – he didn’t want it to be over-the-top in its functionality,” he says. “He couldn’t have laser beams pop out of nowhere. It had to be tough, but it also had to look like something a government could afford in a few years’ time.”
The design of the Moose as an overly large, overengineered robot proposed as a supposed alternative to the robot police Scouts followed the same back-and-forth process, even if the approach of the design was completely opposite. “The Moose is Neill’s baby,” says Dunckley. “We’re very proud, because from an engineering standpoint, it works very well,” Dunckley adds. “It looks beautiful, and it looks like it would work – it looks like it would come to life and attack you.”
Blomkamp designed the Moose to be unrealistic. “It’s satirical – it’s what a defense company does with extremely expensive, inefficient, giant, cumbersome mechanics that they can charge taxpayers a very high rate to do. It was the most brash, overdesigned, crazy concept that I could come up with. And we realized it in the same way that visual effects were realized in the 60s, 70s, and 80s: model makers would kit-bash things together out of pre-designed pieces of real-life technology, and that’s what I did, in the computer. From there, WETA Workshop and Image Engine refined it to the point that every toe joint and rotary device would actually be animatable, and WETA built a three-and-a-half-meter real version.”
For a police force of 110 Scouts, WETA Workshop built 11 practical dummies. “We individualized them,” says Dunkley. “They all have number plates, so we can swap out a number plate, or panels with different aging – we can show a Scout as brand-new or as five years old and needing maintenance. That’s one of the tools we used so that the audience could identify Chappie – he’s Scout 22, and he’s had damage to an ear, which has been replaced by an orange test ear. It’s easy to follow that orange ear through the compound.”
Dunckley says that those ears aren’t just identification markers – in their design, they give the animators the power to show what Chappie is feeling. “It’s most obvious in the ears,” he says. “Different positions show you different expressions.”
As Chappie takes more damage through the film, the WETA Workshop team was able to change his look. “There are eight stages to Chappie,” says Dunckley. “There are three Chappie skeletons and eight sets of panels representing each stage. Once he’s got the damage to the chest, we removed external panels and replaced them with the next stage. He gets attacked, he gets burnt, he gets shot, shot some more, graffitied by Ninja and Yo-Landi, and on and on. A lot of work went into the physical development; the complication is that everything we shot on set with the dummy – the physical Chappie – had to relate back to the visual effects character and the continuity they had to follow, and we collaborated closely with Image Engine to identify each stage and go through a texture shooting process so that they could closely map each stage.”
The practical Moose model also required similar thought. “The model is functional from a set perspective – even though it’s so large, we could break it down and get it out of the set in 30 minutes,” Dunckley continues. However, getting there, in the build of the practical model, was a complicated task. “Neill wanted the Moose to be in a threatening forward position pose, which actually throws it off-balance. So, we put a lot of weight into the legs, allowing us to center all of that weight in that forward momentum stance. It weighs about a ton – about a ton of Moose.”
Despite coming from visual effects, Harvey says there are huge advantages to having practical models on the set – first being that the robot can actually appear on camera at times. “If the robot is inanimate in a shot – if he’s off or if people are working on him – we don’t have to add that,” he says. In addition, the practical model can service as reference for a visual effects shot that will be added later. “We could light it and move it around with the cameras in place,” he says. “There’s a shot with Chappie in the rain; it was hugely helpful to bring the robot head out and watch how the rain hit and ran down and the lights reflected off of it; we were able to bring that back to the office and study it. It gives us a true visual representation of what it would look like if it had been there on that day.”
About The Production
For this film, Blomkamp returns to his home town of Johannesburg, the setting for his breakthrough film, District 9. “At first, I didn’t want to set the film there, because District 9 was set there,” he says. “We looked at setting it in America. But that didn’t feel as unique to me. The themes of the movie tied into Johannesburg in quite a real way.”
Sharlto Copley says that every aspect of the film is influenced by its setting. “Creatively, as an artist, Neill draws on his upbringing and experiences. That’s what we’re doing in this film – and certainly what I’m doing with this character. I’m drawing on people in the community. There are a million things in the film that are inspired by Johannesburg; it’s a critical part of the film.”
James Bitonti, the film’s first assistant director and co-producer, says, “The film was written for Johannesburg, because that’s a world that Neill really knows. When we started scouting locations, we saw some of the locations he was talking about – the den, the bridges – and we really got a feel for the city. It made the script stand out even more. So often, a script is written for an anonymous city, so to step off that plane and see some of the places Neill wrote into the script made the script that much better.”
Jules Cook, the film’s production designer, was responsible for the look of the film, working with set decorator Daniel Birt. “A large amount of this film was repurposing Joburg locations, some of which were a struggle to find,” says Cook. “A lot of them were better than sets we could build.”
For example, Ninja and Yo-Landi’s den. “We initially looked for a house, and we saw a number of smaller locations. But Neill fell in love with a space that they could live in and do their own thing and hide out. And me, I’m a huge fan of abandoned spaces,” says Cook. “The challenge was to make all of that work in their hideout, but still have it feel like their home. So, Ninja was able to help out – they put their own artwork and their style into it, the style that comes from their music videos. They made the space their own.”
In decorating the den, Birt says that inspiration came from a mix of the NINJA and YO-LANDI of real life, and the Ninja and Yo-Landi characters written into the film. “I did a lot of research into them and their music videos – anything I could find on the net,” says Birt. “And then, I tried to put my twist on making them different for the film, better suited to the script than everything they’ve done before. They already look cool because they always do – it’s just a twist on what they’ve done before. You look at it on screen and you’re thinking, ‘What is going on with these people? What is this place?’ If you don’t already know who NINJA and YO-LANDI are before you see the movie, that set gives you a crash course pretty quickly.”
Chappie’s room within the den, Birt says, is a mix of his influences. “Chappie is learning from Deon, and he’s learning from Ninja and Yo-Landi,” he notes. “So the approach to dressing his room is to use what Chappie’s learned. He’s replicated the bed that Yo-Landi sleeps in, but in his own style with what he can find. The artwork, he’s done a little family in chalk – replicating what Ninja’s done on the walls.”
For many locations, the production team relied on Blomkamp’s personal knowledge of the city. “As we were looking for environments for Hippo’s lair, Neill mentioned his home, and when we looked at it, it was the place he wanted to shoot,” Cook recalls. “We turned this semi-derelict environment into a gang den, filling the pool with guns – we brought the whole space down. When Neill and his sister arrived there, I think they were a bit taken aback.”
Another such location was the freeway chase and shootout. It turns out that many years ago, Blomkamp and Copley dreamed of shutting down that freeway to shoot a car chase – and on Chappie, that dream came true. “If you stick at something long enough, it begins to cycle back and work out,” says Blomkamp. “When I was growing up here, the thought of shutting down a national highway so you can shoot a transit heist seemed like an impossible idea. Shooting on that particular highway makes it feel like a crime unique to Joburg, which is why we wanted to do it. It’s an amazing feeling to have done it with this film.”
One of Cook’s goals was to contrast the Scouts and the Moose by putting them in very different environments. “We conceptualized it as a big space for the Moose and a small space for the Scouts,” he explains – even though the Scouts are an up-and-running program and the Moose is only Vincent’s pie-in-the-sky vision. “The Scout room is a functioning environment – they’ve got the contracts and are building the robots – while the Moose is pure R&D and he’s trying to sell this thing. They’re pouring money into this ludicrous monster. I suppose the two rooms reflect Vincent and Deon, in a way: Deon’s space is more humble and up-and-running, and Vincent’s is larger than life.”
Cook was also responsible for designing the interface that would allow Vincent to operate the Moose. “Neill and I talked about how we would operate the Moose chair – how much would go through the neural helmet and how much would be physical. You could do the whole thing mentally, but it wouldn’t necessarily work in the film – the audience needs to see him controlling it. So, we added joysticks and monitors that let others see what he’s seeing through the helmet.”
About The Stunts
For the stunt and action sequences, Blomkamp collaborated closely with stunt coordinator Grant Hulley, who served in a similar capacity on District 9. “Neill comes up with his concepts for the fight and action sequences, and then allows us to run with it,” says Hulley. “He wants us to push it as far as we can.”
Hulley says that Blomkamp’s background in visual effects was a huge addition to the film – and not because the director would rely on visual effects. “The old adage of ‘We’ll fix it in post’ didn’t play on this film,” says Hulley. “He knows what you can get in post and what it’s better to get in camera. He wants it from the performers and the actors.” A good example, Hulley says, is one particular bike flip. “There’s a cool jump, some fire, a droid knocks the rider off and the bike goes spinning,” he notes. “That could have been done in post, but instead, we put cables on the performer and on the bike itself, so that the stuntman comes off and the bike also goes spinning off. We did it in two takes, but we did it for real.”
Because the film contains so much action – helicopters, flipping cars, not to mention actors in suits who would be replaced with CG characters – the stunt team had the art department build mini-sets to scale to help plan the complicated sequences.
Part of Hulley’s work was working with a stunt double for Copley – that is, a stunt double for an actor who would be painted over by CG in the final film. “You’d think that part could be anybody, but it can’t. Visual Effects keys off Sharlto and his movements – his character comes through with it. Our stunt double, Ian Stock, had to try to mimic Sharlto’s movements. It’s Sharlto’s character that we’re going to feel.”
In fact, finding stunt doubles for all of the characters was a challenge. Stunt doubles have to be roughly the same size as the actors they are doubling – and have a haircut and tattoos that match. “The extreme haircuts on this show – Ninja, Yo-Landi, Yankie, Hippo – were a challenge,” he points out, “Plus the tattoos. I don’t even know how many tattoos NINJA has – I don’t even know how you’d count. Every morning, our stunt double had to have all of those tattoos put on.”
The film’s opening sequence was perhaps the greatest challenge. “We had three helicopters, with droids and human police in two of them. Another chopper had the camera. We were working with decelerators, we had a pipe ramp for one of the vehicles, a lot of gunfire, bike gags – and then we had to bring the actors into it. And Brandon Auret, who plays Hippo, isn’t wearing a shirt, so we had to find ways to hide pads to keep him safe – he had to jump through windows. And Ninja and Yo-Landi’s van gets flipped – the effects guys put a cannon in there. There was a hell of a lot going on that week, and it all worked out well.”
About The Costumes
Diana Cilliers, who previously collaborated with Blomkamp on District 9, oversaw the costume design. She says that despite the setting in the same city, the costume design came from a very different aesthetic in the two films. “In District 9, we had a very specific styling of downtown Johannesburg. On this film, Neill didn’t necessarily want to do that again; we went with more of an east coast American gangster look.” Cilliers also helped with dressing Chappie, collaborating with the props department as the gangsters give the robot chains and jewelry.
Deon, on the other hand, did have a specific look. “There’s a specific part of Johannesburg, Kempton Park, where many people work in the defense industry,” she says. “It’s an old-fashioned styling – not really vintage, but definitely conservative, no flamboyance – a person tries to be invisible, in a way.”
Vincent, too, has a wardrobe that comes from his character. “Neill described the character as Australian farming stock kind of guy, who also has a military background,” Cilliers says. “Hugh was very game. We started off slightly more caricature, and we got to a place that was more real and absolutely a unique look for Hugh. His hairstyle is quote specific, as well as the shorts and the socks.”
One way to show the way that costume can define a character is in the wardrobe differences between Yankie – part of the gangster trio with Ninja and Yo-Landi – and Hippo, the gangster boss. “We tried to give Yankie an LA gangster feeling – it was very specifically not South African. So, we researched that quite extensively and the three of us, Neill, Jose and I, collaborated on the final look, and Sarah Rubano, the make-up and hair department head, added some amazing tattoos. Hippo, on the other hand, is very South African, very Johannesburg, and Sarah’s hairstyling and tattoos are very much that. We tried to make the wardrobe subtle, so that it didn’t interfere or become too much. In both cases, the tattoos were designed specifically for the characters.”
Of course, the characters with the most unique look are Ninja and Yo-Landi. “Their look is established, and Neill specifically wanted them to be their personas. So, we engaged Gabby De Gersigny, who did the styling for all of their music videos. It was quite important to keep that styling within the feel that they’ve had.”