Guardians Of The Galaxy Set Visit: What We Learned And Video Blog Reaction

In September 2013, I traveled to London to visit the set of Marvel Studios' upcoming comic book adaptation Guardians of the Galaxy. On set, I was transported to new worlds with many different alien races, boarded a 3-mile long spacecraft, and talked with the cast and crew who were creating the magic you will see on screen this August.

I learned a ton of interesting bits about the making of the film, too many to count. (For example, it took a team of five make-up artists three and a half hours to apply Dave Batista's body make-up each day, so in the 49 days of the shoot Batista spent over seven complete days worth of minutes in the makeup chair.)

After the jump you can read many other facts about the production of the film from development to casting, to special effects. I also recorded a video blog after the visit to give you a more opinionated reaction to what we had seen. And be on the lookout for interview transcripts with a bunch of the key cast and crew which will be posted on the site all this week. For now, read my full Guardians of the Galaxy set visit report after the jump.

Peter Sciretta along with the other journalists on the visit, with director James Gunn and star Dave Batista in full make-up as Drax in front of Ronin's throne in the Dark Aster space ship set of Guardians of the Galaxy

Before you get to the heavy info, watch a video blog reaction I recorded with Steve from Collider. Above is a shot of me and Steve, along with the other journalists on the visit, with director James Gunn and star Dave Batista in full make-up as Drax in front of Ronin's throne in the Dark Aster space ship set.

We visited the set on September 25th 2013, built at Pinewood Shepperton Studios, which is located 45 minutes outside of downtown London. It was day 67 out of 77 days of principal photography. At that point, only about three weeks of production were left. We conducted our interviews on the B stage; pieces of Rapunzel's tower set from Into the Woods were off in the corner, as the film was also shooting at the same studio.

Signs were up around the studio lot with the company name "Infinity Works Productions UK LTD."

full tilt concept art

The working title for the film was "Full Tilt". The Full Tilt logo was also all over the studio, and looks like something a hair metal band might've had in the 1980s.

The film is shot in 2:35:1 widescreen, which James Gunn admits has posed some problems especially when fitting the short Rocket Racoon and tall Groot in the same frame.

James Gunn compared making this movie to a Nirvana song, going from slow and long to big and fast. He tried for longer takes to accomplish this pacing.

Guardians Of The Galaxy director James Gunn

Development

Gunn had previously pitched a Hit Monkey movie to Marvel, but they weren't interested.

When James Gunn first met with Marvel in July of 2011, he wasn't really interested in making Guardians. They pitched him very hard on Guardians, and showed him the art that had been created for Comic Con that year. He really liked it; when he went home he kept thinking about it and saw how he could add his voice to that. Gunn then wrote a 15-page document about what the film would be tonally, and how the characters would be. A few days later he flew into North Carolina and did a presentation on his laptop, something that he has never done before. And a few days later he heard he was getting the gig. He wrote Joss an email saying he really wanted the gig and asked him for help. Joss said Gunn was too late; Whedon had already put a good word in for him.

Joss Whedon had some little involvement in the writing process for Guardians – James Gunn worked with him to mold the script. Everyone loved Gunn's original script... except for Joss Whedon, who said he liked it but that it was too conventional and "it needed more James Gunn." So Gunn took another pass and really went for it.

Pratt says the script only changed 10 – 15 percent from when he was first approached for the role and the final shooting draft. The actor says "It was pretty damn sharp to begin with."

guardians of the galaxy

The movie is described as not a superhero movie, but a big space opera/adventure movie. A fun movie with a good sense of humor, but it's a real universe with real stakes that the audience will hopefully identify with. Zoe Saldana calls the movie a dark comedy, kinda like the Rolling Stones of the Marvel Universe.

Gunn feels that Blade Runner and Alien changed how science fiction movies looked. Since their release we are mostly watching xeroxes of xeroxes. While Gunn liked the grittiness of those movies, he wanted to bring back some of the color of the '50s and '60s pulp movies.

We were told the ending action sequence is probably the biggest one Marvel has ever done to date. The Avengers battle of New York may technically be longer but this action sequence is bigger in scope.

Chris Pratt Guardians of the Galaxy

Casting and Research

Karen Gillan was told even before she auditioned to be Nebula in the film that the actress who got the role would have to shave her head. She never thought she'd get the role so didn't worry about it. Gillan performed her first audition using her native Scottish accent, but in the film she employs an American accent. James Gunn describes Karren as "Clint Eastwood on screen, Hello Kitty off".

NBC and Marvel worked out Chris Pratt's schedule before he inked his deal. NBC let him out for 6 episodes of Parks and Recreation so that he could do the film. Parks also came out to London and he did a couple episodes with them in the UK on his time off.

Chris Pratt says the prop department sent him a version of his gun because they wanted to see how the gun looked against his hand in a photo test. The whole time he was worried they would see the photo and fire him because he might not look good with the prop.

James Gunn directing Shawn Gunn playing Rocket Racoon in Guardians of the Galaxy

They auditioned a lot of actors and non-big-name voice actors for the role of Rocket Racoon. Gunn says he felt the voice actors generally turned out to be too cartoony, and most of the bigger name actors just didn't get the voice right. But Cooper nailed it. Gunn is attracted to actors who can do both heavy drama and big comedy — that's what attracted him to Bradley Cooper.

Bautista went up against Academy Award-nominated actors and won the role.

Chris Pratt read some of the newest Brian Bendis comics prior to meeting with James Gunn. The director told Chris to stop reading and ordered him not to read any more of the comics because he they are not recreating the comics.

Karen Gillan guardians of the galaxy

Karen Gillan read the Infinity Gauntlet before she got her hands on the script.

Zoe Saldana didn't read any of the comics before or after getting hired for the project. She also didn't research Star Trek when she got hired for that film. Saldana didn't want to imitate anything or feel restricted. She feels that her role is conceiving and finding the character is her job. For the role, Saldana studied bullfighters because she was fascinated with the dance of convincing a bull to run into its own death. She also thinks it's important to have grace as a woman.

Dave Bautista went through a lot of fight choreography before they began filming. He rehearsed for two and a half months on a fight which also involves Star Lord because Gunn planned to shoot it in one single take. For some reason, that original choreography was completely changed and Bautista and Pratt had only one weekend to learn the new staging. That fight scene took 22 takes to nail. This is one of four major fight sequences Bautista is in.

For two months Karen Gillan had to train for an hour a day, every day, even when she wasn't filming, for one specific fight sequence.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Characters

Kevin Feige has described Peter Quill/Star Lord as Han Solo meets Marty Mcfly.

Gunn didn't want to explain too much in terms of the characters' origins, so while we get glimpses of some of their backstories, there is also room to hopefully explore those stories in greater depth in future movies.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Peter Quill was taken from Earth at 9 years old. Star Lord is more informed by who he was on Earth and what was taken from him as a kid. What he's missing and lacks, he needs to find over the course of the movie. We find Peter Quill on a quest to escape, the same way a lot of people are on Earth. But he has a lot of hope in him, the same kind of hope you get when you buy a lottery ticket. He learns through the course of the movie that that's not where you'll find happiness.

When we meet the lethal alien assassin Gamora in this story, she is part of a family of bad guys. What saves her is that she always tries to do the right thing. Gamora finds Quill interesting but thinks he's a douche. She thinks Drax is a drama queen and can't shut up.

drax guardians of the galaxy

Saldana likes that the story starts off with all the members of the Guardians as "lost kids". Rocket had a lot of alterations done to his body, Quill lost his mom and was abducted at a young age. Drax lives only to avenge the death of his wife and daughter. That is his only motivation. Bautista describes the main characters as "such a jaded band of misfits, except for Groot." But they eventually find a reason to live that's bigger than them. James says that the story is "about a group of people who realize they aren't the pieces of shit that they thought they were."

guardians of the galaxy

James Gunn gave Rocket a lot of heart and made him more than just a cartoon. He has an inner pain which the audience should sympathize with. Gunn's brother Shawn Gunn played Rocket on set, and Bradley Cooper was hired later to voice the character in post production. Dave Bautista said its a shame Shawn won't be able to voice the role as he's putting so much into it. Shawn Gunn also plays Michael Rooker's sidekick in the film.

Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy

Groot is able to grow and use his limbs in this movie. Gunn describes him as "a threatening and powerful dude, but also a puppy, and he's more threatening than Rocket is." As we knew, Groot doesn't have much dialogue in the movie; he says "I am Grot," and that's it. In the movie Groot is the only friend Rocket has, but Rocket doesn't treat him well in return.

Nebula is a lieutenant of Ronan the Accuser, and daughter of Thanos. She is brainwashed by these people since birth but it's her goal to be as strong as possible. She is fighting to not have any emotions, it's an eternal struggle to be as strong as she can be. The character takes herself way too seriously. Nebula is so jealous as a person and there is a lot of sibling rivalry with Gamora.

Ronan The Accuser

Ronan The Accuser sports a hood and a cloak. Lee pace's costume could be described as a medieval samurai alien. He weilds a hammer staff with a glowing icon at the top. We saw concept art of Ronan bowing to a screen featuring a communication with Thanos. Many of the people we talked to on set claimed they don't know how much of Thanos we'll see in the film even though we saw concept art and maquettes of him around the stages.

A ton of the characters from the comics appear in this movie in little tiny roles. Everything needed to be run by legal. Gunn is certain that this film features the most Marvel characters in a Marvel live action movie, times four. Some of the character names are far stretches from what they were in the comics, but there are a lot of small roles fans know from the comics.

Benicio Del Toro plays The Collector

Benicio Del Toro plays the Collector, first seen in the Thor: The Dark World end credits scene. The Collector has an amazing lab that the fans of the comics will certainly dig as its filled with tons of fun easter eggs. One thing we will see in the Collector's vault is Cosmo the space dog, a dog in a space suit – a former test animal of the Soviet Space Program. We will see pieces of the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe pop up in this movie.

James Gunn's dog will be in the movie somewhere. He has taken photos of the dog on every set and with almost all the cast, some of which he has posted online.

Sakaaran

Some of the concept art on the walls showed Badoon troops, which are hired to work for Ronan. The Badoon are a reptilian alien species from the comics, but unfortunately 20th Century Fox owns the rights to the characters. So the Badoon troops have been replaced with the Sakaarans, another alien race from Marvel comics.

The species is split into two ethnic groups such as the red skin Sakaaran Imperials and the grey skin Shadow People. The red skins are the ruling class whilst the grey skins live as nomadic warriors or in small villages around the planet.

The Sakaaran troops wear creepy faceless masks made of an organic-looking shell material, which is also used to create their weapons and ships. Without a mask, the Sakaaran look like men, if the front of a man's face was ripped off from the roof of his nose to his chin. We saw a sculpt of this design.

Dark Aster

Planets and Spacecraft

The film will visit five alien planets, but we see hundreds of different alien races. James Gunn wanted most of the planets to feel very multicultural.

The villain's spaceship is called the Dark Aster, it is about three miles wide (pictured above). Ronan's Necrocraft fleet of fighters crowd around Dark Aster, moving in swarm-like patterns. The Dark Aster set is huge, shot across two different connected stages. The design looks very Alien-inspired, dark concrete with intricate designs and grates. At some point in the movie, Ronan bathes in a bath of black celestial blood.

Peter Sciretta on the set of Ronin's throne in the dark aster on Guardians of the Galaxy

The scene we saw shooting was on the Dark Aster flight deck, shot 201, involving our heroes squaring off against Ronan. We saw them shoot the match cut of a weapon being fired at Ronan. The shot was filmed in reverse with an extremely fast dolly away from Ronan (it will shoot towards him in the final film as the shot will play in reverse.) Above is a photo of me barely trying to look menacing on the set of Ronin's throne in the Dark Aster.

Peter Quill tracks an orb which he attempts to steal from temple ruins on the deserted Planet of Morag. (This is the sequence seen in the Comic Con piece, and in trailers.) Planet Morag is a world inspired by '60s chic. We only see the living version of the planet in a hologram.

Peter Quill's space ship is called the Milano

Peter Quill's space ship is called the Milano, a small one-man space craft which looks very slick.

We meet Rocket and Groot for the first time on Planet Xander.

Xander is a utopian world, a part of the galaxy worth saving. Xander is the home planet for the whole galaxy, and is also where Nova Corps is based.

Kyln - Guardians of the Galaxy

The Guardians of the Galaxy end up in a galactic prison called "The Kyln" which is where they meet Drax The Destroyer. Kyln was created on stage as a 360 degree practical set. The Guardians team up for the first time to attempt a big prison break.

The Kyln is down and dirty and as real looking as possible for a galactic prison. All the prisoners are wearing yellow jump suits with individual barcodes ("crime bars") that are printed on the leg of the costumes. The costumer designer explained that prisoners that have more barcode-looking crime bars have been convicted of more crimes. These kind of details are designed in the costumes but probably never explained in the movie.

The Kylm set involved a second second assistant director (that's not a typo, for those not familiar with some on-set roles) named Michael who has worked with Stanley Kubrick, here doing crowd control with hundreds of extras. There is a long one-shot on a dolly crane, which follows characters in to the set, catches a fight break out, circles around the prison as we see many things going on in within, and ends on Star Lord's face taking it all in. Pratt Called this the most amazing moment of the shoot.

Knowhere - guardians of the galaxy

On the Knowhere, they mine spinal fluid from a killed head of a sentient being. According to Marvel:

No one knows exactly how Knowhere came to be, but it is the last known place in all creation. It drifts closer to the edge of the universe until one day it will cease to exist, but before that happens, all different species from all different points in space and time come to Knowhere to study and observe the end of the universe from the closest accessible structure.

They will be integrating many more computer-generated characters in the backgrounds of each sequence to help balance out the practical cast of made-up humans against Rocket and Groot.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Costumes

Thousands of costumes were created specially for the film, hundreds of thousands of pieces of costume in total. This is the most of any Marvel movie so far as it's the first to be set almost entirely away from Earth. Almost everything has to look alien. One day of shooting involved three hundred costumed actors on set.

Quill's look is from a group of people who adopted him called The Ravagers. The Ravagers are like space pirates, a Mad Max bunch of people. Their clothing has texture and age to it. The costume designer used many references, from cowboys to World War II fighter pilots for the look. James Gunn wanted Quill to have a lot of technology in his clothing, and wanted everything to look functional. He has boosters built into his boots. Quill's mask was interpreted from the many versions in the comics.

We got to see the movie versions of the Nova Corps badges: Corpsman has a line across, Denarian is a millennial with a cross, Centurion is a cross with diagonal lines coming out from the top. Nova Prime is a full star.

In the costume department, we spotted Captain America, Thor and Loki costumes hung up in the corner. The costumer designer joked that they are there just for reference.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Special Effects Make-Up

The movie relies heavily on special effects make-up. They had 56 special effects make-up artists on set one day. 80 life casts were created for this film.  Over 2000 humanoid alien moulds have been created. All the pieces are percolated to each race in files in the make-up department. By the end of shoot the special effects make-up department would have done an about 1250 total prosthetic makeup applications.

Drax the Destroyer explains what his tattoos mean in a scene in the movie. Drax sees something in the tattoo-like etchings on his character's body that everyone else doesn't see. It's a funny comic moment.

Drax's tattoo

Drax's tattoo make-up involves 18 pieces of appliance for the body and face. It takes  a team of 5 makeup artists three and a half hours to apply Drax's makeup application. By the end of the shoot, Drax would have been on camera for approximately 49 days, times that by the hours it takes to make him up and Dave Batista spent 7 solid days in the makeup chair for the film. The day we were on set, the make-up team set a record by applying Drax's makeup in only 2 hours and 45 minutes. It started out taking 4.5-5 hours to put on. The paint that goes all the way up and over his lips. Batista says it tastes like rubbing alcohol.

A group of silicone technicians are making around 20 to 30 pieces of special effects make-up appliances a day, 100 to 150 a week.  It takes 1 person 2 days to make Nebula make-up appliances which consists of 7 pieces.

Karen Gillian in guardians of the galaxy

Karen Gillian has to have her head shaved every time she is on set to play Nebula. Nebula has cybernetic arm and eye but her personality remains normal.  It takes about four and a half hours to apply Gillan's makeup, down from over five when they first began shooting.

Zoe Saldana had seven or eight camera tests with different makeup jobs as they explored to find how alien they wanted Gamora to look in the film. They spent a lot of time trying to find a green color paint for Gamora because the color changes in various different lighting conditions and they needed to find something that had a more consistent look. Saldana's main concern was that since she was the lead female role, she wanted teenage boys to find her attractive and not be repulsed by alien makeup.

Chris Pratt set interview Guardians of the Galaxy

Props

The prop department on Guardians has a team of 130 technicians, 90 of which are manufacturing, with 16 people working on making weapons alone. It's the most challenging of any of the Marvel productions because, again, almost none of the props that appear in the film look like they are from Earth.

Quill's blasters look kinda like the phasers designed for JJ Abrams' Star Trek, on steroids.

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Quill's Sony Walkman is introduced in a flashback to his 1980s childhood. The prop department bought the only 16 of this specific Sony Walkman that were listed on eBay over a 6 month period, and only 3 of the 16 actually worked.

We spotted other 1980's props in the prop department, including an Atari 2600, a Simon, an Alf lunch box, and a Trapper Keeper notebook.

Quill also has an Hadronic forcer built by Rocket  which he uses in the finale of the film. It's almost like an atomic bomb going off, but in a small controlled area. It starts off worn as a backpack, flips around to the wearer's front and expands out like an accordion. There are two handle grips to shoot. They went over the projected budget on this prop by about a third. They have made eight full ones, and eight backpack versions. Some lightweight, some practical and some stunt versions.

Rocket Raccoon's gun

Rocket Raccoon's gun was mostly designed in the computer, printed using a 3d printer, and the 3d printed pieces were plated with metal. They created the gun as a lighting photo reference on set. The gun is holstered on his back and when he pulls it off his back it extends out to be even bigger than himself.

The prop department also worked with set decoration on a 21 foot-long alien gambling table, which features a miniature greyhound track on which miniature animals race, and roulette wheels that let the characters bet on the track. A lot of movement is involved, and steam and fire effects are built in.

Gamora has a dagger which extends out into a sword.

Chris Pratt Guardians of the Galaxy

Other Bits

Pratt said that he didn't have much room for improv in this film. He tries sometimes because he can't help it, and some of that stuff might make it in, but he knows it's not that type of film. There is room for it in some of the scenes, but not a lot. Chris Pratt says he collaborated with James Gunn on the "I am Star Lord" / "Who?" moment. Apparently that moment wasn't originally in the script. We will find out why he is called Star Lord in the movie.

Bautista would love to see the Guardians mix it up with the other Marvel superheroes in future films. He says he's heard the same rumors we've all had, and is praying that they're true.

Dave Bautista was freaking out about the fact that they're going to be making a Drax Lego minifig. He's already had action figures and video games when he was a WWE wrestler, but this is new for him:

Drax lego minifig