Dune Director Denis Villeneuve On How You Design A Sandworm

Something that "Dune" fans may be most interested to see in director Denis Villeneuve's film adaptation of Frank Herbert's classic science fiction novel is the sandworms. These giant creatures burrow up from the ground on the desert planet Arrakis. We already got our first look at one last year in the trailer for "Dune."

This week, "Dune" made its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival. /Film's Marshall Staffer gave it a glowing review. Our own Vanessa Armstrong also attended a roundtable interview with Villeneuve, where he elaborated on the process that went into the design of the movie's toothy sandworms.

Villeneuve emphasized teamwork and laid "a lot of credit" at the foot of production designer Patrice Vermette, saying:

"We knew that we will be judged by you guys how we bring the worm to the screen. We knew that we could not make any mistake. We had to be dead on. Again, we went from the book and the idea is that there's something in the book that Frank Herbert is very, very, very precise about [in] his study of the ecosystems. His relationship with biology, with life, the way he describe plants, animals, everything feels so real. So we approached the worm trying to make it as real, as logical, as realistic as possible, how a being could live under the sand, evolving at high speed under burning sand. What kind of skin such a thing would have. That's where Patrice start[ed] really like a biologist to try to understand how the behaviors, how these creatures with all the qualities would need to survive in such an environment."

Like Whales, Horses, or Gods

With the sandworms, Villeneuve also said it was very important for him that we would "feel a strong presence like when you're beside a whale or a huge horse. Some kind of weird sense that there's an intelligence there that you cannot relate with but that there's a presence."

Overall, the experience of designing the sandworms was "a blast" for him and his crew.

"It's a process," he continued: 

"that came with a lot of thinking, a lot of dreaming, meditation, a lot of sketches, tons upon thousands of sketches and trying to find the right one. Patrice was definitely a big help because at the end of the day that's one more element I didn't mention, which is it has to look like a god. It has to have the presence of something that will evoke the presence of something that [has] like ... a sacred quality to it. So the idea that [the] mouth moves like an eye was very important."

When they watch "Dune," moviegoers won't just be staring into the eyes of gods, however. They'll also be meeting the antagonistic Sardauker and Harkonnen, the latter of whom are embroiled in a feud with Timothée Chalamet and Oscar Isaac's House Atreides.

The Sardauker and Harkonnen

Villeneuve explained his approach to the Sardauker and Harkonnen this way:

"The thing is that for me the Sardaukar needed to be like soldiers that will have equipment that will be designed to fight under any conditions. So they are half knight, half astronauts. That's the idea that you can launch a Sardaukar army on any planet at any time and they are ready to go in any kind of environment. This was the idea of their armor with the Harkonnen. I want to say that it's an exploration that we started to try to bring an idea of total artificiality, total disconnection from nature. A world that will be totally artificial and totally about exploitation of natural resources... It was like a long exploration to find a balance. I will say that it was an old dream of mine to work with a world that will use only the black color."

He furthermore likened the film's settings to a party place. "If there's a party," he explained, "it's definitely in Geidi Prime that you have to go because it's going to be definitely the place to go. I really love the Harkonnen world."

Based on the buzz out of Venice and Villeneuve's own sterling track record as a genre filmmaker, it sounds like "Dune" is going to be its own kind of can't-miss movie party. Knowing that festival attendees have already seen the much-anticipated film might inspire the dreaded FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), but "Dune" has taught us, "Fear is the mind-killer." So we'll just have to sit tight until October 22, 2021, when the movie arrives in theaters and on HBO Max.