The second scene Wan showed us took place in the underwater world where Aquaman is having an argument with Hera. Patrick Wilson’s character Orm offers Aquaman one chance to go home, leave Atlantis, warning him that “War is coming to the surface if you like it or not.” The characters in this movie move through the water like Superman flies, smoothly moving from one point in the 3D space to another. “My brother has come from the surface to challenge me for the thrown,” declares Orm. And with that we are introduced to a giant battle arena underneath the water somewhere in Atlantis. Jellyfish are lighting the space, an Octopus beats the battle drums, and again I’m taken aback to how fun and silly this whole thing is.

They fight with their tridents, water fields some resistance, causing bubbles, but in the end it’s like a 360 fight between supermen. This action sequence was a little less exciting to me, with the two men dragging each other along underwater rocks, battling on top of hundred story tall statues, and Orm gets an advantage and is able to slice through Aquaman’s trident. The thousands of Atlantians in the audience are cheering like its a sports event. Hera comes in a ship and rescues Aquaman before he is defeated in the battle.

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Can you do all the wire work, as opposed to getting the actors actually in a water tank?

James Wan: I don’t really think I could get my actors to do that at the end of the day. *laughs* A lot of very difficult planning and really putting the actors through very vigorous training to work on those rigs and the wire work and all that stuff. First thing we did was just training the actors every day, trying to get their stamina up so that they can just go 12 hours a day. Just being in those harnesses, it’s so painful, especially for someone like Momoa who’s so big. So you can imagine how uncomfortable that is for him, especially for a guy because the rig goes like this (motions to how it wraps around in between the legs). For him, it’s not the most pleasant thing.

And working with the stunt department, we’ll do it in steps and stages. First, we’ll sort of like design the fight on the floor and how it will move because that would be the easiest way. We lay it all out. And then we go, ‘Okay, so now, we’re not fighting on a dry surface. We have to think about the fact that gravity plays different now.’ So now we go to the next step and then we now start to bring in wire work, the rigging and stuff like that. And so then we now have to translate what we laid out on the floor onto a different level of that, literally onto a different level of floating the actors and stuff like that. And then, of course, the final big step is really getting visual effects to come in and just really help us kind of create just stuff that I can’t do otherwise.

There’s a moment there where it’s just like it’s all one shot kind of thing, watching them fight and the camera just rips all around them. So we would do motion capture, getting the actors and the stunt department to kind of lay out the moves and capture the moves into a computer and then basically use the computer to, and what those guys do in visual effects, those geniuses just reanimate the world and then I can put my camera anywhere, which is so much fun. It’s a kind of filmmaking I’ve never done before and so it’s very exciting. It’s a new piece or tool to add to my bag of tricks.

How much research and development went into the digital effects portion of this? Nobody’s really ever done anything like this, not just in comic book movies, but in action blockbusters, period. Nobody’s had to have massive action sequences underwater, so how extensive was the R&D, but then also the trial and error since you’ve gone into post?

James Wan: A lot of it. We tried to kind of design it in pre-production and we would do lots of things. Even though we did a lot of dry for wet, but you know, we wanted to make sure that things somewhat authentic underwater as well. We would build costumes, sets, and our actors, we would literally submerge them underwater and we did so much study just to see what they would look like and the most surprising thing that we discovered very early on is people, objects, and stuff do not look we underwater. It only looks wet when you take it out of water. Right? When it’s glistening and it’s dripping wet that’s how something looks wet. But when you’re underwater, it actually looks matte and so that concept was a bit tricky for us to kind of wrap our head around, especially for me, because we’d constantly have to go in there and pat out actors down, like with makeup. Under those bright lights and all the stunts, they were constantly sweating and all that and you don’t see water underwater. You don’t see sweat, right? And so, as I said, it’s such a weird thing to kind of wrap my head around early on. And so we did a lot of that and then, of course, we shoot as much of it as we can practically. We want to shoot as much [we can], because even if visual effects was to come in and augment a lot of it, right? They want to start with something that is real, that’s tangible, that they kind of go see and can go ‘Oh this is what would happen.’ More importantly, it’s how the actors and the stunt actors would react and act and so that was really important. And then in post-production, we try to take it ten notches up and make it even cooler, as much as we can.

In all of the scenes that we’ve seen so far, it’s funny. It’s very funny. There’s the octopus in this one. There’s jokes between everybody.

James Wan: Are you guys familiar with the comic book, like the 1960s Super Friends? Do you guys know Topo? He is a pet octopus. Don’t write about that one. That’s just for the fans. The hardcore fans out there go, ‘Ah, Topo.’ Because in the comic book, Topo would play all kinds of musical instruments, like literally one tentacle would be playing the harp and another would be playing the violin, and the other tentacle would be playing the piano. So this is my take on that. He’s playing the massive set of those big sort of Japanese drums and stuff in a tribalistic kind of way. I joke that the octo-drummer should hook up with the guitar flame guy from Mad Max [Fury Road] and start their own band. I would pay to see that band

That’s a level of camp that we don’t normally see, especially in DC movies. We don’t usually get that sort of camp.

James: Well, I’ve said since day one, any of you guys that have interviewed me from day one, I’ve always said ‘I want to make a fun movie.’ And I know back then everyone was like, ‘Oh, he’s saying fun because DC movies are so dark or whatever, right? And there’s no fun.’

I’m like, ‘No! You’re making a movie about Aquaman!’ He talks to fish and stuff like that. You gotta lean into that. You gotta not be afraid of the camp of it all, but the key is try and make it cool, right? The key is to try and make it something that you can kind of smile at it, but then kind of go, ‘Oh, that’s kind of fun. That’s awesome!’ That is my job to try and take what collectively we all know from pop culture, the lamest superhero, and have fun with him and make him the freakin’ coolest superhero I can. That’s my dream. My dream is to make him cooler than Batman and Superman, so that’s just me.

I totally got a lot of broad strokes of the feel of films like Labyrinth or even The Princess Bride, going into Indiana Jones and stuff with how you’re balancing the different genres and sub-genres between action/adventure, romance, action, comedy. Can you talk about how that’s all anchored within overall theme of the film being he is the son of the land and of the sea and how you tapped into the mythology?

James Wan: Yes, definitely. I can answer that in two ways. The next scene that I wanna show you guys kind of showcases how [Aquaman] to me, without being too on the nose, it’s a fish out of water story. When he’s in Atlantis, he’s the fish out of water, but when they go on land, Mera is the one that’s fish out of water. This next scene I want to show you guys, because I think it’s important for me to show you a bit of the relationship between Arthur and Mera, which is such a big thing in the comic book world, but also my pitch from day one which is, ‘I want to make my Indiana Jones, my Romancing the Stone.’ And so it has shades of that and also it touches a little bit too about the other thing that I think is important in a movie like Aquaman is you kind of have to touch on the world of the environment and how that is such a big part of the reason why Orm wants to declare war is he’s finally so sick of the shit that we do in the surface world and how all that stuff literally flows down into them. I think that’s something that we can all relate to.

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