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ASSASSIN’S CREED in Cinemas New Year’s Day – The Spanish Inquisition – On Location with Sammy Sheldon-Differ


22 December 2016

For Justin Kurzel’s big-screen adaptation of Ubisoft’s hit video game series ASSASSIN’S CREED, the production was faced with a unique challenge: realising two time periods separated by more than half a millennium, that would be both complementary and distinct, against which the film’s dual protagonists, Callum Lynch and Aguilar de Nehar (both played by Academy Award® nominee Michael Fassbender) would play. Here, we focus on the 15th Century regressions to the time of the Spanish Inquisition, shot predominantly on location on the island of Malta and in Almería, Spain.

Compared to the concrete grays and angular lines of the Abstergo facility, the world of 15th Century Spain and the Spanish Inquisition – the backdrop against which Callum Lynch’s regressions into the mind of Aguilar de Nehar take place – is a burst of colour and activity.

 

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It was also the jumping off point for costume designer Sammy Sheldon-Differ (EX MACHINA, ANT-MAN, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS), who was tasked with perhaps the most complex challenge of the entire production: how to realize the iconic silhouettes of the Master Assassins that have, until now, only been created in video game form.

She began with her basic philosophy. “It’s about making clothes for a person, rather than a costume,” she notes. “In a video game, you can manipulate every angle to make it look cool, but in reality, a hood or a cloak doesn’t stretch like that, so you have to build things differently. You have to think about the soul of the character and make clothes you believe they’d live in. The clothes don’t wear the person.”

From the games, Sheldon-Differ followed the immutable rule that the silhouette had to remain. The Assassin costumes, with their trademark hoods, fine tailoring, and complex detail, have taken incredibly well to being applied to time periods as diverse as the Crusades, the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution London.

 

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But the ASSASSIN’S CREED movie features a new Assassin and a fresh time period. This allowed Sheldon-Differ to imagine where Aguilar might have come from, and the influence that might have had on his manner of dress.

“We decided to draw on a Moorish theme, and all of the influences from North Africa at the time,” she explains. “These were the kinds of people who were living in Spain at the time of the Inquisition, and so we tried to give Aguilar’s costume a tribal feel, with a lot of bone, metal, and weaving.”

The Alhambra Palace, a location in the film, provided its own influence, and since it stands today much as it did then, there were plenty of references to work with. This was true, too, for production designer Andy Nicholson (GRAVITY, DIVERGENT), who worked with the research teams at Ubisoft that help build the games in order to round up as much information about this period of time as possible.

“The 15th Century in Spain is a really exciting time period to do on film,” he says. “There were a lot of colours, and it was an interesting time period in Europe. For the film, it was all about the colors painters were using at the time. There were particular colors that didn’t exist, really. They still used natural dyes and there were many shades they couldn’t create. We worked with a lot of reds and blues, and we were creating enormous battles and an Auto-da-fé, which had an appropriate scale.”

 

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The Auto-da-fé was a ritual of public penance condemning heretics and apostates that became a popular event during the Spanish Inquisition. “It was hardly an under-dramatic event,” laughs Nicholson. “The chance to play with that and find out what they were really like was exciting. The whole thing was menacingly flamboyant. When you combine it with the great work Sammy did on costumes, and the work my set decorator, Tina Jones, did on effigies and flags, it was a nice example of everybody putting into this vision and working with Justin to make it really cohesive.”

In fact, Sheldon-Differ estimates her team created more than 2000 costumes for the movie. And they range from simple digitally-printed costumes worn by extras in the deep background, right through to the Assassin costume worn by Aguilar, which itself had many variants designed to look right in the many different shots required for the movie.

“We did 20 or 30 hoods for Michael,” she notes, “and all the details built from there. The hoods were always going to be a problem because it’s all about the face and what we hide and don’t hide. I don’t think you’d usually analyze one aspect of a costume so much, but we had to learn how to cut an Assassin hood. Each shot is manipulated in terms of how we have to set it, and there are different hoods.”

 

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There was also a close collaboration involved with the Armoury department, led by Tim Wildgoose (EDGE OF TOMORROW, WORLD WAR Z, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS), who were constructing the many weapons the Assassins use in the film. Aside from the Assassins’ principal weapon, the hidden blade, which is worn in a bracer on their wrists, the costumes include throwing knives, smoke bombs and sword sheaths. “This film has been so collaborative because the blades are tricky to make work. It’s been a learning process in terms of how we attach them to the costumes.”

The production shot in Malta and Spain because both locations offered different aspects that would help them recreate the 15th Century. In Malta, they focused on sequences set in towns, and while plenty of digital set extension and alteration was necessary, the island offered a number of period-appropriate buildings on which to place the film’s characters. In the scorched deserts of Southern Spain – Spaghetti Western territory – the production found open expanses that would allow big carriage chase sequences to be executed.

“One of the great things about Valetta, in Malta, is that it’s a capital city on a peninsula, exposed to the elements,” says Nicholson. “It’s as old as our story, and it’s made of soft sandstone which just falls apart, so it has incredible textures.”

 

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Notes producer Patrick Crowley (JURASSIC WORLD, THE BOURNE IDENTITY) “The big challenge compared to the game is that we can’t just create these time periods from the ground up. There isn’t anything in the world that exists as a photographable 15th Century environment. But we were surrounded, in Malta, by ancient ruins, where we built our sets. It was pretty cool to be there.”

By Joe Utichi

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