‘Harry Potter’ countdown: Scaring up the Inferi

June 18, 2009 | 6:46 p.m.

Our countdown to the release of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” continues today with Denise Martin’s feature on movie-magic specialist Tim Alexander and his Inferi hordes…  

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You can’t see them in the picture, but in this scene from “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” creepy, crawling Inferi surround Professor Dumbledore. Inferi, of course, are the reanimated corpses, puppets of Lord Voldemort, residing at the bottom of the lake, near which one of the dark wizard’s horcruxes is hidden.

Tim Alexander, the visual effects supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic responsible for bringing the undead army to life, has worked on only the most haunting Potter creatures, from the fire-breathing Hungarian Horntail dragon in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” the skeletal horses called thestrals in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” and those soul-sucking dementors in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Phoenix.”

Alexander said it took several months to complete the approximately seven-minute scene, from rendering millions of Inferi to whipping up Dumbledore’s flame tornado (best for combating meddling dead folks.) He took a break from working on Gore Verbinski’s upcoming animated adventure Rango” to tell us why he thinks “Half-Blood Prince” will be the first Potter movie to give even grown-up fans nightmares:

Tim Alexander ILM

DM: So how many Inferi lie in the lake?

TA: A couple million? Above water, you’d probably see about a hundred at a time. But when Harry gets dragged into the lake, there is a whole underwater environment…and it’s actually covered in bodies. It’s all just … bodies crawling on top of each other, and that’s how you get into the millions.

DM: That sounds … disturbing. Certainly, more so than the previous “Potter” films.

TA: It’s certainly much bolder and scarier than we imagined that they’d ever go in a “Potter” movie. Director David Yates was really cautious of not making this into a zombie movie, so we were constantly trying to figure out how not to make these dead people coming up look like zombies. A lot of it came down to their movement – they don’t move fast, but they don’t move really slow or groan and moan. We ended up going with a very realistic style. They move like anyone coming up out of water.

DM: How so?

TA: When we go underwater with Harry, this female Inferi kind of comes up and grabs him and is pulling him down, but it’s more like a hug. Like an embrace. Like she’s trying to encourage him to join them. We were always trying to avoid turning the scene into one you’d see in a horror film.

DM: You’re going to scare a lot of little kids.

TA: Yeah, I think it will.

DM: Tell me about how the Inferi look. How did the design come about?

TA: The art department on the film gave us a lot of references, like Dante’s “Inferno,” where they have all those bodies. The Inferi themselves are very skinny and emaciated people. Very humanoid, but way skinnier than humans could be. Waterlogged and gray. We used the old lady that comes out of the tub in ‘The Shining’ as a reference. Most of the Inferi are adult, but we did also build two children, too.

DM: Yikes. Parents, you’ve been warned…

– Denise Martin

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STILL WANT MORE?  All Harry Potter coverage at Hero Complex

Photo credit: (top to bottom) Warner Bros.; ILM; Warner Bros.

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