For “The Whale”, a new film by Darren Aronofsky, Brendan Fraser has undergone an unprecedented transformation. To embody a 272-kilo man, he gained weight himself but above all wore an extremely restrictive costume, the manufacture and use of which required 3D printing and… motor racing technologies.
The Whalethe return of Brendan Fraser
expected on March 8, 2023 in French cinemas, The Whale looks like one hell of a piece of cinema. Its director Darren Aronofsky has, as with most of his feature films, implemented an ambitious artistic direction, with increased use of special effects. And because his film tells a story that could not be more intimate and realistic, it was important above all not to miss it.
The main actor, Brendan Fraser, embodies in The Whale Charlie, a reclusive English teacher, weighing 272 kg, and who only has five days to reconnect with her teenage daughter (Sadie Sink). In order for Charlie’s character to appear realistic, save him a cartoonish appearance and move the public, it was necessary to create a one-of-a-kind costume, weighing up to 150 kilos, which required a titanic work from the make-up and special effects department and from Brendan Fraser.
A digital creation of an evolving costume
In an interview given by Adrien Morot to Varietymake-up artist specializing in special effects, and Brendan Fraser, the two men reflect on the creation and use of Charlie’s costume for The Whale. A work that Adrien Morot describes as the biggest challenge of his career. He tells :
We always start with a meeting with the actor where he is entirely molded in alginate, to then create a sculpture of the body and the head in clay. Then we create molds for the prostheses. But we couldn’t get access to Brendan because of the pandemic. (…) Using an iPad, our producer scanned Brendan in his garage and sent me the data. All the facial and body prostheses were made on a computer, but as one would have done physically. (…) Once we had the character we wanted Charlie to be, we 3D printed his whole body in different pieces.
The costume created for The Whale is scalable. That is to say, the health and appearance of the character change during the film, and therefore it was necessary to change almost daily many of these elements.
There were 45 days of filming, or 45 days of torture for poor Brendan. The facial prostheses were disposable. It’s not a fake beard, each hair was glued one by one and then shaved to have this authentic hairiness. (…) Furthermore, Charlie’s health is declining. We’ve done different sets for the arms, and there’s also a gradation in skin color and complexion to show this decline, on all the different parts of the body.
Kilos of ice and an integrated cooling system
In this costume, although it is tailor-made, Brendan Fraser does not have an easy task. Indeed, with its different layers that support several elements, and a weight that goes up to 150 kilos, the heat is quickly extreme. It was therefore necessary to innovate so that the actor could support the costume and manage to play his part. The actor develops:
The prostheses created fit me like a glove, and I wore a five-point harness. Underneath that was a custom-made, multi-layered suit with a cooling system similar to what racing drivers wear. These are intersecting tubes through which cold water flows. Getting the temperature right was a challenge.
And to power this system, ice was needed. Lots of ice cream. According to Adrien Morot, there were several big bags of ice, up to five a day. Brendan Fraser remembers having melted up to eight! We now have to wait until March 2023 to see the result of such work in the cinema, and it is an understatement to say that we are in a hurry.