Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014) Production Notes

Director: James Gunn
Producer(s): Kevin Feige
Main Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro
Genre: Action, Adventure
Release Date: 2014-08-01
Facebook: @guardiansofthegalaxy
X / Twitter: @GuardiansGalaxy

From Marvel, the studio that brought you the global blockbuster franchises of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers, comes a new team—the Guardians of the Galaxy. An action-packed, epic space adventure, Marvel's “Guardians of the Galaxy” expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos, where brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits—Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon, Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand—with the galaxy's fate in the balance.

Please note: Some production notes may contain spoilers.

From Marvel, the studio that brought you the global blockbuster franchises of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers, comes a new team —the Guardians of the Galaxy.

An action-packed, epic space adventure, Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos, where brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits—Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon, Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand—with the galaxy’s fate in the balance.

Directed by James Gunn (“Slither,” “Super”) from his screenplay, with a story by Nicole Perlman and Gunn, the all-star cast includes Chris Pratt (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “Moneyball”) as Peter Quill, Zoe Saldana (“Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Avatar”) as Gamora, Dave Bautista (“Riddick”) as Drax the Destroyer, featuring Vin Diesel (“Fast and Furious”) as Groot, two-time Academy Award® nominee Bradley Cooper (“American Hustle,” “Silver Linings Playbook”) as Rocket, Lee Pace (“The Hobbit,” “Lincoln”) as Ronan the Accuser, Michael Rooker (AMC’s “The Walking Dead”) as Yondu, Karen Gillan (BBC TV’s “Doctor Who”) as Nebula, two-time Academy Award® nominee Djimon Hounsou (“Amistad,” “Gladiator”) as Korath, with Academy Award® nominee John C. Reilly (“Chicago”) as Rhomann Dey, six-time Academy Award® nominee Glenn Close (“Albert Nobbs,” “Fatal Attraction”) as Nova Prime Rael, and Academy Award® winner Benicio Del Toro (“Traffic”) as The Collector.

The creative team includes director of photography Ben Davis, BSC (“Wrath of the Titans,” “Kick-Ass”), production designer Charles Wood (“Thor: The Dark World”), BAFTA-nominated editor Fred Raskin (“Django Unchained,” “Fast Five”) and Academy Award®-winning editor Hughes Winborne, A.C.E. (“The Help,” “Crash”), Academy Award® winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne (“Marvel’s The Avengers,” “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”) and composer Tyler Bates (“Killer Joe,” “Super”). Marvel Studios’ President Kevin Feige produced the film. The executive producers are Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Victoria Alonso, Jeremy Latcham and Stan Lee.

Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” is slated for release on August 1, 2014.

From Comic Book to Screen

Created by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan, the Guardians of the Galaxy were introduced in 1969 as a team of heroes in the 31st century—each member the last of his kind. The idea of creating a cinematic project from that concept had much going for it—not only a remarkable group of characters, operating within an amazing universe, but also an opportunity to explore another side of the Marvel Universe, contemporaneous with The Avengers, maintaining the scope, action and humor, as well as a sense of the high stakes at its core, which made that film such a success.

There was strong interest at Marvel Studios to do a space epic and to expand their Cinematic Universe in a new direction, despite the risks involved. Says Producer Kevin Feige: “‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ is the riskiest movie we’ve done since ‘Iron Man’ but in many ways that makes it the most exciting movie we’ve done since ‘Iron Man.’ It means we can surprise people and exceed expectations. I love the notion of being able to introduce some originality, although all of it is based on the great work that was done in the comics yet few people are aware of them. I hope it feels like something very new and very fresh.”

Getting the tone right was of paramount importance to the filmmakers, who wanted a balanced mix of humor, emotion and action. This desire informed their search for the right director for the material. Explains Feige, “It is important to us that a filmmaker bring a vision and have a handle on the characters and be able to bring them to life in an unexpected and unique and three-dimensional way. We wanted a director who could bring those elements and a slightly skewed sense to the film, and James Gunn has that voice and that vision.”

After meeting with Kevin Feige, director James Gunn was hooked. “I could see the film in my head, how it would look, what the shooting style should be,” says Gunn.

Gunn was also excited at the prospect of introducing the characters into Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, and introducing a global audience to the Guardians. Acknowledging the freedom he had since they were relatively unknown, Gunn remarks, “I think ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ gave me more freedom simply because there aren’t as many rabid fans of Guardians as there are of say The Avengers, or as many Guardians comic books, and so I have been able to recreate the Guardians more for the screen without worrying that the audience will have a different expectation of the characters.”

While there have been several incarnations of the Guardians over the years, Marvel had planned from the early development stages to draw from the Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning run of the comic 2008 for the film. Gunn embraced that direction and comments, “We’re using the characters that Abnett and Lanning used and their tone is both humorous and dark, an interesting mix, which I think we have in the film too.”

Casting the Unique Characters

Commenting on the approach to casting the unique characters in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” producer Kevin Feige says, “I think ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ has one of the best ensemble casts for an origin movie that Marvel has ever had because it is so eclectic. We didn’t set out to cast a relative unknown for the lead nor movie stars for the voices of Rocket and Groot, it just evolved liked that, again, because we had the freedom to say ‘anybody’s on the table’ for this one.”

After an extensive search, Chris Pratt was offered the role of Peter Quill, a young, brash space adventurer. Says Feige, “We auditioned many actors for the role, and conducted a number of really detailed screen tests, and Chris Pratt by far just won the part. He was cool, he was sexy, he was ridiculously hilarious in certain aspects—which he has to be and, when he put on the costume and he puts on the mask and he’s holding his space guns, he is bad-ass and you really believe it.”

The story is told from Quill’s perspective, and Pratt reveals that he immediately resonated with the youthful aspects of the character he plays. “He’s very much a kid at heart. He’s never known his father, he’s sucked away into space just as his mother dies and is raised by a blue-skinned humanoid. He has spent all his life being told to toughen up and has a false sense of bravado as a result. But deep down he is lonely, and while he’s a guy traveling in space getting to do whatever he wants, he misses his family, his community, and through the course of the story he learns to care again and that there’s more to life than just taking and doing exactly what you want.”

Zoe Saldana plays Gamora, a deadly green-skinned assassin. Cast quite early on in the process, director James Gunn credits Saldana with influencing her role significantly as she worked with him on the character through several drafts. Says Gunn: “Zoe has brought a lot to the role of Gamora working with me to create a strong female character who is also very flawed. She is fearless in the role because she doesn’t aspire to be liked all the time.”

While Saldana admits she was not familiar with the Guardians of the Galaxy before Marvel approached her about the role, she reveals, “I’ve always had an affinity for unimaginable stories: simple stories told in unimaginable places, which obviously enters the category of science fiction, and I was fascinated with the world presented in this story.”

Dave Bautista took on Drax—a quiet yet physical brute, obsessed with avenging the death of his wife and child. The casting of Drax was a tough one for the filmmakers, but from the very first read, Bautista, a former WWE championship wrestler, nailed it.

“I loved the character and was very excited about the opportunity to play the range of emotions,” says Bautista. “He’s a very passionate character. He’s a warrior but he’s dealing with a lot of pain. He’s heartbroken. He’s living solely for revenge and as a result has lost his connection with everything else.”

Rounding out the Guardians team are Rocket, a genetically altered, cybernetically enhanced talking raccoon, and his friend Groot, an advanced humanoid tree creature, voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively. Describing the two unusual characters, director James Gunn says, “Rocket is not the happiest guy in the world. He’s a sad, malformed creature who has been taken apart and put back together again. He has experienced a lot of pain in his life and is grounded as a result and, because of that, is probably the heart of the movie in many ways, much like Groot, Rocket’s only real friend, who can only communicate with three words, yet his story breaks your heart.”

Ultimately much will be owed to the voices of the characters, so their casting was hugely important to the filmmakers. Explains producer Kevin Feige: “The most important thing is that Rocket doesn’t seem like a cartoon. We had designed the character and it looked awesome. So it really came down to the voice. We were listening to every actor you can imagine to see who seemed to fit the part best and it included Bradley Cooper’s scenes with De Niro in ‘Silver Linings Playbook.’ It was very cool and very real, and the fact that we actually got him to do the film is just one of those wonderful things.”

For Bradley Cooper, doing voice over for a character was a first. “The whole process is so new to me,” says Cooper. “It’s like an education every time and it’s interesting.”

He adds, “There’s a lot of humor and a lot of heart in this movie. All the relationships are very clear and emotional and the stakes are obviously high and with the flavor of James Gunn, it has a comedic appeal to it. I think people are going to be blown away by how unique and fresh this film is.”

Commenting on Vin Diesel voicing Groot, Feige says, “Involving Vin Diesel in this is great fun. He is an unbelievably passionate guy. When I called him and asked if he would be interested in playing a character that’s a tree and says only three words, without hesitation he said, ‘I’m in.’”

Diesel admits that Groot’s one line of dialogue sold him on the character. He explains, “How they were able to reinforce the theme, the meaning and the message of the whole movie in one line of character dialogue impressed me. And how that line translates in the third act is really going to be something that allows the audience to feel like they are part of this world and understand the stakes and what the characters are going through.”

The adversaries the Guardians battle in this epic space adventure are led by Ronan the Accuser—a powerful judge, jury and executioner, aligned to Thanos—and played by Lee Pace. Described by James Gunn as “bad as bad can get, a complete and utter sociopath who enjoys the pain of others,” playing Ronan had immediate appeal to Pace, a big fan of Marvel’s films, as well as Gunn’s work. Says Pace: “Ronan has been reinvented throughout the years and the more I thought about the character, and worked on it, the more interested I became in what he represents. It’s so universal, and that has made the character so iconic through the years in different forms. He’s the judge, he’s the accuser and he’s brutal.”

Nebula, loyal lieutenant to Ronan and a blue-skinned deadly assassin, is played by Karen Gillan. A fan of Marvel films, with a dedicated following of her own as former Dr. Who sidekick, Amy Pond, in the iconic BBC TV series, Karen Gillan revealed she had shaved her head for the role as Nebula when she whipped off her wig at Comic Con International in San Diego, drawing gasps of awe and excitement from the crowd. It showed the level of her commitment to a project to which she was at once drawn. “I was totally liberated by the experience. It’s a whole identity change and I found that it helped me inhabit the character by morphing my own appearance that dramatically,” comments Gillan.

Academy-Award® nominee Djimon Hounsou plays Korath, a feared intergalactic hunter in Ronan’s employ. Describing his character Hounsou says, “Korath is a pursuer, a machine dedicated to kill, a humanoid with only one thing in mind, to go after his target. I was excited that the story didn’t have any place in our terrestrial world, and while I knew that would be very challenging, it gave me a great amount of freedom to navigate and use my imagination to take my character to the extreme.”

Michael Rooker plays the blue-skinned Ravager, Yondu, surrogate father to Peter Quill. Explaining his role, Rooker relates, “It’s a beautiful story, a great uplifting story and I found the relationship between Quill and Yondu intriguing. He went to pick him up from Earth and for some reason he decided not to take him where he was meant to go and raised him himself. He made a connection with him, and Yondu now enjoys the fact that Quill has the courage to do his own thing.”

The filmmakers were thrilled that Benicio Del Toro wanted to play the role of Taneleer Tivan aka The Collector, keeper of the largest collection of interstellar fauna, relics and species in the galaxy. Explaining what drew him to the project, Del Toro says, “The way James Gunn described the film to me, it was very cool. I didn’t know anything about the character but then I got a chance to read the script and the script was very colorful. I immediately gravitated toward it and felt like it was a really cool story. So it was James Gunn, the director first, then the script.”

The stellar cast also includes six-time Academy Award® nominee Glenn Close as Nova Prime Rael and John C. Reilly as Corpsman Dey, of the Nova Corps, the Xandarian military force that maintains law and order in outer space.

Making the Epic Space Adventure

Shooting began in June 2013 in the U.K. and over a long, hot summer through autumn, a dedicated cast and crew worked ardently together, embracing and realizing director James Gunn’s vision, often with the film’s score playing loudly on set. Gunn had composer Tyler Bates complete some of the tracks before the start of principal photography and it added to the uplifting and congenial atmosphere on set, as well as setting the tone for the scenes. Along with tracks from the film’s original score, Gunn also had the sound department pump out ’70s tunes, which Peter Quill plays on his Sony Walkman in the film. Apart from creating an exhilarating ambience, it helped the actors with the rhythm of the scenes.

Production designer Charles Wood was tasked with designing and creating the weird and wonderful environments in which the action takes place on. It was important for Gunn to have physical sets to shoot on, a rare treat for cast and crew who work on many productions that rely on huge green-screen stages to create their biggest sets.

Gunn had a very clear vision for the film, which was fully embraced by his creative team, and while the possibilities seemed limitless, it was important to Gunn that the spaces felt as real as possible. He says, “One of the driving forces, from the beginning, was to create a gritty world that was still very colorful. I miss some of the color palettes of the ’50s and ’60s science fiction films when things were much brighter and to intermingle those different looks from the past and create our own look was very important.”

One of the spacecraft Wood and his team designed was the Milano, Quill’s spaceship. Constructed as a double level composite set, with an upper flight deck and lower living quarters, it was a 14-week build involving several trades. Wood and his team followed director James Gunn’s instructions that Quill’s environment be reminiscent of Earth and have a tangible quality—mechanical with chrome and leather and a muscle-car look.

Wood and his team also crafted the Dark Aster, Ronan’s spaceship, suggestive of a flying mausoleum, the design is minimal and brutal, a stark gray colorless world devoid of any set dressing whatsoever, and relying purely on its heavy concrete-like architecture to convey its tone and function.

The Kyln—the space prison where the Guardians meet and form—was the production’s largest build; a 360-degree set, and a feat of engineering, comprised of 350 thousand pounds of steel across three levels, extended in post-production by a further two-hundred feet.

The watery planet of Xandar, home of the Nova Corps, is one of the brighter environments in the film. The actual set is just a footing for a gigantic virtual set, inspired by the architecture of Santiago Calatrava, and the monumental steel, glass and white concrete arch of the Liege train station in Belgium provided its backdrop.

Wood and his team also built Knowhere, a port of call and observatory for intergalactic travelers of all species and from all times, located inside the decapitated head of a Celestial, on the edge of the universe. Knowhere is evocative of an industrial mining town and is where the Collector has his museum. The vibrant Boot of Jemiah set and Morag, an underwater ocean planet where Quill discovers the orb in its sunken temple, were also built by Wood and his team.

When Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”’s costume designer Alexandra Byrne began the enormous task of creating costumes, not only for the principals but also for background artists in the many weird and wonderful environments as well, she looked first to the comic books to understand the worlds, then worked in tandem with director James Gunn to interpret his vision and the version of the story that he wanted to tell. Byrne explains, “James’ brief was always that he wanted things to be non-Earthly, but also non-sci-fi, a bit like spinning plates but still a very good, very simple brief with which to keep testing myself.”

For some of the principal actors and their doubles—under the supervision of prosthetics designer David White and hair and makeup designer Elizabeth Yianni- Georgiou—the daily routine of getting camera-ready sometimes began as other cast and crew were coming home from a night out! White was tasked with creating looks for Gamora, Drax, Nebula, Yondu and Korath, and prosthetics work started early, months ahead of shooting, taking head and body casts of the actors, molding and sculpting, and working out which materials to use. It took a team of five makeup artists five hours per day to do Drax’s makeup application, which consisted of 18 pieces for the body and face. By the end of shoot, David Bautista had totaled about seven entire days in makeup.

In addition to the principal cast, there were many alien extras. Over 2,000 humanoid alien molds were run, all the pieces pre-colored to each race (yellow, blue or pink). By the end of the shoot, the special makeup effects department had done an approximate total of 1,250 prosthetic makeup applications.

Summing up the experience and what he hopes the film delivers, director James Gunn says: “I really hope we can affect people in the way that movies affected me as a kid, but not just kids—adults too: to go to the cinema and experience magic, hope, a sense that family is where you find it, and there is always an opportunity to do the right thing…as well as have a great adventure!”