Was it a big plus for you that your main star wrestled, and with Aldis Hodge, someone with a martial arts background?
Absolutely. Working with these two in particular, you have Dwayne Johnson playing the biggest, strongest, badass superhero there is and he just happens to be the tallest human, the strongest and most badass on the planet. It was a very easy transformation for him. For Aldis, Hawkman is someone who has lived a million different lifetimes and in each lifetime he has perfected a different martial art and learned different styles along the way. To be able to teach Hawkman the choreography to someone who had no martial arts training and someone who couldn’t watch the choreography and immediately adapt to that move would have been impossible. So we’ve been really blessed with Dwayne Johnson and with Aldis.
What martial arts styles did you use for Hawkman?
Well, the cool thing about a character like Hawkman is that to show that he practiced so many different martial arts, we had to draw inspiration from the most extreme styles of martial arts. Most Japanese martial arts have a very similar style of flow. The Japanese is best known for his very hard style, low stances and strong single techniques. While Chinese martial arts are a bit flowery. They have more of a kung fu energy.
So we tried to take some kung fu, we took Wing Chun, we took traditional Japanese karate, kind of like a Shōrin-ryū style. And then we incorporated capoeira, which is kind of a Brazilian dance martial art, and we really achieved the most polar opposite martial arts we could find. He makes a lot of weapons. So we really leaned into Kali and Arnis, we really got into different types of stick fights and things that someone who walks around with different weapons would actually use in their arsenal.
Even when you have these two characters fighting in the sky, how much do you still try to ground it in realism? For example, with these martial arts styles, how would Hawkman block a right hook from someone like Black Adam?
Well, when it comes to superheroes, there’s always a lot of wiggle room when it comes to the real world and what you would actually do. But what’s really cool is trying to find the truth in the movements. And what was really fun to work with was the dichotomy between Black Adam and Hawkman. Because Black Adam, he has no style. It doesn’t need any styling. If you are impenetrable, if nothing can hurt you, you would not need to defend yourself. You would never block anything. You would never need to have a specific martial art to defend yourself. He could take any punishment and then hit someone once and they’re in dust. It was cool to create a no-style style and then the most stylized style possible.
Black Adam has never been challenged at this point, I mean he’s practically untouchable, so he has a very, very confident style and manner about him. While it’s cool to play with Hawkman’s arsenal where he’ll come in with an attack and if that doesn’t work you’ll see him re-engage and set up a new attack plan, a new way to try and break through. Even in the mid-air combat sequences, you can see a lot of character in every move each of them makes.
Do you have conversations with the VFX team about how to stay consistent in terms of fighting styles?
There is very good communication every step of the way between the stunt team and the VFX team. We go back and forth. Often VFX will feature an animation of a concept of what a fight in the air would look like. And then we’ll basically take their idea and add to it. We would add real movement to it. We would watch any animation where two characters were fighting in the air, and then we would say, “Okay, well, if this character grabs this guy, that’s how he’ll knock his hand off and this would be the first attack he makes.” And then they basically took our preview of the stunts and kind of reanimated it in their animation. Then, by the time we got on camera, we had a pretty eclectic mix of their animation and our stunt previews. You might actually get a good vibe for the actual energy you would feel in the action sequence.
I have to give the VFX team a lot of credit because often the stunt team and the VFX team are a little more separate where it’s like, “You do your version and we’ll do our version”, and the director will choose the one he wants. It was much more collaborative where they would give us ideas and then we would shoot our version of it and then they would take that and animate what we were doing on the ground, but they would animate it in the air. And then, a lot of times, we were choreographing fights while people on cables were fighting in the air. They were basically taking that, getting rid of the background, and putting the sky behind them so you could see what it would actually look like if they were thousands of feet in the air.