Set photos that'll change the way you see fantasy movies

Set photos can reveal so much about the nuts and bolts of filmmaking, usually an unglamorous and surprisingly handmade affair. They can deepen our appreciation for the process and the magic it can yield, but they can also shatter those illusions just a bit, reminding us that what we're seeing is usually held together by copious amounts of gaffer tape, green screen and tired people with bits of string and lofty dreams. Fantasy movies are particularly reliant on our suspension of disbelief, and peeking behind that curtain can be a risky thing. But it is mighty tempting.

More than anything, the best fantasy set photos become inseparable from the films themselves. It's easy to overlook the sheer amount of time, energy, talent, and ridiculous-looking unitards required to make these movies work, and the perfect behind-the-scenes shot can shine a bright spotlight on these herculean efforts, warts and all. These are just a few of the most revealing ones, but take heed; you probably won't look at these movies the same way again.

Not so Severus after all

For the vast majority of the Harry Potter series, Professor Snape is a looming, scowling, miserable thorn in Harry's side, seemingly doing his very best to ensure Hogwarts is nothing less than a living hell for The Boy Who Lived. Alan Rickman's dour, haunted presence is the essential ingredient here, a bit of casting so inspired that it's impossible to imagine anyone else in the role, or indeed to read the books without picturing Rickman's interminable snarl any time Snape is mentioned. So it's a bit of a shock to see him — together with Goblet of Fire director Mike Newell — laughing and joking around with Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint instead of smacking them with a potions book.

More than that, though, the photo acts as a touching reminder of the fun-loving prankster that Rickman really was underneath that greasy wig. Joking around with the other actors on set was a common occurrence for Rickman, as reported by the Huffington Post, and he wasn't averse to a good fart prank. His earnest aura and the grim sincerity of characters like Snape belied the kind-hearted soul he really was, evidently — one that will continue to be sorely missed.

Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner somehow manage to keep a straight face

A fantastical tale of sparkling vampires, jacked werewolves, adolescent angst, and extended teen abstinence metaphors, the Twilight Saga was also a box office juggernaut and a cultural phenomenon for a while there. In certain circles, aligning yourself with Team Jacob and Team Edward was like choosing sides in a bitter civil war. The love triangle at the heart of the series was at its peak by the time Eclipse rolled around in 2010, and Taylor Lautner's Jacob was getting burned at every turn. Case in point: this grey, skin-tight bodysuit he had to squeeze into for an intimate scene with Kristen Stewart's Bella, and keep a straight face while doing so.

Is all the ridicule and snark the Twilight movies have endured over the years completely warranted? If this is anything to go by, the answer does appear to be a resounding yes. Come on. That look on Lautner's face says "I'm a celebrity, get me outta here" as much as any inner turmoil his character is supposed to be feeling at having been demoted to second cutest boy in the series. It's not a good look. Don't feel too bad for him; these young stars were laughing all the way to the bank at the end of the day, but it doesn't do a whole lot to boost the series' street cred any. And if you had trouble investing in Bella's relationship with the werewolf before, this probably doesn't help.

Beauty and the Bozo

Beauty and the Beast's eponymous Beast has always been depicted as an imposing dude on screen, and Disney's 2017 live-action retelling of their 1991 animated classic wasn't about to start messing with that tradition. Disney could have gone with prosthetics or CGI to bring him to life, and with exceptionally clean-cut cutie pie Dan Stevens taking on the mantle, they perhaps wisely opted for the latter.

This being something of a golden age for motion capture performance in film, old Beastie was sure to look pretty snazzy and Emma Watson's Belle would even have a real human being on set, for the most part. The resulting Beast is so impressive that it's easy to overlook all the work that went into his creation, but evidently that's probably a good thing. If this pre-CGI set photo is anything to go by, Emma Watson might have actually preferred the old tennis ball on a stick method.

Cladded out in a lumpy grey onesie and a pair of goofy bouncing boots, Stevens is about as imposing here as a henchman in an amateur stage production of the Power Rangers. He looks ridiculous, and Emma Watson deserved some sort of award and all the kudos in the world for not laughing hysterically any time she's forced to stand beside him and look normal. Hey, you wanted to see how the sausage was made. It's not always pretty.

Luke's about to suffer a soft, fluffy fate in The Empire Strikes Back

Movie moments don't get much more iconic than Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader's climactic showdown in perhaps the best Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back. The series' operatic scope is narrowed, its concerns become thoroughly personal, and with one line of dialogue and a drastic character choice suddenly the saga's focus shifts from interplanetary thrills to an altogether darker, more intimate exploration of some seriously galactic daddy issues. You probably know how it goes down: Thoroughly bested by Vader, a defenseless and injured Luke dangles precariously over a cavernous chute in the bowels of Cloud City, Vader drops that "I am your father" bombshell on Luke and the audience, and Luke decides he'd rather take his chances with a long drop than take Vader's outstretched hand and join the dark side. It's heavy stuff — Roger Ebert called it the "defining moment" of the entire series.

It's more than a little jarring, then, to see a nice pile of soft, frilly mattresses just out of frame, ready to break Mark Hamill's short fall from the catwalk to the set floor below. It's not like anyone was expecting him to actually take the hit, but this photo does rupture the illusion just a tad. Hamill, in his defense, claimed the drop was actually bigger than it appears in the set photo, but still; Luke wasn't so much plunging to his possible doom as he was falling gently to a quick nap between takes.

Gandalf is dwarfed by the hobbits

To some, the extensive behind-the-scenes footage from The Lord of the Rings is almost as revered and cherished as the trilogy itself — ask anyone who has mainlined every minute of the trilogy's Extended Edition DVD extras (or "appendices") in just a few sittings. The time and effort that went into bringing J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy world to the screen is nothing short of mind-boggling, and one of the VFX team's most impressive tricks is also one of their most unassuming — those neat little hobbits. 

Integrating these little dudes into the world involved a near-flawless combination of green screen work, stunt doubles, and a nifty forced perspective technique, which explains why this set photo shows Ian McKellen being dwarfed by Merry and Pippin, who should really only be coming up to just above his waist.

After seeing something like this, many might find themselves a little too aware of behind-the-scenes trickery when watching the actual movies, breaking the immersion a little and turning that marathon viewing of the trilogy into an extended game of "spot the stuntman." Or ideally, the experience is enhanced, and you're left with a greater level of appreciation for those master craftspeople who brought Middle-earth to life. In any case, most can agree that the real crime here is Gandalf's socks and sandals combo on full display. For shame, Sir Ian.

Dorothy reads Life and the Munchkins chomp cigars on the set of The Wizard of Oz

It can be difficult to separate certain movies from their making, doubly so when their production has been as well documented as that of The Wizard of Oz. To many, the movie itself is the epitome of big screen fantasy and movie magic in general, but the spell is broken a little when you learn some of the more tumultuous and ugly details of its production.

Plagued by a revolving door of directors, less than ideal working conditions and a constantly changing plan of action, the most troubling aspect was the abhorrent treatment of its star, the luminous, beating heart of the movie, Judy Garland. The 17-year-old Garland was reportedly kept on a diet of cigarettes and pep pills by producers — and her own mother — during the shoot, and the higher-ups allegedly molested her on more than one occasion. Then there are the actors playing the Munchkins, who were, by most accounts, rambunctious, rowdy, and drunk for a great deal of the shoot. According to Garland's ex-husband, they went so far as to grope and harrass Garland with no repercussions.

So at a glance, a behind-the-scenes shot of Garland reading Life magazine and three of the actors playing Munchkins smoking cigars in between setups is just amusingly anachronistic. But given what we know now it does take on a mournful, unsettling and vaguely sinister air, immortalizing a side of the film's legacy steeped more in nightmares than dreams.

The Stay-Puft marshmallow man demolishes a teeny tiny city street

For all its brazen silliness, 1984's Ghostbusters took its high-concept fantasy premise pretty seriously. That probably has something to do with star and original writer Dan Ackroyd's very real fascination with the paranormal, and even more to do with plain old good storytelling sense. In order for the characters to soar and the comedy to land, the outlandish world of the film needed to be believably drawn and the extra-dimensional threats needed to feel real. When a 112.5 foot marshmallow man rampages through the streets of New York, for instance, it has to be convincing, and it has to be scary.

As director Ivan Reitman told Rolling Stone years later, that climactic scene had the potential to be so ridiculous the audience's immersion would be irreparably damaged, and he'd lose them. It needed to look great. One of the techniques employed by the special effects team — a team cobbled together during pre-production, essentially —  was the relatively uncommon use of miniatures. The team's approach was appropriately rough and ready. A 1/18th scale miniature set of SoHo was built, and those vehicles on the ground were plucked straight from the shelves of toy stores and modified as needed. A guy in a marshmallow man costume plods into frame, and voila: An iconic movie moment is born.

The movie is still rightfully renowned for its razor-sharp wit, pitch-perfect casting, and that immortal theme song, but the timeless effects also deserve their place in the discussion.

Jim Henson and a fellow puppeteer try to stay out of frame

Jim Henson's creations were always imbued with a level of emotional dexterity and nuance that set him way apart from his contemporaries, and basically anyone else making a living with their hand up a puppet's butt. His puppets didn't just have to look good, they had to be good actors, too. This ethos was stretched to its limit in 1982's The Dark Crystal, a movie with no human characters stinking up the joint. Its simplistic story and characters are bolstered by the uncredible level of detail on display, with traditional puppetry, performance in suits, and elaborate animatronics breathing life into every frame. It's pretty much wall-to-wall rubber and felt, and it's glorious.

As this set photo demonstrates, not only is Henson having to operate his puppets while awkwardly crouching out of frame on a cramped camera rig with a fellow puppeteer trying to do the same, but as co-director he's having to do it all while watching and evaluating everything on a monitor. Something to appreciate next time you pop in that dusty old VHS tape.

Gal Gadot's demigod-like powers of cold-resistance

2017's Wonder Woman remains the lone, twinkling diamond in the raging dumpster fire that is DC's cinematic universe. Third act slump aside, it's a stirring, fun, and refreshing superhero movie, its success due in large part to the steady hand of director Patty Jenkins at the helm and Gal Gadot's earnest performance holding everything together.

Wonder Woman's vitality among its crime-fighting peers is best represented by the "No Man's Land" scene, just over an hour into the movie. It's the movie's centerpiece, its crowning achievement, and our first proper introduction to Wonder Woman in this world. Jenkins had to fight for the scene — apparently some were concerned about the lack of actual enemies to defeat — and thank Hippolyta she did. As a defining moment of self-actualization for the character, it does everything it needs to do and sends copious chills down spines in the process.

Perhaps most impressive, though, is the fact that they filmed all this on an outdoor set in the U.K. in February, as reported by Business Insider. Jenkins herself seems snug as a bug in her warm winter parka, while Gadot heroically braves the cold in nothing but a breastplate and miniskirt. Iconic or not, that costume doesn't belong anywhere beyond the confines of the warm beaches of Themyscira, or at least a well-heated sound stage in L.A.

Not even the bare necessities

2016's The Jungle Book isn't just a surprisingly delightful and fresh take on a beloved animated classic, it's also nothing short of a technical marvel and boasts probably the most realistic CGI seen to date in a live-action film. Other than star Neel Sethi, practically everything on screen is computer generated, Sethi's co-stars are all motion-captured animals, and the whole thing was shot entirely on sound stages in Los Angeles.

Speaking to io9, director Jon Favreau said his intention was to preserve the surreal quality of the 1967 film's animation, which wouldn't really have been possible if they'd shot in a real jungle. This meant Sethi was almost entirely at the mercy of his own imagination when it came to performing something believable and compelling on camera, an impressive feat at any age.

In theory, it sounds like an insurmountably difficult challenge for an actor to pull of, or at least to pull off convincingly. But just one look at this set photo of Sethi in action and suddenly it's a whole lot clearer — who better to dream up and play around in a fantastical, dreamlike fictional world than a 12-year-old kid?