Mortal Engines has the best models and miniatures I’ve seen in a movie outside of the original Star Wars movies and the Lord of the Rings. This should come as no surprise, since Mortal Engines came from WETA Workshop, the same crew who designed The Lord of the Rings. Remember all those rolling cities and fabulous airships? It’s kind of exciting to realize much of the film-work was done with actual scaled models that you can see and touch, reflecting light as only tangible things do.
As the model maker in this featurette (below) says, “People will always respond to more to a model.”
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I’d tend to agree. Some movies make magic with CGI (as in Avatar), or transport the viewer through excellent 3D animation (like Into the Spider-Verse). But with the technology we have today, the best bet for creating a fantastical live-action universe lies in some sort of combination of masterful CGI and intricate, detailed, and lovingly created models.
Here’s where something like the dystopian steampunk epic Mortal Engines comes into its own. Not everyone loved the story (it did have gaping plotholes and a darth of necessary backstory), but it’s nearly unanimous that the set-piece cities and fanciful airships, in terms of world-building, were very fine indeed.
This three minute featurette follows model maker and silicone caster Alex Falkner as he creates the Jenny Haniver, an airship he calls “the Millennium Falcon” of Mortal Engines. The name Jenny Haniver is quite interesting. It sounds a lady’s name — which would be rather boring, as the film doesn’t provide any backstory — but a quick search from the Wikipedia reveals this tidbit:
“A Jenny Haniver is the carcass of a ray or a skate that has been modified by hand then dried, resulting in a mummified specimen intended to resemble a fanciful fictional creature, such as a demon or dragon.”
So in essence, the design of this airship is intended to evoke a flying dragon. That’s just cool. Here’s the model maker video showing the Jenny Haniver in action:
Making Models – the Jenny Haniver Airship from Mortal Engines
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Jill Florio Administrator
Someone asked me about the plot problems in Mortal Engines, and I thought I would copy what I wrote into the comments here:
Personally, I loved Mortal Engines, and I didn’t even know it was based on a set of novels when I saw it to get the Peetimes for RunPee. I noted the absence of exposition — for example, it wasn’t clear to me why the cities and towns were on wheels, and I had no clue what Shrike was supposed to be — but I let that go, and focused on how cool it was to finally get a good steampunk story on film. If you just go with the idea that in a thousand years humanity lives on mobile cities (either on the ground or in the sky), and preys on smaller towns for their raw materials, then you’ve got enough hints to fill in the rest. Not every narrative has to spoon-feed the viewer. While I would have liked more, I hoped Mortal Engines would be part of a series that explains the whys and the hows. So, honestly, my only real problem with the movie was with the shaky motivations of the villain(s).