Blood is Lives: Behind the Scenes on BBC's Amazing New Dracula Series
The new Dracula series, by the BBC and Netflix, is spine-tinglingly good. Claes Bang inhabits his role so convincingly that you'd be forgiven for forgetting he is but an actor and a mere mortal in real life.
The same can be said for the sets, special effects and costumes. So effective are they in immersing us in Dracula's world that you might be surprised to learn that practical effects and enormous sets were prominently used throughout the making of the series.
Here are some of the most striking behind the scenes moments from Dracula. Be warned that light spoilers are sprinkled, much like the blood of Dracula's victims, throughout the article.
1. Creating Count Dracula
BBC's Dracula is an ingeniously produced series. It was, after all, made by the people behind Sherlock. Even the advertising for the show is stunning.
The main challenge, when it came to prosthetics and makeup, in the first episode of Dracula was making Claes Bang look like an extremely old man.
Though the series eventually follows its own path, the first episode does stick more closely to the source material, Bram Stoker's Dracula novel, where Count Dracula meets the British solicitor Jonathan Harker as an old man in his Transylvania castle before transforming into a young and revitalized version of himself.
In order to create the old Count Dracula look, the prosthetics team used makeup, fake teeth, wigs, and colored contact lenses. As Claes Bang points out in the video above, the process would take 4 hours per day, something he says, "I don't recommend to anybody." It's a grueling process bringing the undead to life.
2. Building an iconic castle
How do you go about recreating the scariest castle of all time for the screen? Most similar productions will have a main set. Extra shots will then be taken in the corridors and stairwells of a real castle to create the illusion of a sprawling building. Impressively, the entire castle for the BBC's Dracula was a set made out of plywood in a warehouse.
As Production Designer Arwel Wyn Jones explains, he filled any empty spaces within the huge set with corridors, allowing almost the entire production of the first episode to be filmed on set.
Showrunner Mark Gatiss likens the set to the ones used in Hollywood in the 30s that were "the size of a cathedral." As if that wasn't enough of an undertaking for the set creators on Dracula, for the filming of episode 2 they had to take that castle apart and build the three-masted Demeter, a ship that Dracula boards to travel to England.
3. Bringing THAT scene to life
Perhaps the most horrific scene in the entire season saw the transformation of a possessed wolf into Count Dracula as Sister Agatha, brilliantly played by Dolly Wells, looks on. As showrunner Steven Moffat explains, a lot of work went into practical effects in order to make that scene "frightening and odd and strange."
In order to bring the scene to life, the prosthetics team created a puppet wolf that could be controlled to give it lifelike movements. The puppet was built with a cavity that allowed actors to crawl out of it via a hole underneath the set that the scene was filmed on.
The question, of course, is what type of actors to use in order to create the horrific imagery required for the scene. The production team hired contortionists to come out of the wolf's cavity in weird, twisting shapes to capture the transformation's ghastly and otherworldly quality.
Different sized contortionists were pushed through the hole wearing a creepy head mask before Claes Bang was filmed coming through. The separate shots, depicting different stages of the transformation, were then edited together to make the entire scene.
4. Crafting macabre sounds
All of the new sounds for the show were created organically and "were not generated by a machine. They are recordings of real things," explains Dracula composer David Arnold.
In order to create the desired effect, the sweeping orchestral music was accompanied by "choirs of screaming distressed children," as well as rubbed wine glasses with blood in and percussion instruments made out of coffins. "It's quite macabre," Arnold says in the understatement of the century.
If you've yet to watch the Dracula miniseries, we highly recommend it. The dedication behind the scenes was clearly mirrored — unlike the titular vampire's invisible reflection — on camera and in the writing room, making it one of the most ghastly, fun series to have come from the BBC in a long time.