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The creative mock-biopic ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’, in cinemas June 22, 2012, hold not just one but several big action scenes, which also include a Civil War battle that sees Union soldiers overwhelmed – in shocking ways – by their Confederate foes who are more than what they seem. Additionally, there’s a stampede unlike any you’ve experienced before, where Abraham finally exacts vengeance on the vampire, Jack Barts, who killed his mother. Atop and across the backs of a thousand charging horses, Abraham runs, jumps, and fights, in a fast and furious battle against his powerful nemesis. The scene is a marvel of visual effects wizardry, overseen by visual effects supervisor Craig Lyn and Weta Digital, the house responsible for the groundbreaking VFX on ‘Avatar’ and ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, among other notable titles.
Abraham is many years older and well into his presidency when he makes his last stand against his vampire foes in and on top of a train speeding to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – and the Civil War’s defining battle. For this gravity-defying action sequence, the filmmakers built a full-sized and faithfully recreated locomotive and tender. Here, too, the magic of the digital world gave director Timur Bekmambetov the necessary tools to bring his unbridled imagination to life.
These action/fight/stunt scenes were born not in Hollywood, nor in the production’s home in New Orleans, but thousands of miles away, in Kazakhstan, home to fight choreographer Igor Tsay and his Acting School of Fighting Kun-Do. There, Tsay and his team storyboarded the elaborate action sequences, which were pre-visualized and further developed in Moscow.
In the weeks leading up to production, famed stunt coordinator Mic Rodgers (‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’, ‘Wanted’, ‘The Fast and the Furious’) and fight coordinator Don Lee (‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’) worked with Benjamin Walker to transform the actor into a battle-hardened, axe-wielding hunter of the undead. Walker’s grueling regimen included kicking, stretching, yoga, boxing, and endless hours training with Lincoln’s vampire-slaying weapon of choice: a specially tweaked axe.
Walker more than impressed his trainers. “Ben is a stud and one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with,” says Rodgers. “We mixed the worlds of slick Hong Kong-style martial arts with bareknuckle brawling, and Ben stepped up in every way.” The modest actor will only claim that, “Well, I hit myself in the head a lot with the axe.”
The axe and many of the other props were the work of property master Guillaume DeLouche, who put together his own facility and brought to the production the last remaining craftspeople of their kind who specialize in historically correct manufacturing of axes, knives, guns and rifles. All weapons were built using methods identical to those employed in the 19th century.
Abraham’s axe itself is an engineering marvel capable of transforming into a gun. It was hand-forged by a gunsmith and bladesmith, and custom made with a hickory handle. “We took everyday objects of that era and gave them a twist,” says producer Tim Burton. “Everyone is familiar with muskets, bayonets and axes, but nobody had thought of turning them into a single weapon.”