ByMeghann Elisa, writer at
'Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?'
Meghann Elisa

It's official: Leonardo DiCaprio has finally won an Oscar for his gritty performance in The Revenant. There's been quite an emphasis on the film’s authenticity, with cast and crew alike claiming that they went through five months of hell to make it. But just what lengths did they have to go to, really?

Most people know that Leo ate a genuine raw bison liver. He also learned how to shoot a musket, build a fire, speak two Native American languages and he even studied with a doctor specializing in the art of ancient healing techniques – but did he really come face to face with a real bear? Sleep inside a real dead horse? Eat a raw fish?!

In celebration of his long-awaited triumph, let's look at what really went in to making the movie - and what didn’t.

1. The frightful food - REAL

Leo admitted last year that although the prop department did create a fake bison liver from jelly, he didn't believe it looked authentic enough. As a result, the vegetarian actor actually volunteered to eat a real one, which is not only a challenge to find, but also potentially dangerous and diseased. Leo explained the experience:

“The bad part is the membrane around it. . . . It’s like a balloon. When you bite into it, it bursts in your mouth. When you see the movie, you’ll see my reaction to it, because Alejandro kept it in. It says it all. It was an instinctive reaction.”

Bison liver aside, Leo also had to catch and bite into a raw fish in what can only be described as an extreme sushi experience. He said:

“Standing in a freezing river and eating a fish, or climbing a mountain with a wet bear fur on my back – those were some of the most difficult sequences for me."

2. The animals - FAKE

In one of the most intense and violent scenes in the movie, Leo's character Hugh Glass comes face to face with a huge grizzly bear in the wild - but production designer, Jack Fisk, has said that no real bears were actually used on set. Rather, a combination of CGI and motion capture was used to create the scene. Jack said:

"We looked at bears, but they were all so fat. These trained bears in captivity that you see on TV shows, they don't look like a wild grizzly bear from the 1800s."

The scene was rehearsed with the stunt department for months before the attack took place using stuntman Glenn Ennis as the bear. Glenn told Global News:

“In rehearsals, I would wear a blue suit with a bear head. Obviously that doesn’t make it into the film, and the CGI guys paint the bear in. Alejandro [Iñárritu] was adamant that the blue bear moved just like a real bear would move, and it was essential that it had the same nuances that a bear would have. Even though it was a big Smurf bear, it still had to be as authentic as possible.”

On the day itself, 25-foot rubber trees were erected so that Leo wouldn't get injured when he smashed into them. The bear was added digitally in post-production, based on a body model of Hollywood stuntman Tim Sitarz, a 6'4", 250 pound former football player.

A little later on in the film, Hugh escapes a group of Native Americans by jumping off a cliff on his horse. As it begins to snow, he cuts the horse open, guts it and crawls inside until the storm passes - but animal lovers can relax. Leo didn’t really climb inside a dead horse. Production designer Jack Fisk told Business Insider that the horse was in fact a prop and the guts inside were created out of latex and hair. No horses were thrown off cliffs either. The prop department built one horse for Hugh to crawl inside and another for the chase scene.

The scene with the stampeding herd of bison was also created using CGI, and while the bison liver was real, the corpse Hugh pulled it from was a prop.

3. The animal skins - REAL

Although there weren't many real animals on the set, the bear fur which Leo wears throughout most of the film was genuine and sourced from a park department in Canada. Costume designer Jacqueline West told Vanity Fair:

“It’s real and very heavy. When it was wet, it weighed over 100 pounds. Leo was carrying that around…Only someone of his stature could have handled that. The animal that almost kills him is the animal that, in many ways, saves his life.

4. Leo's wounds - FAKE

Every actor has a limit and genuinely injuring himself is where Leo drew the line. Instead, his impressive wounds were created using silicone prosthetics and applied by makeup artist Siân Grigg and prosthetics expert Duncan Jarman. The wounds were redone and made to look different on each day of filming, to reflect the healing process that Hugh was going through. Siân explained:

“The make up is so important, because you have to show the stages of recovery. You can see the journey in his face. The wounds needed to be able to bleed as well as be stitched closed with a needle and thread and all of this would potentially happen in one continuous shot.”

Learn more about the makeup techniques used in The Revenant in the clip below:

Some of the prosthetics used even had to have hairs inserted to ensure they looked as authentic as possible. Siân continued:

“A large deep cut was made for Leo’s head which meant I had to lay hair over the silicone piece up to the wound in order for us to blend it in to Leo’s own natural hair. We created a full overlapping chest and back piece from the life castings; the chest was fully hair punched and the back had several tubes running inside to the exposed rib sections that needed to bleed. A shoulder piece that bled and needed to be stitchable was created along with a right, fully hair punched, forearm appliance and several individual hand prosthetics.”

Leo spent anything up to five hours a day having a total of eight full-body prosthetics sets fitted during filming.

5. The snow - REAL

No snow machines here! The hypothermia-caliber weather we see in the movie is the real deal, and caused Leonardo to fall ill with flu on a number of occasions. Although filming started in Calgary, Canada, an unexpected delay meant that a change of seasons caused the snow to melt before every scene was shot.

Refusing to settle for the fake stuff, director Alejandro Iñárritu sent scouts to source a similarly snowy location - which he eventually found at the opposite side of America in Argentina. The entire cast and crew upped sticks and moved south, where filming was completed to Alejandro's standard.

6. The stunts - FAKE

Well, the stunts themselves were real but they weren't carried out by the leading actors. It was Leo's third time working with stuntman Jason Glass, who also acted as his double in Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Inception (2010). Lookalike Jacob Tomuri also worked as Tom Hardy's stunt double for the third time after previously standing in for him in Mad Max: Fury Road and Legend. Jacob said of the experience:

"We have got a good friendship going on. It is a good professional relationship on set, and got to have a laugh off set as well. I guess I grew up watching Leo, so for me, he was the biggest star I could think of. Meeting him for the first time, I was a bit starstruck. But after a while you work so closely with them they become another crew member. He is a very professional guy on set, and a very humble man off set."

7. The story - REAL

While The Revenant certainly takes a few dramatic liberties, the extraordinary story of Hugh Glass and his incredible will to survive is based on real events. Born in Pennsylvania to Irish parents around 1783, Hugh really did live with Pawnee Indians before joining a fur-trapping expedition on the Missouri river. Historian and author of Here Lies Hugh Glass, professor Jon Coleman says of the legendary frontiersman:

“Hugh Glass nearly ended his days as meat. A female grizzly bear attacked him. She caught him as he scrambled up a tree, slicing a gash with a foreclaw from scalp to hamstring. She bit his head, punctured his throat and ripped a hunk from his rear. The bear tore him nearly to pieces and she actually swallowed a few mouthfuls before Glass’s associates managed to shoot and kill her.”

One of his peers described him as:

"...bold, daring, reckless and eccentric to a high degree but was nevertheless a man of great talents and intellectual as well as bodily power. But his bravery was conspicuous beyond all his other qualities for the perilous life he led.”

Hugh died at the age of 53 when he was attacked, scalped and killed by Arickara Indians while crossing the frozen Big Horn River, Montana in 1833. He was buried in an unmarked grave.

8. Leo's face - FAKE

Yep, you read that right. Makeup artist Siân reveals all:

“Chris Lyons at Fangs FX made teeth to change the shape of Leo’s mouth. The teeth had a crooked appearance appropriate to the period. In some scenes, Leo wore contact lenses and a nose augmenter was used to change the shape of Leo’s face further.”

His frosty beard wasn't real either! To create the impression that ice had formed on it, Siân eventually decided to use drops of paraffin wax - a trick that she remembered using on Leo once before...

“I had not created a frosting make-up effect since working on Titanic. I tried many materials including Elmer’s Glue and Epsom salts for ice effects. Eventually, I decided on old faithful icing sugar in the eyelashes and paraffin wax in the beard.”

Whatever your opinion on The Revenant, there's no denying that a hell of a lot of effort went into producing it. Watch the final trailer for the movie here:

Do you think 'The Revenant' was deserving of its Oscars?


Latest from our Creators