The DnD movie is notable for its impressive special effects and use of practical practical props, rather than computer generated images. The character of Councillor Jarnathan plays just a minor part in the movie, yet the filmmakers still went to great lengths to build a practical suit for the birdman, complete with animatronic head and moveable wings.
“He could have been a fully CG character,” says director John Francis Daley, quoted in the behind the scenes book ‘The Art and Making of Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves’. “But we thought it would be really fun to try to make him a man in costume with state-of-the-art animatronics and puppeteering”.
Legacy Effects, a company that specializes in prosthetics and animatronics, was responsible for Jarnathan, who in DnD terms is what‘s known as a DnD Aarakocra. Co-founder Shane Mahan says it was a tricky beast to design. “Wings, animatronic heads, extended feet – it’s all stuff we’ve done before in some way or another,” he explains. “But putting it all together was a fun challenge.”
Working with the practical bird man was enjoyable for the actors as well as the special effects team. Michelle Rodriguez (Barbarian 5e Holga Killgore) says: “It’s just fantastic to have something to play off that’s not green screen. The wings move, the eyes move – it’s so realistic.”
Some clever technical wizardry was needed to make Jarnathan seem real. The mouth movements and head are controlled separately, by someone watching the actor speak and mimicking their actions. The hands have ‘articulated extension’ so the three-fingered talons move when the actor does. Meanwhile, the feet are simply special stilts that make him taller than any human.
The real hefty bit, though, is the wings. “They weigh probably 60 pounds (27 kg) ,” says Mahan, who adds that the wings are worn as a backpack, and give the Aarakocra a 10 or 11-foot wingspan.
If that wasn’t enough, for a character who only shows up in two (admittedly great) scenes, there’s more than one version of the costume, including one without stilts. “There’s a stunt version of this too, because we’ve shot a lot of action scenes where it’s flying on wires,” Mahan explains.
For more behind-the-scenes DnD movie stories, check out how the crew tricked the cast with real quicksand, and smashed up Neverwinter with a hidden Mini Cooper. And don’t miss our DnD races guide, for insight on the more unusual denizens of the Forgotten Realms and other top DnD settings.