A large part of directing is about taking the mental images that form when you read a piece of material, and then finding or building something in the real world that matches that vision. Certainly when I read “Vampire Academy” I had a very distinct picture in my brain of Richelle Mead’s description of St. Vladimir’s, and I knew our first step in making the movie would be finding the real world place that could be our school.
We searched all around the world, first checking out the older prep schools and colleges in New England, then searching around Czechoslovakia, seeing many old estates and castles. Then we drove from Edinburgh, Scotland, down through the whole of the U.K. And just about an hour southwest of London, we finally arrived at the Charterhouse School. As soon as I saw the front courtyard I had that exhilirating feeling of everything locking into place. This school was not just my mental image of St. Vladimir’s… it was better.
Luckily enough the school agreed to let us shoot there during their vacation breaks, and the look and feel of the school really defined the whole look and feeling of the film. The juxtaposition of the 1800’s architecture with modern technology and modern teenagers is something that I think gives our movie a real distinctiveness.
Even though we shot our movie in England, St. Vladimir’s is of course in the middle of Montana, so we did a lot of things to make it seem like we were there. Putting up our own Montana welcome sign was easy. Using visual fx to add mountains to the background of almost all of our exterior shots – that was hard.
Since we are dealing with vampires after all, a great deal of our movie is set at night or at magic hour, either dusk or dawn, so there was no direct sun in the sky. As you can see from this raking angle of the front of the school, the architecture has a character that defines the tone of the movie. Awe-inspiring, comfortable in its old world familiarity, but also slightly imposing and scary.
I remember making movies like Mean Girls and Freaky Friday, and having to plead with the extras to stop slamming their locker doors so loud in the hallway scenes, because it would mess up our dialogue sound. At St. Vladimir’s, hallways have a completely different vibe, as you can see from this jaw-dropping arched hallway. Of course, the fun is seeing high school kids behave exactly like high school kids, even in this classical environment.
– See more pics below the break –
This is the church attic where Lissa and Christian first meet up, then slowly see their attraction grow. It is a set we built on stage at Pinewood Studios, with the whole style of it pulled from the style of Charterhouse School so it blends right in. We tried to give it a comfortable “lounge” feeling, even though it’s a reading room in a church attic, like Christian and Lissa had turned it into their secret clubhouse.
Even though Dhampir aren’t sensitive to the sun, they must adhere to the Moroi nocturnal timetable. Liked the idea of essentially having outdoor “gym class” with the facade of the school of the background, only it’s nighttime, and the Dhampir idea of physical education is much more intense than a human class. So we built this hard core training apparatus with grueling exercise equipment like the astronaut training gyroscope.
The auditorium scenes involving Queen Tatiana were shot at another exclusive English boarding school, the Harrow school (where Winston Churchill was educated). We felt we needed an impressive space to establish the grandeur of the Moroi royal culture, and this auditorium was sensational. As you can see, all the students, both Moroi and Dhampir wear school uniforms. The only distinction is each jacket logo is different, with the Dhampir having an accented promise mark, while the Moroi have an accented symbol representing the magic that is their specialty.
We created emblems representing each of the twelve Moroi royal families, and then expanded them to be large banners that we could hang in areas around the school. This was the staircase outside of Headmistress Kirova’s office, where Dimitri confronts Rose after a meeting with Kirova.