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Monster Hunter’s giant sword was almost too big for Tony Jaa

Being faithful to Capcom’s game meant pushing props to the limits

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Tony Jaa, dressed in leather and fur, holds a giant, serrated sword over his shoulders in a desert. Image: Screen Gems/Sony Pictures

Big swords and video games go together like giant explosions and action movies. There’s no reason Cloud Strife can’t wield the six-foot Buster Sword, despite it possibly weighing a ton. Heaviness doesn’t mean anything when you’re made of polygons.

But video game movie adaptations bear the burden of making the fantastical real, especially if they aren’t relying entirely on computer-generated graphics. So for the giant, seven-foot greatsword in the Monster Hunter games to come to life in live-action, the first big question was: How do you make a version that a human actor can actually use?

Monster Hunter prop master Kerry Van Lillienfeld tells Polygon the sword presented a huge challenge during pre-production, especially when they approached it like they would any other prop. His team first tried to make a “soft” version — a pliable, lighter version made of foam and rubber — in a 3D printer. The resulting model weighed “between 30 to 40 kg,” or around 66 to 88 pounds.

“I could hardly pick it up,” Van Lillienfeld says. “It’s soft, but it will crush you to death.”

The greatsword is one of Monster Hunter’s most iconic weapons. While it can take many forms, depending on which gigantic monster parts it’s crafted from, one of the most often referenced looks like a long, curving jaw bone, complete with oversized pointy teeth. That’s what Van Lillienfeld attempted to replicate, while also faithfully maintaining the outlandish scale to its wielder.

“I’d never tried to stay this close to the source material in my whole career,” Van Lillienfeld says. He attributes the crew’s attention to detail to direction from director Paul W. S. Anderson, who the prop master worked with on Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. And the “reality” is everywhere; Milla Jovovich’s dual blades, another weapon seared into fans’ brains, were actual swords that could be lit on fire, Van Lillienfeld says. Jovovich learned to spin them while they were lit, and he said about half the shots were the real deal.

Instead of getting direct insight from Capcom, Van Lillienfeld and costume designer Danielle Knox describe working with a “young, brilliant gamer” the crew hired to tour them through Monster Hunter: World. His work provided gameplay capture anytime they needed to see a weapon in action or a 360-degree view of the game’s detailed armor sets.

Knox says the armor Jovovich wears after her character gets sucked into the Monster Hunter dimension was made of lots of different materials, including leggings made of puff paint that would blister under heat to resemble reptilian, dragon-like scales. “When we had so many different chest pieces and leg pieces made of different materials, doing a fitting was a lot like playing the game.”

Van Lillienfeld hit a snag in the pursuit for accuracy when the rubber greatsword came out weighing too much for anyone to use. After initial setbacks, his team went back to test a new material, a “brittle biscuit foam” that made a lighter greatsword. “Lighter” is a bit subjective though — the finished prop still came in at around 33 pounds. He didn’t think that wasn’t light enough, until Tony Jaa, who plays the film’s unnamed Hunter, walked in for a fitting.

“I could carry it over my shoulder, but Tony was able to just pick it up and started doing all these poses,” he said. “I don’t think it could have worked with many actors, but he’s just such a martial artist that he could actually wield that thing.”

Monster Hunter is available now to purchase on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu, and comes to VOD March 2.

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