Not too long ago, Cinematical had a chance to travel to London to visit the set of Inkheart over at Shepperton Studios where stars Brendan Fraser, Paul Bettany, Helen Mirren, Eliza Bennett and Andy Serkis were filming a crucial scene in the film -- one that involved fire, magic, a non-CGI'd Serkis and strange-looking evil men. But we'll come back to that in a little bit. Shepperton Studios is made up of several buildings, and unlike the set of The Golden Compass (which we visited the day before), there wasn't much green screen to be found on this flick. Instead, the Inkheart sets were big, bold and quite beautiful -- one of which felt as if you were walking straight onto a village street, with shops and cobblestones and realistic rooftops.

On the side of this set stood the interior of a medieval-looking cathedral, which runs up about two stories and boasts a large staircase at its center. They were still dressing this set, which would be used for one of the final scenes later in the week. During our visit, we would meet with executive producer Diana Pokorny, costume designer Verity Hawkes, legendary production designer John Beard, two animal trainers and, of course, the cast with director Iain Softley (The Skeleton Key, K-PAX, Hackers). For more on the Inkheart set visit, follow us after the jump.

What is Inkheart?

Inkheart is based on the novel by Cornelia Funke, which is, in turn, the first part of the Inkworld trilogy of books (Inkspell and Inkdeath are the other two). The book, as well as the film, tell of a 12-year-old girl named Meggie (Bennett) whose world flips upside down when she learns that her father Mortimer (Fraser), a bookbinder, has the ability to bring characters from books into the real world when he reads them aloud. But he's not the only one with that power ...

Now things can get a tad confusing because Inkheart is also the name of the book predominantly featured in the film (in fact, Jim Broadbent plays the fictional Inkheart's author, even though the real-life author is Cornelia Funke). It's the book Mortimer's been trying to find for the past nine years, since last time it was in his possession his wife and Meggie's mother Resa (Sienna Guillory) disappeared . Little do they know, but the book's main villain, Capricorn (Serkis), has been "read" into reality by Mortimer, along with a fire-eater named Dustfinger (Bettany) and several other characters. Capricorn is on a mission to remain in the "real world" and eventually find a way to bring The Shadow -- which is the evil, murderous creature he owns -- out from within the pages of Inkheart and into reality. Dustfinger, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to return to his home within Inkheart, and will do anything he can to make that happen.

The film then follows Meggie and Mortimer as they try to defeat Capricorn and send him back to where he came from (all while learning the true fate of Resa) with help from an eccentric aunt (Helen Mirren) and a few other characters from some of our more beloved tales.

Visiting The Set

As previously mentioned, stage C (where we spent most of our time) was made up of two entirely different sets. One was that of a village, which would be used for an exciting chase sequence, while the other was the inside of a broken-down cathedral, which would be used for a critical scene where the villainous Capricorn attempts to burn as many copies of Inkheart as he can so that there's no chance of him returning to that world.

Production designer John Beard, who gave us a tour of the sets, as well as walked us through several still images from the film, told us that the second book, Inkspell, served for much of the medieval design inspiration, and that most of the exterior shots were completed on location in Italy, while all the interior scenes were taking place in London. Also on display for us to check our were Meggie's book box and the family van.

After meeting with costume designer Verity Hawkes, she presented a series of different "looks" from the film, saying that her inspiration was mainly "a mixture of period painting and modern fashion with medieval reference," which is why we a lot of old-looking wool mixed with a sort of biker-ish leather.

From Hawkes, we moved on to one of the more interesting (and difficult) aspects of production: the animals. For Inkheart, they used 12 different ferrets (all with a unique skill like leaping, fetching and shoulder sitting), and since it's not really a ferret in the film, but something called a horned marten, each creature had to have a pair of horns glued onto its head. The ferret, meanwhile, is named Gwin, and it's Dustfiner's little companion which stays with him and appears throughout the film. Aside from the 12 ferrets, there were also three dogs -- all of whom play the character Toto, which Meggie brings to live by reading him out of The Wizard of Oz. For Toto, they mainly used a white Westie whose hair was colored black.

Last but certainly not least, we made our way over to another stage where a great majority of the cast were filming a scene. In said scene, Capricorn (Serkis, dressed in all black and sporting a shiny, shaven head) and his goons are holding Meggie, Mortimer and Aunt Elinor hostage. Capricorn takes Mortimer's copy of Inkheart in an attempt to burn it so that he never has to return to its pages. Upon throwing it into the fire, however, Dustfinger cries out, "No!" and leaps after it. Remember, unlike Capricorn, Dustfinger does want to return home. Eventually, the goons take our heroes away to a dungeon and they cut. They shoot this several times before they wrap for lunch and bring us into a room to chat with the stars.

The Cast

We were lucky enough to speak with Brendan Fraser, Helen Mirren, Paul Bettany, Eliza Bennett, Andy Serkis and director Iain Softley. We've selected a few choice quotes from them and posted below:

On the practical approach to the film (sets, locations, etc)

Iain Softley:
It feels very organic and very real, and I actually think it makes the magic more effective because I think that there is a sort of discounting that goes on in the minds of an audience when they know that it's sort of a computer world or a digital world. It's like, 'Oh, they can do anything. They can press a button for however many weeks they need at a machine.' Whereas if you actually get the sense that it's something more like the craft of illusion, I think that it's more magical actually.

Helen Mirren: Absolutely. We have very, very little, hardly any blue screen or green screen. We're always acting within a real context. We have the most incredible location in Italy. When I walked into it my jaw dropped. It was just like walking into the book. It was amazing. To have that real as opposed to something fantastical, it's just great.

On working with the ensemble cast

Iain Softley: I've been lucky that I've always worked with wonderful actors, and that makes my job easier. So, I feel very blessed with the cast that we have. To work with Helen is an ambition that I've had for a while and we have other, very wonderful actors and they're all very different with Paul Bettany and Brendan [Fraser] and Jamie Forman and Eliza [Bennett] who is wonderful. There's a new actress, Rafi [Gavvron], who is a great kid, and one of the things that appealed to me about the story was that it was this very sort of dysfunctional group of people who were fighting the good fight. We have all these characters and different actors, and everyone really melds together in the way that the story requires them to.

Eliza Bennett: I mean, it's great. When I heard about the film the only people that I knew were going to be in it was Brendan [Fraser] because he said like three years ago that he was going to do this because he's friends with Cornelia, and so all I heard about was Brendan and I thought that he was so perfect for the role. So it was really, really exciting.

Serkis on playing a real person and not a CGI'd character

Andy Serkis: Well, the thing is that people always tend to forget is that before Lord of the Rings and King Kong, that was the big banana curve. That career curve was there and going off and doing those extraordinary things. So it's nice being here. I've never drawn any distinction between playing a digital character though.

Brendan Fraser on choosing his material

Brendan Fraser: I think that the answer is that I like to work, to be frank. I think that you can make films that have broad appeal and satisfy a commercial appetite and at the same you can do more thoughtful pieces that might please your artistic sense, or you can just get on with it, roll your sleeves up and get to work. Lets be frank, it's difficult to get films made nowadays and personally I've traveled three different continents just to keep myself busy. I'm not complaining, mind you, but the point is that I think with less and less material out there to choose from you must be very selective what you can see and what you can do.

Paul Bettany on filming Inkheart

Paul Bettany: So, I know that big films, small films, they all sort of film the same really and this one is the same. Usually you can hear sort of whimpering from the producers with the more money that they're spending. You do sort of hear that, but this film set has been filled with so much joy and fun. I've said that on most movies that I've made and have usually lied. This actually is the first time that I'm telling the truth [laughs]. I've talked a lot of s**t about films, but this one is actually really fun. It's so much that it's a bit repulsive, the idea of us getting paid to be here.

Inkheart is due in theaters on January 23rd.