The first thing you notice on the set of Aquaman is how much water there isn't. There ain't a drip, drop or drizzle anywhere to be seen.

The Christmas superhero blockbuster has taken over the entire Village Roadshow Studios in Australia's Gold Coast, with one notable and unlikely exception, its three massive water tanks.

Instead, the movie, which is set largely underwater, will be shot inside the lot's nine hangar-sized soundstages.

In Soundstage 6 lies the ruinous remains of a mighty temple, next door in 7 that same temple stands triumphant in all its ancient splendour. Outside on the sloping back lot that overlooks the whole studio is a quaint, Italian cliff-top village, complete with farmers' market, working fountain and church. Construction on that took almost three months, they'll film for about nine days and then, all going to plan, it will be torn down.


Nothing will be shot in Soundstage 1, but only because it's been transformed into a gymnasium dubbed "The House of Pain", by Aquaman's star Jason Momoa. It's filled with weights, a rock climbing wall and... electric guitars, bass and drum kit. Turns out Aquaman likes to break up his training with impromptu jam sessions.

Most impressive, however, is the full-size, sunken galley ship that sits inside the cavernous Soundstage 9, the biggest stage on the lot. With careful use of blue, hazy light and gently flickering shadow it looks - really looks - like it's submerged.

The effect is uncanny and this old-fashioned movie magic gives me pause to think that maybe, just maybe, a waterless Aquaman is not as crazy as it initially sounds...

Today, all the action is taking place inside the jumbo-sized Soundstage 5. There's no impressive set built here, just a lot of green and blue screens set up for CGI artists to later add a bustling underwater world.

In the middle of the hall, the movie's villain, Orm, played by actor Patrick Wilson, is wired up and dangling from a large crane-like device called a tuning fork rig.

Suddenly someone shouts "Action", Wilson shouts, "I am the true King", performs an awkward roundhouse kick in mid-air and goes hurtling forward through the air with his fist extended towards Momoa's Aquaman.

The brakes are applied just before impact, someone shouts "Cut" and "Reset" and Wilson is dragged dangling back to his starting point. Aquaman director James Wan darts out of a little tent set up near the rig, has a few words with Wilson and the camera operator before returning inside.

A few minutes later someone shouts, "Action", Wilson shouts, "I am the true King", and performs the same mid-air roundhouse kick, only this time the camera's slightly lower and to the left, which makes Wilson's kick look a little smoother and less janky on the many TV screens scattered around the set.

Someone shouts, "Cut" and "Reset" and Wilson's once again dragged back to his starting position.

This is just one kick and one punch of one fight scene. It will equate to about five seconds of screen time. The production will spend all day getting it right. Repeating and adjusting over and over and over again as Wan finds the shot he wants.

Director James Wan arrives at the premiere of
Director James Wan arrives at the premiere of "Aquaman" at TCL Chinese Theatre on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

It's a slow process but the shot's evolution can be tracked on the many TVs that are live streaming what's being filmed and augmenting the shot with rudimentary Playstation 2-style, computer graphics that replace the blue and green screens with an underwater colosseum filled with baying - blocky - spectators.

This is the same feed that Wan is watching in his little tent. It's incredibly basic but gives ample detail to accurately imagine the finished shot.

"I like to think I have an idea of what I'm looking for," he'll say many, many hours later after calling the final "Cut" of the day just after 6pm. "But when you're working on something so complex, involved and finicky sometimes you realise 'this isn't working, let's try something else'."

Everyone I've spoken with today - actors, weapon handlers, set and costume designers, concept artists and producers - have all conceded that they're all constantly figuring out how to make this waterless underwater film work. What happens if they can't figure it out? Is there a plan B?

"I'll just wing it," Wan laughs. "I've winged everything else..."

"For me film-making is, you plan for the best, you plan for the worst and then shit happens and you deal with it. You never get exactly what you want. When I have to adjust and try something different I find the best moments. I like to not be too tied down."

Despite the punishing day, he's super enthused, although I'm not ruling out that he could be in a state of delirium. He says making Aquaman appealed because, unlike Superman or Batman, this story has never been told on the big screen. He also wanted to try his hand at world building and attempt things that no one had seen before. And that included casting his leading man.

"When you think Aquaman you don't think Jason Momoa," he smiles, "Because he has such a different look. But he brings a lot to it. He really informed the way I wrote the script. Because I know Jason is not gonna knock on the door, he's gonna smash the door down."

It's true. In the comics, Aquaman is clean cut with floppy blond hair and sports a dorky orange and green suit. Most people know the character as the butt of superhero jokes.

Well, ain't nobody gonna be laughing at this Aquaman...

Momoa is a Mo-mountain of a man. He fills the room both physically and with his charismatic star presence as he walks the line between winking self-deprecating humour and confident self-assuredness.

"I geeked out when Batman walked in," he reveals with a big goofy grin when talking about his first real Aquaman appearance in last year's superhero ensemble flick Justice League. "It was so cool. I grew up loving Batman. He's my favourite."

Aquaman director James Wan says filmmaking is when you
Aquaman director James Wan says filmmaking is when you "plan for the worst and then shit happens and you deal with it." Photo / supplied

Wait, surely Aquaman should be his fave, right? He laughs and answers, "Well, I'm biased..."

"But there are so many things I relate to with Aquaman," he continues. "I like that my character's gruff, a smart-ass. This blue collar worker and brawler. He's someone who's been in the dirt and understands people. He's got humanity but he's not a role model. I like getting to play the outsider."

What he doesn't like, however, is secrets. He was cast in the role six years ago but due to the way these things work, had to keep the life changing news to himself.

"I can't keep a secret to save my life. It was brutal for me," he says before explaining how he came to be Aquaman.

"I originally auditioned for Batman," he says. " But I was like, 'why am I going in? I'm not gonna be Batman. He's a white guy. I don't even look like I have money. I don't look like billionaire material'," he jokes.

"Anyway, I went in and did 100 per cent the opposite of how Batman should be done. Imagine if Batman was murdered by a thug in an alleyway and then that gangster put on the outfit, that's how I did it."

He didn't get the part. It went to Ben Affleck. He did, however, get a call back by Zack Snyder, the guy in charge of DC's cinematic universe.

"He went, 'you know who I want you to play?' and I had no clue. And he whispered, '... Aquaman'." Momoa says, augmenting the punchline with jazz hands. "I'm like, 'come again?'."

"I can't tell you the things that were flashing in my mind. When someone says Aquaman and you look like this... I'm brown, I've got a beard... Then he told me I had to keep it secret for two-to-three years... I needed food on the table. It was brutal to know and still be struggling."

But that was then. Now, six years later and halfway through the shoot of his own movie, he couldn't be happier.

"It's a dream come true," he smiles right before an assistant scurries over to call him back to the set where people are waiting to spend the afternoon punching him in the face.

Who: Jason Momoa and director James Wan
What: Superhero movie Aquaman
When: In cinemas Boxing Day.