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LA Times Talks to Eclipse’s Fight Coordinator Jonathan Eusebio

‘Vampires present their own set of challenges,’ says Eusebio, who also worked on ‘Iron Man 2.’

Robert Pattinson, left, and Peter Facinelli size each other up as Eusebio watches.

Robert Pattinson, left, and Peter Facinelli size each other up as Eusebio watches.

Majoring in biology at UC Irvine may not have been the most obvious preparation for a career as a fight coordinator for films, including “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.” Still, Jonathan Eusebio sees value in his studies of mitochondria and cytoskeletons.

“Biology doesn’t relate to film but school teaches you how to interact with different types of people, be disciplined and turn things in on a deadline,” he said. “School gives you those necessary skills to get things done.”

The Canadian-born son of two nurses, Eusebio moved to California as a third-grader and took up taekwondo, boxing, judo and several other martial arts a few years later.

“When I was growing up, I used to watch a lot of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung,” Eusebio said. “Hung is one of Jackie’s seniors, and he’s a famous martial artist in Hong Kong and China. The way I see choreography is influenced by those guys.”

After college, he followed friends who were stuntmen into the film business, and worked on the “Bourne” trilogy, 2006’s “300” and this year’s “Iron Man 2.”

“Every movie we approach in the same way,” Eusebio said. “The director tells us what he wants and then we just try and make his vision come true.”

Lively up yourself: While the previous “Twilight” installments may have been more focused on emotions, the third movie packs a real punch. “It wasn’t a fight-intensive series to begin with, but the third one is starting to get a lot of battles,” Eusebio said “There’s a big sequence when the Cullens have to train for fighting [another group of] vampires. There’s a big charge at the end where the Cullens have to fight all the newborn vampires. And then there’s a big scene where Edward has to fend off Victoria and her new lover Riley. So this movie has a lot of action going on in there.”

Art versus life: Eusebio calls film fighting “an entirely differently monster than actual, real fighting. It’s the same basics, but the movement and the philosophy of the movement are different. In film fighting, it looks like there’s contact, but there’s no contact. You want to hide your movements in real fighting. In movie fighting, you have to make everything long so the camera can see it as well as the audience. It’s like choreography, like a dance between the two combatants.”

Getting the picture: Eusebio is a big fan of show-and-tell. “After I choreograph the scene, I usually do a previs, or a video conceptual of it,” he said. “We shoot it on our own video cameras, and we edit it on our own computer and software. We have stuntmen do everything in terms of the action part, not so much the acting part. And I show it to the director. He says yes or no. We change this; we change that. So they already have their base skeleton by the time we get to set.”

Supersize it: Vampires present their own set of challenges. “You want to keep everything kind of realistic in tone to avoid making it look too superhero-ish, but the thing is they are superhuman,” Eusebio said. “Everything is exaggerated. So when they throw someone, the impacts are huge. When they chase somebody, they’re super fast. When they jump, they jump a little higher. We try to do creative camera work; we try to do wires; and we might have to use visual and special effects to help us out.”

Zoom zip: Since the undead aren’t usually formally trained martial artists, Eusebio went for a more general sense of athleticism. “We tried to incorporate a lot of parkour and free running,” he said. “They’re mixes of gymnastics, street acrobatics, running and precision jumping. There’s a lot of stuff going on in there. It’s not a martial art, but we tried to incorporate its physicality. It’s a worldwide thing. I know there’s a team in L.A. called Team Tempest. For this movie, I used a team called Fast Motion. They’re based out of Montreal. I used a lot of them as the newborns on [the film] and they did a lot of running and jumping in the woods. It’s very cool.”

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