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300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE

Sea Worthy
"Today the last Greek ships will be destroyed. Show them no mercy... Today we will dance across the backs of dead Greeks. Today we deliver submission. Today I want to feel Themistokles' throat beneath my boots."

Although the primary battlefront had moved from Thermopylae to the Aegean Sea, the filmmakers still wanted this film to relate back to the visual style established in "300." Murro and his cinematographer, Simon Duggan, used the template of the earlier movie as a reference for framing the shots in a way that also reflected the graphic novel source material.

They were also able to plan out the scenes using pre-vis, or previsualization, in which entire sequences were orchestrated in a basic animatic format. Given the effects-heavy nature of the production, the pre-vis stage was crucial to all departments. Visual effects supervisor Richard Hollander says, "We were creating an entire world. The pre-vis allowed us to determine the various angles of how we were going to shoot the action, review it and, if necessary, change it, going back and around as many times as needed."

Murro notes, "We designed it in such a way that each battle is different, but all tying back to the idea that it's the Greeks who know the lay of the land…or, in this case, water. That's part of what makes Themistokles such a great strategist-he knows if they're only talking numbers they're toast, so he has to bring something else to the table. Each encounter was conceived to give you another aspect of how he employs tactics and wisdom against overwhelming forces."

Hollander worked closely with the VFX team at Scanline, the company responsible for rendering the water, which was constantly in motion-whether rippling gently, churning under the oars of the boats, or crashing against the hulls and the rocks. Bryan Hirota, the visual effects supervisor at Scanline, reveals that the aim was to make the water look believable but not exactly natural. "Our goal was to come up with something that lent itself to the film's hyper-stylized world, so we didn't want the water to be too realistic. We wanted to make sure that these environments behaved in a fantastical way, and once we established the look there was a lot of very advanced simulation work and computations to implement it. It was a huge technical challenge."

While Scanline did create all the main bodies of water, some scenes in which actors had to go into the water were accomplished in tanks in London at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden.

Another vital fluid that was specially stylized for the film was the copious amount of blood yielded in battle. Hollander says, "Similar to the first film, we wanted it to be extreme, so we added almost all the blood during post-production. We had to match it to each blow, cut and slash in the midst of all the mayhem so adding the blood spray was more meticulous than you might think."

On a broader scale, visual effects had a hand in every shot in the film, as most of the sets and all of the backgrounds were digitally created or expanded. The VFX team also controlled the weather, generating the atmospheric effects that helped set the tone for each scene.

The physical sets-including segments of the wooden triremes of the Greeks and the black-clad warships of the Persians-were constructed on soundstages at Nu Boyana Studio, just outside of Sofia, Bulgaria. However, it took computer-generated imagery to complete the construction of the warring fleets and make the vessels "seaworthy" in a digital sense.

Every set, whether interior or exterior, was surrounded by blue or green screens, which would later become the vistas of ancient Greece and Persia-from Athens to Sparta, and from the Aegean Sea to the palace of the God-King Xerxes.

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