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KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

Enhancing Reality and Scoring
As large as it was built, the extraordinary Jerusalem set has been expanded to life-size by CGI. "The part of the production design process that I enjoy most is confusing the issue of what's existing, what's real, and what's been added on, where the edges are, with the computer-generated part of the sets,” says Max. "Blurring the lines, so you can't really tell what we've done, what was there before, and what's been generated in a computer afterwards. The design is imperceptible. That's when you know you've done your job well, when you can't see where the edges are.”

Twenty-five years ago, during the production of Blade Runner, visual effects pioneer Doug Trumbull gave Scott a piece of advice that informs his work even today. "He said, ‘Can you do this live?'” recalls Scott. "I said, ‘Yeah.' He said, ‘Do it live. Believe me, it'll be better and it'll be cheaper.' I always remember that, and I always stick with making it all as real as possible.”

But Scott is more than willing to use VFX when there's a good reason to. Notes Visual Effects Supervisor Wesley Sewell: "Jerusalem is large now, but not the size of a city. Our challenge was to enhance it into a thriving metropolis capable of housing a million people.”

Describing the siege in which Saladin's forces seize the city, Sewell explains, "Technology allows us to create people that not only look real but move with realistic reactions. In The Lord of the Rings, their technology was quite state-of-the-art, but later techniques take this film to a higher level of reality. We have more refinement of movement and interaction. We can now create many attitudes in the same scene.”

The Saracen army, for example, comes from many parts of the Arab world. "We have mixed it up a bit, people from Syria, Egypt, and North Africa,” Sewell describes. "We photographed the costumes in a controlled environment to later change the color of a turban or a tunic.”

Kingdom of Heaven's climactic battle scenes depict Saracen forces pushing huge siege towers up to the walls of the city; as wood touches stone, the bridges fall, allowing Muslim troops access to the ramparts. Ladders topple into place against the walls, and hot oil is poured over the invading army. As Saracen arrows fill the sky, Christian defenders fight back to close the breach. Men on fire plummet from the walls.

Six cameras captured the action, one of which was in a helicopter hovering above the scene. The sequence was repeated three times until director Ridley Scott shouted his approval. It all will take less than a minute of screen time, but it took military-like organization to have everything in place that morning on the outskirts of Ouarzazate.

Two thousand extras arrived at 5:30 a.m. and donned multiple layers of costumes before moving on to hair and makeup. Dozens of special effects technicians had built the siege towers so that they functioned exactly as they would have a millennium earlier. The giant ladders falling into place were not left to chance, but were motorized and swung up into place like those on a fire engine. Fires burned throughout the 300-meter-long walls. Cardboard boxes were hidden to break the falls of some of the 120 international stuntmen on hand. Armourers collaborated with special effects men to aim and launch batteries of arrows. They had earlier fashioned authentic "scorpions,” period weapons of mass destruction that combined the technology of a crossbow with the power of a catapult to launch lethal harpoons.

Visual effects artists measured and photographed the sequence so that the 2,000 soldiers taking part on this morning would realistically appear as 200,000, and the 330-yard-long walls would stretch to over a mile in length on screen.

Another important veteran in the Scott camp is Special Effects and Prosthetics Supervisor Neil Corbould. "One of the biggest challenges for us is just the sheer volume of t

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