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Forests And Keeps
Principal photography on Scott's latest epic began in April 2009. Producer Grazer commends that the director quickly earned his on-set epithet. "We called him ‘The General,'” he offers. "Ridley Scott is that kind of charging-forward general of our generation in filmmaking. There was once John Ford, and there have been others, but certainly Ridley is a gladiator himself.”

One of Scott's longtime partners, production designer Arthur Max, was charged with the Herculean task of building medieval England—re-creating as accurately as possible life in the villages and towns, as well as the grandeur of the castles from the period.

The production designer was tasked with giving Scott the experience of what it was like to live in England during this era. The two men drew on a wealth of resource material from museums, libraries, actual reconstructed environments in England and the Dordogne in France, as well as some Iberian villages in the Pyrénées that stand virtually as they did in the Middle Ages.

Scott and Max also referred to the paintings of both the younger and elder Pieter Bruegel, which gave them the tone of dire hardship they were after. While not quite of the period, this art provided a great deal of insight about life in this era; they adapted the look for Robin Hood. "He wanted to see the bleakness and the impoverishment of the Anglo-Saxon population in all its glory,” sums Max.

One of the most important sites was the setting for Nottingham Village, the place where Robin comes to return Sir Loxley's sword to his father. Built on the Hampton Estate, near Guildford in Surry, the set was ensconced on a private estate with ancient oaks, rolling fields and stunning topography. The land also offered a pine forest, a stream and a bog, and thus a wealth of shooting options for Scott. "Our primary requirement was a beautiful landscape,” says Max. "Finding the location was a great piece of luck.”

"We built the entire Nottingham Village, which is more than 50 buildings,” explains the designer, "most of them thatched and timber and made from wattle, a form of mud construction.” The buildings he describes were built around a town square, with a grain store, a tavern, a tithe barn and a church—as well as houses and hovels of all shapes and sizes—stretching out beyond the town center.

Max tasked his men and women to build a mill with a working water wheel, in addition to some ruined gates that would serve as a continuity link to another location about a 20-minute drive away. Sticklers for accuracy, they planted (and grew over many months) an orchard. Max explains that for the purposes of the story, they "burned it down in the end. Not entirely, but quite a few buildings. The rest was enhanced with CGI. We had to be very, very careful because most of the buildings were set within the oak trees, which were precious, but we managed to do controlled burns there.”

Fire was a terrifying scourge in medieval times, and with Godfrey's men pillaging and razing villages at will, the filmmakers had to engage in plenty of controlled burning to capture what was in the script. Much of this was done in Bourne Woods, near Farnham in Surrey—a commercial forestry that allowed the crew to build sprawling sets. In Robin Hood, Bourne Woods served as host to the northern villages of Barnsdale (often acknowledged as one of the origins of the legend of Robin Hood), York and Peterborough. These are the same villages that King John's men and henchmen, under the leadership of the duplicitous Godfrey, destroy for the crime of unpaid taxes. Bourne Woods also hosted the French castle.

Max was pleased to construct the French castle and the outlying English camp for the film's opening sequences in the same location. "That was based on an actual French castle, roughly in the are

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