Disney’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, based on C.S. Lewis’ acclaimed fantasy novel, was an enormous blockbuster hit over the 2005/2006 holiday season, and it was a no-brainer to have director Andrew Adamson return to adapt the next novel in Lewis’ fantasy epic , Prince Caspian. While the previous movie was shot mostly in Adamson’s native New Zealand, production on the sequel would take place mainly in Prague, the capitol of the Czech Republic, and the surrounding area. Last month, ComingSoon.net and a group of journalists went there to check out the sets, talk to Adamson (that interview can be read here), his production team and some of his cast in an intensive two-day immersion into the world of Narnia. (Click on the pictures to see larger versions of the concept art from the movie.)
The general plot of Lewis’ novel involves the four Pevensie kids returning to Narnia a year after the events in the last movie only to discover that a lot more time has passed there than in their own world and a lot has changed since they left. The creatures of Narnia have been in hiding after an invasion by the Telmarines, a group of wayfaring pirates from a neighboring world led by the vicious King Miraz, but when his nephew Prince Caspian discovers that Miraz plans to get rid of him once he has his own son to take over the throne, the young man goes on the run and joins the Narnian creatures in the forest to wage war on King Miraz’s enormous army. When the Pevensies arrive, they get caught up in this battle for the freedom of Narnia.
As we arrived at Barrandov Studios in Prague, we were introduced to Unit Publicist Ernie Malik, our tour guide for our intensive two-day look at the production of Prince Caspian. He gave us a brief history of the studio, which had been built in 1931 and used for the filming of hundreds of Nazi propaganda films before establishing a better rep in the ’60s as the location where Milos Forman shot many of his early films.
The production was taking up three of Barrandov’s ten soundstages, down from five earlier in the production, as well as a number of outdoor locations in the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Poland. After hanging around the production offices for a bit, the first thing we got to see the Dancing Lawn, an important location in the story because it’s where Prince Caspian first discovers the Narnians, as well as where the dwarf Trumpkin (played by Peter Dinklage) tells the Pevensie kids Caspian’s story. This indoor set really gave you the feeling of being outdoors. In the center was a large grass-covered clearing surrounded by actual trees that had been rooted indoors, and pathways and primitive stone steps led to and from the area through the trees. Surrounding this immense wooded soundstage was a 360 degree matte painting to embellish the forest and make it look even bigger, although this indoor setting would be used in conjunction with scenes shot outdoors in the forests of Poland.
In the second soundstage we visited, they were changing things over from the Great Hall where Miraz is coronated as king (presumably another flashback) to the stables where Prince Caspian steals a horse to escape after being imprisoned by his uncle. In another section of that stage, Ernie showed us an interior cave location that was previously used as a cistern in Aslan’s How and was being remodeled as another part of the underground cave system where the Narnians hide from King Miraz’s army. This location was a shrine that had been built up around the stone table onto which Aslan was tied and killed by the White Witch in the previous movie. Although the table was no longer there, it was an impressive space that had hieroglyphic inscriptions running around the top, but Ernie told us we’d have to get production designer Roger Ford to tell us what they meant. (He wouldn’t.) Ernie told us that the cave originally had carvings along the walls of the cave that tell the history of Narnia in the 1300 years since Aslan’s murder and rebirth. (The carvings were covered up because the cave was being refashioned as another section of Aslan’s How, but Ernie did a good job describing how impressive they were, particularly a carving of Aslan.)
After that, we were led outside to one of the most fantastic outdoor sets we’ve ever seen, the immense interior courtyard of Miraz’s castle where they would shoot a new scene that doesn’t appear in the book in which Peter and Caspian stage a night raid on Miraz’s castle “with dire circumstances.” We walked around and checked out this impressive construct, which looked like it was built out of real stone and metal with balconies and stairways to various doorways and what might as well have been a working well in the middle. Ernie told us that it took 200 men nearly 15 weeks to build this location for an ambitious battle sequence involving 150 extras playing Narnians and Telmarines, and that it was designed to give Adamson many options when choreographing the action. (Having spent some time in Bucharest at a number of actual castles, I can attest to the realism of the design and construction.) We walked around then through the castle gates and over the drawbridge where we could see from a distance the Telmarine village that was being built. Apparently, this sequence, which again isn’t in the book, is going to give us a lot more expansive look at the Telmarine society with the actual village and castle structures being expanded upon using CG and models that were being constructed and filmed back in New Zealand. (In the distance, we could also see the back of a huge set that was built for the Vin Diesel sci-fi action flick Babylon A.D., although that production had already wrapped.)
After talking briefly with production designer Roger Ford, who told us that this was the biggest set he’s ever had to design and build in his forty-year career, we were taken to the costume department for a tour by Kimberly Adams, the film’s associate Costume Designer. (The film’s primary Costume Designer Isis Mussenden was over on the location shoot to help fit the Telmarines’ armor.) We’ll talk more about these aspects of the production in a later feature.
We were then driven for an hour outside Prague to a location shoot near the town of Usti where most of the day’s production had been moved into the covered set due to the inclement weather. Although we didn’t see them filming, they were apparently shooting a scene in a jail cell between Caspian and his mentor Dr. Cornelius.
Instead, we’d spent a number of hours in “Tent City” checking out the Telmarines’ armor and weapons, various prosthetics and some of the animatronic creature heads, all of which we’ll discuss in a future installment. Even though they weren’t shooting, Ernie brought us over to the location where a lot of the final battle sequences would be taking place including the exterior entrance to Aslan’s How, a huge rock-face structure built into the side of a hill that stretched up about 30 feet and would be extended using CG. This is also the area where Peter would face-off against King Miraz in a key swordfight, and there was a clearing surrounded by pillars and rubble that would be their battle ring, surrounded by the Narnians and Telmarines. The detail and realism in this location really made it seem like we had come upon ancient ruins rather than something constructed specifically for a movie. Beyond the ruins was the largest open field we’ve ever seen where the actual war between the Narnians and Telmarines would take place.
Since there was nothing to watch being shot at the Usti location, we had lunch and conducted a number of interviews with various cast before we left for the day, but as our van left the location, we saw what seemed like hundreds of extras in one of the fields training and practicing for the battle sequences in full gear and formation with about a dozen soldiers riding on horses.
The weather was nicer on Day 2 so we headed back to the Aslan’s How exterior to watch them film a scene in which Peter (Will Moseley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) exit from the How’s entrance to the cheers of dozens of Narnian centaurs (half-man half-horse), minotaurs (large bull-headed creatures) and satyrs (goat-like men) standing on either side of the pathway leading from the cave opening to the battle ring where Peter will face Miraz. We’ll talk more about the creature FX in Part 2 of our set visit, but it was a strange scene watching these Czech extras wearing masks and make-up like the creatures and wearing bright blue pants with sensors so that the bottom half of their bodies and legs could be replaced by their creature halves using computers. The centaur extras were all standing on boxes to raise them above the shorter satyrs, and we were impressed by the male centaur who had four female mates around him, which made us think that maybe he was a centaur pimp. Shane Rangi, who played a number of the key creatures in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was brought back to play even more characters, many of which will be replaced by CG. These included Asterius, the head minotaur, Bulgy Bear and Aslan himself, but while we there, he spent much of the time sitting in a shaded area in his Bulgy Bear costume until the very end where he put on the bear’s head and we could get the full effect as they shot a few color tests for his later scenes.
We watched as they shot Peter and Edmund’s march to battle a number of times with a Steadicam tracking Will and Skandar with the younger actor looking particularly intense and serious in each scene. As Will told us the day before, Adamson had taken to playing tunes on set to create a vibe and keep everyone in the mood. For this scene, they altered between Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” and even Tomoyasu Hotei’s “Battle Without Honor or Humanity,” the infamous theme from the Tokyo sequence in Tarantino’s “Kill Bill.” (They started out with Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s duet “Don’t Give Up” but that didn’t really fit the mood too well.) We watched them do this scene a number of times as they walked down the path from the How, and waiting for Peter and Edmund by the battle ring was a new centaur character named Glenstorm, played by British musical theatre star Cornell S. John, who starred in the British production of “The Lion King.” For this role, John was wearing Powerizers, mechanical spring-loaded “jumping stilts” that allowed John to walk in a way that recreated a horse’s canter. These were necessary so that he could walk and run in his scenes, rather than just standing still on a box like the other centaurs. Each take, Glenstorm would hand Peter his long sword at he arrives at the battle ring, although in one take, Will accidentally nicked Edmund in the leg as he withdrew the sword from its scabbard.
The production was very much at the mercy of the sun and clouds, and as the skies became overcast, they had to stop filming on the location and find other things to do. Everything was packed up or moved aside with marks placed where everyone was standing, but later on, the skies would clear and we returned to watch them shooting from another angle, one which involved a dolly-mounted camera zooming forward to end right on Peter’s determined face. After they finished this shot, a crew member came out with two giant balls (that came out wrong), one chrome and one gray, and he moved them around the shooting area enigmatically. (We’d learn later that these were used for reference for the FX team when the location shots are transferred into the computer before they start mucking around with them.) An amusing thing we observed while on this location was how the crew got pleasure screaming “Grasskillers!” at anyone who walked or stood in the field, because they were so worried about killing the grass, which would have to be replanted to keep it looking green and fresh. (I can’t even imagine how that enormous field was going to look when they actually started to shoot the battle sequences with hundreds of extras, horses, etc.)
Before we left, Ernie was able to grab Andrew to talk to us for a few minutes, a short interview that you can read here, before we headed off to Modrany Studios where they were filming 2nd Unit scenes. (This is also where they shot a lot of Casino Royale a few years back.) In this case, 2nd Unit wasn’t doing small unsubstantial scenes, but instead were shooting part of one of the key battle sequences in which Caspian leads a group of centaurs and the giant Wimbleweather through a tunnel underneath the great battlefield. Creature FX supervisor Howard Berger and visual FX supervisor Dean Wright were back for the Narnia sequel but Adamson also brought Wendy Rogers on board as Wright’s co-visual FX supervisor because there were far more effects scenes for the sequel being shot in different locations. At Modrany, the duo was hard at work on their portion of this pivotal action scene, and they told us we just missed them shooting a big scene and that it would take some time to reset for a second take. We saw just as many extras in creature outfits lounging around waiting to shoot again. Berger and Wright gave us a brief tour of the long soundstage that had been turned into an underground tunnel with the walls covered in blue screen fabric and sensor dots in order to add the CG creatures to the shots later. They also had created a smaller version of this same set so that when the actor playing Wimbleweather runs through the tunnel, he’ll look even bigger. At the same time, they were shooting a less pivotal scene of a Telmarine couple in the castle being jarred by the shadow of a minotaur on their window.
Check back next month for Part 2 of our set visit where we’ll talk more about the creature and visual FX including our interview with Wright and Berger and creature actor Shane Rangi.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian opens next summer on May 16, 2008. If you’re at San Diego Comic-Con this weekend, check out the Disney panel on Saturday, July 28 at 2:15 PM where they’re likely to have a special presentation on the movie.