Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Set Visit – Part 1


C.S. Lewis’ novel The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is considered to be a fan favorite, so when Disney dropped the “Chronicles of Narnia” franchise and it looked like there wouldn’t be a third installment of the series, eager followers of the books and movies were highly disappointed – that is until Fox Walden picked up the film and renewed the excitement for Narnia.

The story follows two of the main characters from the first two films and books, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes). The siblings meet up with their old friend King Caspian (Ben Barnes) to help find the seven lost lords of Narnia. Their cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) unenthusiastically tags along on the adventure as they go on a magical journey through several islands, fulfilling the oath Caspian took to find the lords who were connected to his father.

The film was shot on location in Australia and was the only domestic outlet invited to the set. Not only did we talk to the director Michael Apted, but we were able to speak with the entire cast as well and watch them shoot a couple of scenes.

A lot of the movie was shot on soundstages on the Gold Coast, which is about 45 minutes from Brisbane and 20 minutes from Surfer’s Paradise. The day after we arrived, we hung out at the studio which was nestled between the Warner Brothers’ Movie World and a Wet n’ Wild water park. It was interesting, because all day you could hear people screaming from the roller coasters next door as you walked around the different stages.

We didn’t talk to the cast our first day on set, but we did watch Georgie Henley shoot a scene in the Magician’s Library. She goes into the library to read from the book of spells. She comes across several spells, one of which she starts to read and it starts snowing in the room. The scene was just with her and there was no dialogue, but it was exciting to see because it was going to go in the trailer and it was fun to watch Henley’s reaction when she first saw the set.

When it was time for Henley to start shooting, she was brought in with her eyes close. The shot was set up with her stand-in and was ready when Henley was taken into the room. Apted wanted her original reaction once the cameras started rolling and he definitely got it. When she opened her eyes and saw the beautiful set and the snow, her face lit up and she screamed. This was also done with the young actress in “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” when she first enters Narnia.

In the novel, Lucy reads a spell about being beautiful and another about hearing what other people say about her (in chapter 10), but to add to the magical element of the story in the film, snow was added after she reads the spells. Apted wanted to highlight the magic of Narnia and thought it was a good place in the movie to do so.

The part of the scene we were there for was a cut to Lucy just after she reads the spell. She looks up from the book and realizes that it is snowing. The scene is actually a significant part of the movie because the Magician tells them what is going on in Narnia and what they must do to defeat it. It is also explained why they must find the seven lords of Telmar who were exiled by Caspian’s uncle, around the time that “Prince Caspian” takes place.

A few days later we visited the set of the Dawn Treader which was located at Cleveland Point. The ship was speculator. It was fenced in so that the general public didn’t have access, but people were allowed to stand outside the gate and take pictures or watch whatever was happening on set.

The Dawn Treader took 22 weeks to build on a stage. It was then taken apart and transported over to Cleveland Point (situated on Moreton Bay), where it was reassembled on a gimbal. The gimbal was constructed out of 40 tons of steel and was built on a turntable, so that the filmmakers could change the direction of the boat to follow the sun. The gimbal pitched forward, back and side to side.

The boat was 120 feet long and from the ground to the top of the head and tail was approximately 70 feet high. It was about 30 feet wide and weighed nearly 80 tons. The mast and sail were only built to represent the lower portion of both and will be added in as CGI elements in post production.

We were lucky enough to go on the boat and it was quite an experience. A ladder was placed near the ship and then we walked across a metal bridge one by one until we were on board. The attention to detail was incredible and we got to stand behind Apted for about an hour while he shot a scene with Ben Barnes.

“I tried to keep the sequence of when the children arrive on the boat where they are rescued from the sea. I’ve already shot half of it and I shot it in the sun. It was sunny this morning so we had it all set up to continue but then it got cloudy so we had to think fast and find another scene to start which I could shoot in the clouds,” Apted told Instead he shot the crew asking Caspian and Drinian (the Captain), to turn the boat around and head back to Narnia.

After spending the afternoon with Apted on the Dawn Treader, we had the opportunity to chat with the cast. You can read our interview with Apted below and we’ll be posting the cast interviews soon, so stay tuned. When you first met Skandar and Georgie what impressed you about them?
Michael Apted: I met them a long time ago when they were shooting “Caspian.” I went out to Prague to meet with them when they were thinking of giving me the job and I met Andrew [Adamson]. I just thought they were both very natural. They’re both very smart too I thought, so I was very impressed with them. I’m even more impressed the more I spend time with them.

CS: Since they’re both minors, is their schedule challenging at times?
Apted: They can only work five hours a day and I usually have one of them or Eustace in every scene. There’s only so many hours I can shoot because they have to have three hours and schooling and an hour for lunch. It’s a lot of pressure and we just have so little shooting time on this film.

CS: I understand the first two films had much more shooting time so how difficult has that been for you?
Apted: Our budget is much smaller than the other two. You get squeezed at both ends. You have less shooting days, but you also have shorter shooting days so it’s less money to spend.

CS: This is your first time working with CG characters. How’s it going?
Apted: That part of it doesn’t really start yet. The actual only animated character is Reepicheep. We put them into scenes and leave space for their bit, but working out exactly what their expressions are and how they do their lines is really a big job in post.

CS: Andrew Adamson acted out the CG characters for the cast. What’s your approach?
Apted: I cast Reepicheep with an actor. I thought it would build a relationship with the actor. It could be done by a professional actor so that’s what I decided to do. Whether or not I’ll use that voice at the end, I don’t know, but it is someone who will be there all the time doing that character. Plus I thought it’d personalize the character a bit more.

CS: What are some of the challenges of filming a movie that mostly takes place on water?
Apted: When I was preparing the film, I went and talked to a lot of other directors who have worked on boats and every one of them said don’t go on the water. We were mindful of that so we wanted it to seem as if we were on water, but decided not to go on the water but film the boat by water so we could have access to it and not get stuck at sea or whatever. You’ve got lots of challenges of being out in the ocean in the wind and the change of weather and all that sort of stuff, but we’re very organized and we don’t go into the sea. If you do go into the sea I think that would be very difficult because you don’t have control over the tides.

CS: The Dawn Treader is one of the most speculator sets I’ve ever seen. Can you talk about your vision and how you wanted it to look?
Apted: It’s all based on the book – the look of it. It’s an iconic image. We wanted to deliver to the people who love the book. There are a few changes we had to make, but there are certain things you do want to hang on to. I thought the look of the Dawn Treader – that iconic image of it is what we wanted to keep so that was the basis of it. It was never going to sail so it never had to float. The challenge really is that it’s supposed to be rooted in Narnia in the story, but we don’t go to Narnia – this is a journey so the boat carries all of imprints of Narnian life, so all the decoration and all that sort of stuff. It also had to be practical so I could have room to shoot. As you’ve seen, it’s a pretty small space. I’m going to be on that boat for about 30 days and I’m sure it’s going to wear thin.

CS: How close to the book are you staying?
Apted: In some areas very close and in other areas not at all. The book is lovely because it’s just a lot of different stories, but that doesn’t work in a movie. You’ve got to have a drive to do this. You have to keep the audiences’ attention. You don’t just need one chapter in night at bed. You need the next one so there needs to be a drive to it and that’s one of the challenges we had. It took a long time to figure that out.

CS: What is it about the Narnia franchise that you love?
Apted: I think they’re good stories. From a director’s point of view, they’re very different stories so when you come onto it you do sort of have your own story. You’re not just following someone else’s story. I think they’re children [stories] but they have adult themes. I like animals and I like treating animals as adults and treating children as adults and things like that. They have a good sort of serious quality to them. They’re not just lightweight, there’s a substance to them. They’re charming and funny and imaginative.

CS: Were you looking for another franchise to be a part of?
Apted: I was doing another film for the same company, “Amazing Grace,” and that had gone well so it was really just a question of being at the right place at the right time. They were looking for a director and I was working [with them]. I really enjoyed doing the Bond [movie – “The World Is Not Enough”] and I was looking to do another big film. I thought a franchise, because it would have a seriously good budget and also have a big audience. I’ve spent a lot of time doing smaller films and sometimes they are hard to sell.

CS: “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is considered to be one of the fans’ favorite books, so does that add pressure to you as a director?
Apted: Yes, and that’s one of the issues of doing a franchise is great expectation so you really do have to deliver for an audience. You don’t want to mess the franchise up. It’s great there’s a lot of people out there waiting for it–you know you’re going to get an audience–but also you don’t want to disappoint that audience so you’re very aware of the weight of expectations on you.

CS: Do you hope to change the look of the movie from the first two in anyway or keep it consistent?
Apted: The point of this is that it’s a completely different story. It’s not like Harry Potter or even Bond. My story couldn’t be more different from Andrew’s. His is sort of a political film with a darkness and great battles, all that sort of drama. Mine is a magical journey. I think my film is more cinematic than the one before. They’re really completely different stories so you’re not just coming in someone else’s shoes, you’re just carrying it on.

CS: As far as the various islands go, what’s your influence or reference for the visuals?
Apted: When I started on the film, the film was going to be a big location film, but that proved to be too expensive so we changed it to more of a studio film. It gives you more control, but it gave us more design challenges because we could just go and find a suitable place to shoot. So I suppose the vision came from what the story demanded. I also wanted to make all the islands look different so you felt your own journey and that’s been the biggest challenge. It’s a mixture of real places and studio places. I hope I can give a sense of a real journey. The challenge is to have enough variety bearing in mind that a lot of it was shot on stage and to convince people we’re on a magical trip.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader hits 3D and 2D theaters on December 10.