Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe, Mark Strong and Cate Blanchett and produced by Universal Pictures, contains a wealth of effects from VFX houses like the Moving Picture Company and Prime Focus.
MPC completed 570 shots for the film, with the company’s Richard Stammers as the overall VFX Supervisor for the project. Stammers worked closely with Universal’s VFX Producer Allan Maris to achieve a wide range of visual effects including CG armies, CG boats, digital environments and CG arrows.
In 13th century England, Robin and his band of marauders confront corruption in a local village and lead an uprising against the crown that will forever alter the balance of world power. And whether thief or hero, one man from humble beginnings will become an eternal symbol of freedom for his people. (Universal Pictures, 2010)
MPC’s digital environment work was centred on two main locations: London and the beach setting for the French invasion and final battle. A combination of matte painting and CG projections were used to recreate the medieval city, which featured the Tower of London and included the original St. Paul’s Cathedral and old London Bridge under construction, in the city beyond. The production’s football field sized set provided the starting point for MPC to extend vertically and laterally, and in post production alternate digital extensions were also created to reuse the set three times as different castle locations. Each extension was a montage of existing castles chosen by Ridley Scott and production designer Arthur Max.
Describing the process, Stammers explained that the foreground live action plate was shot on the backlot of Shepperton Studios, with MPC creating a digital matte painting of the castle walls, Tower and the river. “The element used for the river was taken from a plate shot at Virginia Water, Surrey,” he continued. “Ridley wanted the town of London to be full of life and make the river bank busy like a market, so MPC bolstered the limited number of extras with around 200 CG people in the town, CG guards on the castle and cloned live action boats on the river. In the foreground additional huts were created to increase the housing density, and multiple layers of smoke were added. When reviewing the final version of this shot at MPC, Ridley said he liked this it so much so he wanted to live there!”
For the shot involving Robin and his men arriving at the Tower of London in King Richard’s ship, a live action helicopter plate was shot on location at a lake in Virginia Water, Surrey. The aerial unit used a Panavision Genesis camera for their photography. MPC created a CG environment where much of the original backplate was replaced with the Tower, the surrounding city of London and landscapes beyond. The design of the Tower and it immediate surroundings were a collaboration between the Visual Effects and Art Departments, with the final layout and orientation coming from meetings with Ridley Scott, production designer Arthur Max and Richard Stammers.
“Whilst quite a substantial set was constructed as a river-side entrance to the Tower, the jetty, wall and archways occupied such a small part of the plate in this case, but provided MPC with the ‘anchor point’ to add their digital extensions,” said Stammers. “Environment lead Vlad Holst built the city in Maya with basic geometry to represent all the key features. This was presented to Ridley for comments and some adjustments were made before all the matte painted projections were started. The final DMP’s created by matte painter Olivier Pron extended the city to the horizon and incorporated the original stone London Bridge under construction, and old St Paul’s Cathedral in the distance.
The lake was extended to become a river as a rendered CG element, in order to incorporate all the reflections of the new digital environment. The banks were populated with CG boats and CG crowds gathered to witness what they believe to be King Richard’s return from the crusades. King Richard’s ship and some of the foreground rowboats were in the original plate, but these were added to with 2D replications, and the motor wake of Richard’s ship was removed.”