Pirates of the Caribbean Posters
Back to the Bahamas, Hurricanes and All
After several weeks of filming a spectacular opening sequence for “Pirates of the Caribbean III,” the company once again boarded a chartered jet on September 19th and flew off to its fourth and final location destination of Grand Bahama Island to begin work at The Bahamas Film Studio at Gold Rock Creek.
The start-up studio provided the company with the necessary space in which to shoot extensive seagoing sequences with the numerous ships assembled for “Dead Man's Chest,” including a limitless horizon from a semi-enclosed marina for filming, as well temporary floating barges in which the vessels could be safely moored, or filmed upon, when not out at sea.
A vast, empty concrete space which had been vacant for years, now became the production's base camp for months, housing a motley conglomeration of some 57 assorted trailers and equipment trucks shipped in from Los Angeles, 72 freighter containers utilized to hold and store materiel of every kind, 11 cranes and Condors and four office trailers. One of the shipping containers was humorously and creatively converted into “Prop the Pyrate,” through which extras walked through to become suitably “propped out” as pirates, including swords, pistols, baldricks and other lovely accoutrements of the profession. “Enter a lubber, leave a pyrate,” announced a sign painted in period style at the entrance of the container. “Come board, grab your gear, and set course to the sea through the exit!” And indeed, the blue-green Atlantic was no more than 10 steps away from that exit.
Following an initial week of literal smooth sailing in beautiful weather, Mother Nature threw her first knuckleball at the “Dead Man's Chest” company for a week thereafter, drenching Grand Bahama Island in buckets of torrential rain and stirring up the seas until the Atlantic resembled a Jacuzzi with the switch turned on “high.” “When you're working on water,” explains Bruckheimer, “the weather changes constantly, the wind shifts, the waves go in different directions, which makes it difficult to work. We're very conscious of safety, and we had our marine unit move the vessels, shepherd us back and forth from land to sea, get food out to cast and crew working on the ships and take them back to shore at night. Along with our marine unit, we also had expert divers.”
“The boat to boat transfers were the most dangerous thing we dealt with on a daily basis,” notes Dan Malone. “On one day, while holding the Black Pearl against the wind, we had a four foot swell rolling in there, and although we've designed these nice little ramps that we use to bring people onboard from the inflatable boats, you still worry about that misstep. If someone tries to step from the inflatable to the Pearl without judging the waves and listening to the captain, they can take a header between the boat and the ramp. Thankfully, we never had a serious accident.”
On rougher days, many in the crew were reminded of the familiar amusement park rides in which a pirate ship swings back and forth, faster and faster…except this time, it was real!
But for the actors filming on the new, improved Black Pearl, a sense of nostalgia was tinged with a new excitement. “I think the new Pearl is all of our favorites,” says Keira Knightley. “ It's much more user-friendly than the first one, because it's bigger. I remember on the first film, you couldn't seem to get out of the way and there was no way to sit. The ship is very beautiful, which is always helpful when you're fighting Krakens.”
“The first and second Black Pearls are both beautiful works of art,” adds Lee Arenberg, “but the actual physical filming on the new ship is much more exciting. You're actually moving at speed, and when you come around doing these passes at the Flying Dutchman, it's just thrilling. We're on a seaworthy craft now, as opposed to the barge that sort of bobbed in the water and would take forever to line up. The bar has been raised.”
The weather and sea conditions presented more challenges to Gore Verbinski and company as they filmed, with great detail and a plethora of stunts and action, the attack of the monstrous Kraken on the Edinburgh Trader. For this purpose, Rick Heinrichs' art department constructed an exact replica of the Bounty without, of course, the “guts” of the ship. Stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge and his second in command, Dan Barringer, put their fearless team through their paces, with major contributions from the special effects and visual effects departments.
The Kraken is inspired by a thousand years of seagoing mythology, with, perhaps, a tip of the hat to the famed giant squid in Walt Disney Pictures' own 1954 classic “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” The word “Kraken” was first heard in 12th century Norwegian legends, referring to a creature the size of an island, and usually depicted as a giant squid. In these legends the Kraken's many arms or tentacles could reach to the top of a ship's main mast, and could without any great effort capsize a full-rig vessel. So great was the creature's fame that it was even immortalized in British poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson's “The Kraken,” scribed in 1830. In the 20th century, stamp collectors could find the Kraken's image on postages from such diverse countries as Canada and even the Commonwealth of Dominica, one of the “Dead Man's Chest” host countries.
For the Kraken attacks on both the Edinburgh Trader and Black Pearl, stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge and his team of stuntplayers and riggers had to create multiple ratchets which simulated people getting whacked or pulled into the air by the monster's tentacles. “The reality of doing the stunt rigging on these ships is that there's a mast here, or ropes hanging down there, or grates in the middle of the deck. So we built an overhead system on both of the ships that ran their full lengths in between the yardarms, with travelers on the cables which allowed us to move pick point virtually anywhere in between the masts. We were on water, so everything was moving, but the multi-layered system gave us the ability to move things around pretty freely.”
Among the stunt heroes was Orlando Bloom himself, who as often as feasible (and as he would be permitted by production) performed his own feats of derring-do, sometimes more than 30 feet up in the rigging of the high masts of the Edinburgh Trader. “There's one scene in which I'm on the mast, jump into a sail, slash it with a dagger and slide down. This is like real Errol Flynn stuff, which is every boy's dream. I really do feel like I am living a lot of these boyhood dreams on a movie like this. And I've trained hard to be fit and agile enough to do things like this so I don't hurt myself. It's a major part of who Will Turner is.”
The Kraken is masterfully brought to life in “Dead Man's Chest” by a phalanx of visual effects artists at Industrial Light & Magic, the live action elements meticulously calibrated with the visual effects plans. “The Kraken sequences were extensively pre-visualized,” notes visual effects supervisor John Knoll, “and we were literally shooting specific pieces to conform to that animatic blueprint. The Kraken scenes are technically very complex, because there's a lot of interaction with water and we see shots looking down the whole of the ship, with a dozen tentacles swarming around picking characters off the deck. Putting the composites together are very difficult…every shot takes months of effort.”
The mandate set by Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski for “Dead Man's Chest” was for ILM to raise the bar higher once again, as they had on the first “Pirates” film. “Dead Man's Chest” required three times as many visual effects shots as did “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” which itself represented a quantum leap of visual effects technology.
Despite the fact that the film trafficks in pure fantasy, Verbinski was absolutely insistent that the unbelievable look believable in every way. “CGI is not a verb,” Verbinski has been known to say. Rather, he sees it as a tool to be used to embellish and enhance.
“Because Gore has been through the process and understands every nut and bolt of what ILM is doing,” says visual effects consultant Charlie Gibson, “he can put that aside and just charge forward, knowing that ILM will eventually be able to catch up and meet his vision somewhere near the very end of the schedule. What's unique about the visual effects in this film, for me, is how freely Gore is able to use what ILM can offer. The net result of that confidence and understanding is that the discussions move on past the technical to the creative.”
“Gore is great visually,” notes visual effects supervisor John Knoll-who served in the same capacity on the first film, and works alongside fellow ILM supervisor Bill George on “Dead Man's Chest”-“and he has a really strong technical background. Gore comes in with very strong opinions of how he wants to do things. This film is not just a rehash of the last one. Gore and the writers have come up with a lot of really great and fresh ideas.” Knoll and George sought to free Verbinski up as much as possible to shoot as he wanted without worrying about the visual effects which would come later. “I have enough confidence in our crew that we could track those cameras, and that if we need to put computer generated characters behind the live actors, we can just rotor that edge and not have to worry about having a blue screen in there.”
Although Davy Jones and his crew are digitally enhanced, “it was important to have good actors cast at playing those roles,” notes Knoll. “Because a really good actor brings soul to the whole process, and it helps everybody on the set. Gore works with the actor in a very normal way like every other part of the picture. Bill Nighy and all of the actors playing Davy's crew really own the roles. They've thought the characters through, and they're bringing everything they can to these CG characters.”
Because Verbinski insists that fantasy look as authentic and real as possible, ILM developed new technologies for “Dead Man's Chest,” including the creation of Davy Jones' and his crew. “Explains Bill George, “We're trying something new and challenging on this project. In the past, when you've done a CG character-especially one that's supposed to move like a human-you shoot a clean plate that the character will go into, and at a later time on a different stage you shoot what's called motion capture. This is a process where you've got a number of cameras, perhaps 12 or 15, all focused on a character who's wearing a black skin tight suit with little markets on it. Then, as that character moves, using the cameras the computer triangulates where each point is in space, and therefore the movement. You can then take that animation file and plug it into a character, so that it will move as the actor did on stage. It's a very long and laborious process.
“The technology has evolved to the point now where we're trying to capture that exact same data by only using two video cameras as we're shooting the actual shot. The difference now is that instead of splitting it into two separate shoots, it's happening all at the same time. There's a lot of advantages to that. In the first `Pirates' film, when an actor was fighting one of the cursed skeleton pirates, he was basically fighting with thin air pretending that someone was there. Now the `live' actors are actually interacting with a real person, which is much more realistic and natural.”
“The impact of this is really profound,” says Charlie Gibson, “because so much of the character animation is about nuances of performances, particularly Bill Nighy. The film is edited based on very subtle facial expressions, attitudes, and even the less tangible things, like his mood and the feeling behind his eyes, all of these things that you get from a great actor. Bill is a fountainhead of amazing variety. He never repeats himself, there's always some interesting aspect to his performance.”
Nighy himself was highly amused by the process in which ILM converted him into the fully tricked-out Davy Jones. “The first thing they did was cyber-scan me, which they did in a sort of mystery truck lined with screens and computers. Then, on set, I wore a gray suit which had reference points comprised of white bubbles and strips of black and white material, so that when they come to interpret your physical performance, they're better placed to do so. I don't understand any of it, but I'm currently the world record holder for playing the organ with an imaginary octopus beard. This is pioneering stuff, state-of-the-art.”
Knoll and George were a tag team on set, either one present at all times on all locations, as the other one returned to ILM headquarters in San Francisco to work with their team of artists and technicians on bringing it all to life. “One of our tasks on set was to deal with improvisation and change,” notes Knoll, “because no matter how much you've thought these things out in advance, the situation is always different in front of the camera. Or there's an opportunity to do something that's creatively better, which might mean that the camera will be in a different position, or that there's some other technical challenge that you didn't anticipate. It's important that someone from visual effects is there to make decisions quickly.”
Also helping to keep things atmospheric throughout the shoot on every location were special effects coordinators Michael Lantieri and Allen Hall. Whether creating steam and smoke rings from Davy Jones' massive musical organ, smashing full-sized ships in half, firing off batteries of cannons, or laying down massive amounts of smoke and fog around the Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman, these physical “in-camera” effects were no less magical than that conjured by the ILM experts. So much fog was required for the sequences shot in the Bahamas that Hall had two large boats equipped with large jet pulse engines, not to mention an actual aircraft jet engine mounted on a larger craft. “We actually bought out the world's supply of fog fluid for this movie,” Hall admits.
Dealing with Grand Bahama's fickle weather became almost routine for Verbinski and company, but what was looming in October could never have been predicted. Although Caribbean production supervisor Tom Hayslip had written a detailed, 27-page Hurricane Preparedness Plan in September, it was, of course, hoped that it would never have to be implemented. But on Tuesday, October 18th, it became clear that Tropical Storm Wilma-having just been promoted to Hurricane Wilma-was about to make a sudden right turn away from the Yucatan Peninsula and head directly toward Florida and, just 50 miles beyond, Grand Bahama Island. As the humidity increased and the clouds began to build, production hurriedly began preparing for the worst. It was a terrible irony that just two weeks earlier, the pre-production crew of another Jerry Bruckheimer production, “Déjà vu,” had to be evacuated from New Orleans as the monstrous Hurricane Katrina stormed its way toward the Gulf. Now, Bruckheimer and his production team began organizing the huge task of securing the production facilities as much as possible while ensuring the safety of the company.
Grand Bahama Island is flat as a pancake, has no high ground, and had taken huge hits in September 2004 from both Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. When the company went to sleep on the night of October 18th, Wilma was only a category one hurricane. By the next morning, it had graduated not only to a category five, but also to new status as the most powerful hurricane in recorded history, with sustained winds of 175 and gusts up to 215 miles per hour. “We were alerted about a week prior to the hurricane, and made the decision to pull everybody out just in case it picked Grand Bahama Island,” recalls Bruckheimer. “And fortunately for us, we got everybody out, locked down our ships in the harbor and had them all battened down. We had only minor damage considering what could have happened.”
After raising havoc in Florida, Hurricane Wilma smashed into Grand Bahama Island on October 24th as a category two, with sustained winds of 100 miles per hour. It was a mercifully quick visitation, lasting just four hours, and although the studio site was spared much damage, Grand Bahama's West End and the village of Eight Mile Rock were badly hit. In just three-and-a-half days, sand deposited by the storm surge was removed from the base camp site, washed-out roads rebuilt and the entire basecamp reformed as if nothing had happened. The Grand Bahamians, with their characteristic fortitude and courage, had survived yet another in a long string of hurricanes that have bedeviled their island during storm season. And “Dead Man's Chest” and “Pirates III” continued filming on the Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman and a floating set of a ship scuttled after its encounter with the Kraken, until another planned break for the holidays in December.