Pirates of the Caribbean Posters
Los Angeles: The Voyage Begins
Principal photography of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest” and the third entry of the trilogy began on February 28, 2005 with studio and location work in L.A., and although the first few sets were relatively modest-the rum locker of the Black Pearl and the interior of the Port Royal jailhouse-production designer Rick Heinrichs' large-scale masterworks were yet to be seen.
The natural locations and sets designed by Heinrichs unleashed his limitless imagination, providing “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest” with vastly scaled and richly imaginative backdrops….not to mention a small fleet of new ships, including a redesigned, rebuilt and fully seaworthy Black Pearl; Davy Jones' magnificently detailed and terrifying Flying Dutchman; and the sleek 18th century British merchant ship Edinburgh Trader. Heinrichs and his creative team designed a huge range of settings, from a massive swampland built on a Burbank soundstage, to the small but intricate dead man's chest of the subtitle.
“An amazing creative individual,” says Jerry Bruckheimer of Heinrichs. Adds Johnny Depp, “I've had the pleasure of working with Rick Heinrichs a number of times now over the years. And boy oh boy, talk about somebody outdoing themselves. He's really gone far into the stratosphere, and done some monumental work. My initial reaction to much of the sets was…can I get the blueprints? `Cause I want to build this somewhere and live in it. Rick is a very gifted, talented artist, and we're super lucky to have him”
“I got excited when I first spoke to Gore,” recalls Heinrichs, “because he was sitting there drawing these images of pirate ships and monsters, saying that he was taking what he had established in the first film to a whole other level of mythology. We're going to attempt to strike a similar balance in this film of scary and humorous elements, which really goes back to the original theme park attraction.
“Hopefully, people will be going home from this movie with the same kind of excitement that audiences got from the Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn movies in the earlier part of the 20th century…but with the kind of technology that we can bring to bear on it now,” continues Heinrichs. “We're trying to take the first `Pirates' film to the next step of virtuosity so that we can walk that line between horror and humor that gives you a great sense of tingling excitement.”
Heinrichs was also intrigued by the fact that although Verbinski's “Pirates” films are to some degree rooted in history, they're not imprisoned by it. The films' exact period is deliberately nebulous, but more or less the 1720s during the golden age of piracy in the Caribbean. “One of the things I like to do when I'm approaching a project that's offered to me and when I'm trying to figure out whether to do it or not is-for instance-if it's a period piece, is it something that I can bring something to, or is the director trying to simply retell something historically and wanting absolute period accuracy. That doesn't particularly interest me. What I love about `Pirates' and working with Gore is the fact that the history and period are backdrops, something that gives us a sense of time and place. But everybody is excited to take that to the next level of stylization and re-imagining. It's like taking the elements and shaking them up and creating something different out of them.”
Heinrichs, along with supervising art director John Dexter, three art directors, seven assistant art directors, nine set designers, a props set designer, three conceptual artists, six illustrators, three model makers, and various and sundry graphic designers, coordinators, researchers and assistants-not to mention affiliated departments headed by set decorator Cheryl Carasik, property master Kris Peck and construction coordinator Greg Callas-would achieve wonders on land and sea for “Dead Man's Chest.”
A visit to the “Pirates” art department at Walt Disney Studios during pre-production revealed detailed models, mountains of reference books, conceptual illustrations, blueprints and walls plastered from one end to the other with reference artwork, from old paintings and etchings of ships, sea and landscapes to ethnographic photographs, design sketches and reproductions of Howard Pyle illustrations from his classic Book of Pirates (which both Verbinski and Heinrichs found “highly inspirational”).
While respecting, and often building upon, the designs of the first “Pirates” film, Heinrichs and his team sought to “take things as far as we could to make the settings real, living things,” according to supervising art director John Dexter. “That's why so much of the research we do is from natural forms.”
Already under construction in Bayou La Batre, Alabama-famed for its shipyards and expert shipbuilders-was the brand-new, fully seaworthy and subtly re-designed Black Pearl. “Because of the importance of the ships, it's almost like we had our own mini-art department that was dedicated just to their design,” notes Rick Heinrichs.
“We had the best guys available, some of whom had worked on other ship pictures in the past, `Master and Commander' and others. We were also aided by visual technology. All of our ships were modeled in the computer as well, which allowed us to transfer files back and forth between the marine architect and engineers, who would tell us what was going to be stable and not fall over in the water, and that could withstand the kinds of speeds and stresses that these ships were going to be in. The struggle was to attain a certain look, and to do within a practical package as well. They had to be affordable, they had to be floatable, and they had to be something that looked good at the same time.
“We took the Black Pearl and gave it a little bit more of a swoop,” continues Heinrichs. “The Black Pearl in the first film was established, to some degree, by the set of circumstances that they had. They built the ship directly onto a barge and were limited by the dimensions of that barge. We've had a little more freedom in this. I think that Gore discovered what he liked and what he didn't like in the first film, and he wanted a much more flexible Black Pearl that could move faster than one or two knots.”
The answer was for the production to build the new Black Pearl around an existing 109 foot long boat called the Sunset, an unglamorous craft which once serviced oil derricks in the Gulf of Mexico. It took eight months of construction to build the new Black Pearl around the old Sunset, and by the time work was finished something familiar, yet brand new, had been created. “The result was that from the waterline up you had this beautiful pirate ship, the Black Pearl,” notes picture boat coordinator Will White. “But the Sunset is still in there somewhere, with engines, fuel and water tanks, a galley and bunks.”
“In this movie, the Pearl is a much sexier, cool, edgier ship than last time,” adds supervising art director John Dexter. True to its name, the Pearl has to appear black, but as Dexter points out, “it can't just be black…it has to have life to it. There are some metal pieces on the ship that rust. There's certainly the sea spray. We started with flat black and moved to something that was a little more interesting.”
Also under construction at this point for filming later in both Dominica and The Bahamas was the stupendous Flying Dutchman.170-foot-long, 420 tons of brute nautical force, her rotting wooden decks overgrown with barnacles, mussels and other detritus of the seven seas, the skeletal, crocodilian figure on the foremast resembling a terrifying predator, her sails shredded into shards, her halls decked with boughs of seaweed, 36 sealife-encrusted but fully operative cannons on either side of her hull, and two lethal revolving cannons emerging from her bow threatening any and all who dare to stray into her path. The Flying Dutchman and her crew have become so organically bound that it's difficult to tell where one ends the other begins. The ship becomes more alive as her crewmen become more a part of her.
“When we were designing and building a set,” says Rick Heinrichs, “we tried to get a sense of reality, place and history to that set by using color and texture which hopefully adds up into character. Something that behind the actors will make it feel like they're really in the environment. I think that reaches its zenith with the Flying Dutchman. We wanted it to be an actual character in the film. We've put a lot of sea forms everywhere, ferns, mollusks, barnacles and all the stuff that grows underwater. Whenever it's being shot, they're wetting down the boat to make sure it feels alive.
“The Dutchman was developed with an eye towards history and a sense of the architecture of ships in the 17th century,” Heinrichs continues. “I wanted it to already feel old in the period that the story takes place in the early 18th century. I think the Flying Dutchman has a combination of historical elements, layered with fantastical elements.”
The Flying Dutchman was partially inspired by old Dutch “fluyts”-17th century vessels which resembled galleons-and more specifically, the Vasa, a massive Swedish warship which sunk in Stockholm's harbor upon its maiden voyage in 1628 (the ship was salvaged in 1961 and is now housed in a special museum in the Swedish capital). With its high, heavily ornamented stern, the ship provided a rich foundation for Rick Heinrichs' wilder and more fantastical designs.
“Rick and I tossed ideas back and forth for the Dutchman six months before we started filming,” explains supervising art director John Dexter. About three months after that, we got engineers involved, and our marine department, who let us know what we could and could not do with its design. Luckily, we were very close. Then we hired set designers, model makers and illustrators to help us flesh those ideas out and get them ready for construction. We built the ship simultaneously in Los Angeles and Grand Bahama Island.
“It was such an incredibly challenging, beautiful piece,” continues Dexter, “and since it's such a central icon for the picture, we wanted it to look great. We started with a stiffened hull, a water tight compartment, then a steel structure off of that. Then our guys stepped in and applied a lot of wood structure from there, some steel to strengthen it, and then sculpted spray foam over that, followed by plaster.”
Working closely with Heinrichs, as he had done for years, was construction coordinator Greg Callas, at the head of a department which, at its height, included some 450 craftsmen, encompassing carpenters, plasterers, painters, landscapers and sculptors.
“I'd never built a ship before, and there's a whole glossary of terms that you have to learn to understand a wooden pirate ship,” explains Greg Callas. “We had to manufacture the capstan and the wheel, fife rail, mizzen mast, main mast, foremast…all of these things that I'd never imagined. There were a lot of people involved in making the Black Pearl. We have a marine department which helped make the vessel run with diesel motors. A rigging department to outfit everything with sails…rigging today is done with cables, but on the Pearl, as well as the Flying Dutchman, it's all period rigging with ropes, and then everything had to be aged to look old. The sails had to be created according to 18th century period. You just don't go down to a marine store and buy this stuff. Everything we did had to be manufactured.”
The Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman were each constructed up to their first set of fighting tops, with four complete sets of sails. The remainder of the masts and sails would be supplied later by the uber-tech wizards of Industrial Light & Magic.
On the expansive grounds of what was once the aquatic theme park Marineland in Palos Verdes, with an endless view of the Pacific Ocean, Heinrichs designed and built a Port Royal church for one of the opening scenes of “Dead Man's Chest,” in which Will and Elizabeth's wedding is rudely interrupted by Lord Cutler Beckett and a troop of East India Trading Company militiamen. Not-so-coincidentally, it was on this exact spot nearly three years earlier that Port Royal's Fort Charles was constructed for the first “Pirates” epic.
Constructing the Port Royal church in Palos Verdes was the first of many struggles that the production had against the most unpredictable and uncontrollable of production challenges: Mother Nature. “When we started to build the church exterior, we got 35 inches of rain,” recalls Greg Callas. “We lost 11 days to rain at that location, so we worked 24 hours a day for the last two weeks before shooting to complete that set.”
How coincidental that the three scheduled days of filming in the church set required torrential rain, which had to be provided by the special effects department!
Filming then shifted back to Stage 1 at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, where the gun and hold decks of the Black Pearl were designed and constructed with extraordinary realism, the burnished wood looking like it had been weathered on rough seas for 50 years rather than a few weeks old. When outfitted by set decorator Cheryl Carasik with the appropriate accoutrements-such as criss-crossing hammocks on the hold deck, and period-correct baskets, ropes, and gently swinging lanterns, the illusion of reality was complete. Mounted on a gimbal, four hydraulic pistons on opposite sides of the set provided a rolling motion which effectively mimicked the sea, and providing the cast and crew with a milder sneak preview of what would come later on the real Black Pearl while shooting in the Caribbean.
Also at Disney Studios, the captain's cabins of both the Black Pearl and Edinburgh Trader were constructed on Stage 5 for interior sequences. Filled with lustrous period detail, much of Captain Jack's cabin interior was constructed of solid, beautifully-grained mahogany. Leaping a few miles to the Universal Studios backlot, Rick Heinrichs, John Dexter, Cheryl Carasik and their teams accomplished an extreme makeover of the legendary “Europe Street” area, originally built for the 1939 Charles Laughton version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” converting it into the atmospheric streets and back alleys of Port Royal and Tortuga. Authentic-looking early 18th century signage appeared on the shopfronts, and with the addition of a massive overhanging silk, an open courtyard was converted into a large Tortuga tavern, where Captain Jack and Will Turner search for a crew of souls to man the Flying Dutchman.
This sequence culminates in a boisterous brawl meticulously choreographed by stunt coordinator George Marshall Ruge, with the help of his second-in-command, Dan Barringer. This provided the physically fearless Keira Knightley with her first opportunity to shine. “I had about two weeks' training for that in an L.A. studio. When we actually came to shoot it, it was slightly different because rather than an open studio, we were in a location just crammed full of people, and it was a night shoot as well. I didn't get to do my bit until about four in the morning, which isn't really the best way to do a fight sequence. I just drank a lot of coffee.”
“Keira is a real quick study,” confirms Ruge, “and a true athlete. “We're pretty jaded in this business, but the crew was pretty amazed at what Keira accomplished. When you get applause like that on set, it's a good sign.”
Ruge, who also coordinated the amazing stunts on the first “Pirates” film, was delighted to re-unite with so many of the same personnel… particularly the stars. “Johnny's a natural who doesn't let on that it comes so easily to him,” says the stunt coordinator. “He's a very good athlete who colors all of the action with character. `Dead Man's Chest' is my fifth film with Orlando, and they've all been big action movies. He's also a fantastic athlete, and loves performing action. I keep telling Keira that if it ever falls apart for her, we'll give her a t-shirt and a hat, and bring her on the stunt team. Her physicality is fantastic.”