Film: "10,000 B.C."
10,000 B.C. movie production notes, pg 3
Creating the World of "10,000 BC"
Emmerich collaborated with his behind-the-scenes creative teams to create a world for the film that would be primeval and harsh, and would also transport audiences to a time and place they had not experienced before. Though the film does not dictate a specific place, for Emmerich, it was always Africa. "It's the cradle of mankind," he notes. "But because of the story we wanted to tell, it became our own made-up Africa." The film would be shot predominantly on practical locations encompassing New Zealand and multiple sites on the continent of Africa, including Cape Town, South Africa, and the moonlight vistas of Namibia.
The production was originally scheduled to shoot just a few days in New Zealand, but during a helicopter location scout just six weeks before the start of production, Emmerich was captivated by this proverbial "Eden." "We had spent the morning doing our helicopter work and I was going back to the hotel when I got an emergency text saying, 'Get back in the helicopters. Roland wants you to see something,'" recalls producer Wimer. "I was all ready with my speech to say, 'We can't change our location so close to the start date of the movie,' and then I got up in the helicopter, and just as I came over this certain rise, there in front of me, laid out was the perfect location as the script had been written, as it had been envisioned in all the storyboards. And it was just so perfect that we had to shoot there."
The icy white landscapes against the black rock formations of the untamed terrain provides a breathtaking contrast to deep greens of the South African tropical jungle that provided the backdrop to the middle section of the film and the burnt oranges and reds of the landscapes of Namibia, where the third act of the film was shot. These vistas made New Zealand impossible to resist, despite the fickle vagaries of the local weather, which forced the crew to negotiate fog, snowstorms and blizzards amidst the days of beautiful blue skies.
Wimer offers, "One of the things that we wanted to get across with the terrain is just how difficult our characters' lives would have been in those times...but also how grand and spiritual and beautiful it all is. That is one of the reasons we had to shoot there: it was just so unreal and so extraordinarily magnificent."
The pristine landscape was also protected, requiring the company to take great pains to leave as small a footprint as possible. "We used four-wheel drive access equipment, small buggies with light footprints, which we could drive across the turf without leaving tracks," comments New Zealand location manager Jared Connon. "And we used the helicopter a lot to first fly in the props and sets for the mammoth hunters' village and then fly them all out."
Waiorau Snow Farm, situated some 5,000 feet above sea level on the South Island near the town of Wanaka (a site used for testing cars from around the world), provided five main locations for the film, including the mammoth hunters' village, Baku's Rock, the kill site and the grasslands. Approximately a third of the film was shot there. Other locations in New Zealand included Mount Aspring National Park and Poolburn Dam.
For Emmerich, Snow Farm provided the perfect backdrop for the film as he saw it in his head. "This is a landscape where you could go high up and turn the camera round and it would be like you were shooting the surface of the moon," he raves. "It has an ancient pre-historic feel to it. Our characters travel during the film and we needed big vistas to convey the new worlds they enter. There had to be as much variety as possible."
Prior to the start of principal photography, production asked the Ngi Tahu (the principal Mori tribe of the southern region) to visit the location to hold a traditional Mori blessing ceremony. "The land has an indigenous people that pre-dates the present population," explains actor Cliff Curtis, who is of Mori descent. "So, evoking the notion of that spiritual relationship with the land is significant. And as a production, acknowledging that relationship felt right to all of us, particularly considering the film we were making."
To create the Yagahl's village, the filmmakers analyzed their lifestyle and the land that sustains them. "The mammoth hunters had limited materials," says Emmerich. "They have the mammoth's bones, tusks and skin, and used those to build their huts. Because we're imagining them as a spiritual people, I was keen that their dwellings would be unique and reflect their heightened creativity."
For the mammoth hunters' dwellings, production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos designed huts that used bones and skin in a visually striking and completely believable way. "The interior of Old Mother's hut is made of 10,000 mammoth bones hanging from a mammoth skeleton," he describes. "It's the setting for the opening of the film when Old Mother is performing a ceremony and we wanted it to have a very cosmic feel."
After extensive research, primarily in archaeological reference books, Puzos outlined 20 different mammoth skeletons. "The bones are just a little over-scale so that they give more visual impact on the big screen," says Puzos. "We chose to decorate Old Mother's hut with bones carved with tribal symbols and skulls to give a suitably spiritual atmosphere for the opening ceremony."
Using wood as a substitute for actual bone, Puzos's team of sculptors took a month to make the skeletons in the production base at Cape Town, South Africa, while another team created the mammoth furs and hides from local animal skins. The finished bones and hides were shipped out on a cargo plane to the New Zealand location at Wanaka, where the set took five weeks to assemble.
Wimer recalls, "We had rooms-full of people sanding mammoth bones made out of wood. They were formed in Cape Town, then taken apart and shipped to location. We actually had to convince the authorities they weren't real mammoth bones," he laughs. "It was quite an extraordinary logistical challenge, but in the end it all looked fantastic."
When it came to decorating the rest of the village, the team improvised with a variety of different natural materials they found in New Zealand. "Farmers collected bones for us," says set decorator Emelia Weavind, "and we found lots of wonderful seaweed that we used for the interior of Tic'Tic's hut."
One of the key props designed by Puzos was the White Spear, which chief hunter Tic'Tic must pass to his successor. The spear had to be practical but also visually arresting. The end result was a roughly six-foot spear with an intricately-carved removable ivory top piece.
Similar to the production design, costume designers Odile Dicks-Mireaux and Renee April sought to keep the costumes simple and appropriate to the people who wear them. Dicks-Mireaux began her research in the British Museum, as well as archive collections in Cape Town. However, she acknowledges, "There's not much at all on clothing in the British Museum. The only visual records from around that era are some rock paintings in South Africa. So we took inspiration from the screenplay. We decided to color-code the different tribes: the mammoth hunters have very little color and are more integrated into their landscape. We came up with the idea of shaving springbok fur, which creates a lot of texture."
The costume designers adapted the Yagahl costumes for the cold, harsh weather conditions in which they lived. "There would be no sandals," says April. "They would have used fur in layers to keep warm, so we created heavy costumes made of antelope fur and hides doubling for mammoth fur." With a nod to the weather, modern-day accoutrement supplemented the authentic costumes. "We also gave the actors thermals to wear because it was very cold on location," April smiles.
The combination of wardrobe, hair, make-up and the locations made slipping into character easier for Strait. "Being on top of a mountain in New Zealand with dreadlocks down to your chest makes it a lot easier to pretend you're a mammoth hunter," he says. "The facial hair was mine but I wore a wig and they darkened my skin tone to look as though I've lived outdoors all my life. It was a bit of a process in the morning but the results were worth it."
For the slave raiders, Dicks-Mireaux designed costumes that would appear outlandish and other-worldly to the more primitive mammoth hunters. "We used completely different colors from the brown and tan hues of the mammoth hunters' costumes," she says. "We have a lot of blues and reds in linens, jutes and wool. To emphasize the fact that they are a horse-riding tribe, we used horsetails to decorate their costumes. We also designed masks for them and a kind of early armor from chamois leather, based on ideas from African tribal references."
Dicks-Mireaux also took her inspiration from contemporary African tribal cultures for the Naku, Hoda and River tribes that the mammoth hunters meet on their journey. "The Naku tribe is more colorful, and we also gave them clay bead necklaces to convey that they are more sophisticated than the mammoth hunters," she says.
For the final scenes in which D'Leh comes face to face with the god and his priests, April designed wine-colored costumes informed by a variety of different cultures, including Tibetan and Egyptian. Their intricate jewelry and facial tattoos, designed by make-up artist Thomas Nellen, completed the look.
Wearing the costumes helped enrich the actors' relationship with their characters. "Just putting on the wardrobe makes you feel like you are part of that world," affirms Camilla Belle. "It helps you get into the character. You even move differently when you are in costume."
Apart from the principal cast, the costume designers and their teams had the task of dressing almost 800 extras as slaves for the final scenes. Despite the numbers, "we couldn't order the costumes," April states. "And we couldn't make them by machine; they all had to be handmade; otherwise, it would show. We had an army in the workshops making beads from clay and glass and sewing them on to the costumes as well as making the fabric and headdresses."
There were six different tribes, all with their own particular styles, from their head to their feet. The team created over 1,000 sandals which had to all be made-to-order according to the sizes of the extras.
"We also had to make sure these costumes, like all the costumes, didn't look new, so we had to distress the leather and fabrics to make them look worn," April recalls. "This was a very ambitious movie, and working on location makes it even harder. But I found really wonderful crews in both South Africa and Namibia. And we worked with a lot of very skillful artisans, such as cobblers and hat makers, who really delivered what we wanted."
From New Zealand, the cast and crew moved to Cape Town, South Africa, a country with a sophisticated cinema infrastructure, capable of accommodating almost as many film shoots annually as Los Angeles. There, a wheat farm location and Table Mountain Studios provided the interior of the Lost Valley, where D'Leh and his fellow hunters confront the vicious terror birds.
Table Mountain Studios and a wheat farm outside Cape Town provided the locations for the lush, primordial "Lost Valley" jungle setting. Cape Town location manager Katy Fife and her team spent three months building and planting grasses, trees and bushes on the wheat farm for the maze of tall grasses the massive creatures use for camouflage during their hunts. Also in Cape Town, the company shot at Thunder City, where the saber-tooth tiger trap pit was built in a large airplane hangar.
The final section of the film was shot on the sprawling deserts of southwest Namibia, including the pristine and historic Spitzkoppe, which Emmerich remarks, "was so perfect, with the sand dunes and the kinds of enchanting places you can only find in Namibia." The filmmaker composited shots to form the bridge from the mountains to the desert, but in both instances, he was overwhelmed by the breathtaking natural beauty of the locations.
The site held special resonance for Emmerich for another reason. "Spitzkoppe is very close to my heart because it's the place where Stanley Kubrick shot the background plates for the ape sequence in '2001: A Space Odyssey,'" he reveals. "It's a magical place."
Producer Wimer affirms, "One of the unusual things about Spitzkoppe is that it has this real resonance, this unusual energy that you find in certain places in the world. It's difficult to quantify, but it does feel as though there is some sort of presence in the rocks."
The filmmakers were given permission to use Spitzkoppe, with its unusual rock formations, for the scenes in which the Yagahl hunters meet the Naku tribe, and D'Leh begins to grasp the implications of his destiny. The Naku tribe is a well-developed savannah tribe with pastoral and farming habits and art director Robin Auld offers, "Their village is made of houses built on a rock shelf. The houses were either built around a four-sided frame or a round frame and the roofs were covered in adobe. It was quite a complicated process of construction."
Spitzkoppe is a national monument on communal land, and all location fees went towards the local community. One hundred and thirty locals were employed during pre-production to build access roads and game fences for the springbok and zebra brought in for the movie. Following filming, the animals were donated to the local community for its planned nature park.
With no hotel accommodation within easy access to the Spitzkoppe location, cast and crew camped out in a specially erected tented city, complete with warm water, TVs and internet access. During the shoot, 60,000 liters of fresh water were brought into the camp every day from a source over 70km away.
One of the mysteries of the movie is the identity of the lost civilization D'Leh finds in the desert. Kloser relates, "When our heroes come over the crest of a dune, they see this gigantic civilization--these 'mountains of the gods,' these mythic-sized pyramids, which are almost inconceivable to them. And part of the journey is understanding how this culture managed to enslave so many, and what it will take to challenge an empire like this."
The pyramids were constructed at the desert location of Dune 7, near Swakopmund. Here, the production design team constructed a quarry, an enormous ramp and the facade of God's palace. Having utilized helicopter shots to give a sense of scale to the characters' journey, Emmerich sought to bring the same effect to some of the shots of the pyramids, and enlisted his effects team to create giant models of the pyramids which he could shoot using a Spydercam, a remote control-operated camera attached to wires.
The team erected the miniature replicas of the pyramids, the palace, the slave quarters and the Nile River close to the practical pyramids. Built on a scale of 1:24 in Munich and then transported to Namibia in fifteen sea containers, the set covered approximately 100 square meters. The Spydercam allowed the director to move freely through the miniature set, providing spectacular 360 degree aerial shots that harmonized with the film's aerial sequences.
"The Spydercam makes the same kind of movements as a helicopter," Emmerich comments. "It's programmable, and goes in real time. The lighting situation matches the sets, and you have real sand dunes in the background. I'm very proud of this sequence because it combines old-fashioned models with super high technology in a great way."
Marking his fifth collaboration with Emmerich, cinematographer Ueli Steiger relished the opportunity to work again with the director on such a provocative premise. "He's a great collaborator and has a great vision," says Steiger. "He works out most of what he wants before you join the project but he's always willing and able to adapt. And he's very open to suggestions from everyone."
In keeping with the naturalistic style of the film, Steiger kept camera and lighting tricks to a minimum, opting instead for a classic style that would bring out the epic qualities of the story and take advantage of natural light. "We often used multiple cameras so we could make the most of the sun when it appeared," he notes. "You have to work very fast. We would often rehearse for several hours and then shoot with three or four cameras and hope to get all the angles in one take."
The final creative element of "10,000 BC" was the music. Wearing his third hat on the film, Harald Kloser teamed with fellow composer Thomas Wander to create the film's score. The composers worked closely with Emmerich to capture the action and emotions musically within the context of the film's unique setting.
The director notes, "The story is a classic hero myth, and the music followed that. But it also has a lot of ethnic elements, a lot of big horns, vocals and drums. One of the things I like the most about making movies is to see how the music matches your images. There's this magic moment when you first record a piece with the orchestra, and it's just right."
For Emmerich, the final mix of all the creative components is the ultimate payoff for the long, often arduous process leading up to it. "I have incredible fun making movies because they're so intricate. There are so many facets to them, and I love to have my head busy with all these different issues, always trying to invent new ways of looking at something. But even with all the technical aspects, at the very end it comes down to character, because the most elaborate sequence doesn't work unless you care about who it's happening to."
Through the extraordinary journey of one young man, the adventure of "10,000 BC" delves into many different themes, including the nature of heroism and leadership and the power of human connection. "Every man has to decide how big the circle is that he belongs to," says Emmerich. "Is it just his loved ones, his family, or is it maybe a much wider group of people? Our hero has to go on a journey of discovery. He has to mature from being a selfish young boy to become a leader of men. And the key is how wide the circle is...how many people you embrace in the circle."
© 2008 Film Entertainment Magazine / EMOL.org. All rights reserved.
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