MPC completed 250 photorealistic shots for Ridley Scott’s epic, Napoleon.

Here’s what they did

NAPOLEON is a spectacle-filled action epic that details the checkered rise and fall of the iconic French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, played by Oscar-winner Joaquin Phoenix. Against a stunning backdrop of large-scale filmmaking orchestrated by legendary director Ridley Scott, the film captures Bonaparte’s relentless journey to power through the prism of his addictive, volatile relationship with his one true love, Josephine, showcasing his visionary military and political tactics against some of the most dynamic practical battle sequences ever filmed.

To create as much realism as possible in this large-scale epic action film, the filmmakers filmed on location using real sets, horses and props where possible. 14 cameras captured extraordinary battle scenes with hundreds of cast, dozens of horses, real sets and props. Filming locations were chosen to represent the scale and stature of the world Napoleon inhabited and include Blenheim Palace, Petworth House and Boughton House.

Led by Production VFX Supervisor Charley Henley, MPC VFX Supervisor Luc-ewen Martin-fenouillet, MPC completed 250 shots for Director Ridley Scott’s latest tour de force.  The magnitude of Napoleon’s battles had to reach epic proportions, requiring meticulous teamwork between SFX and VFX.

MPC’s biggest challenge was the recreation of The Battle of Waterloo. Shot in the beautifully dramatic English countryside, the battle was filmed entirely on location in the UK. MPC was tasked with creating environment extensions for both the French and British camps. Plate photography was enhanced with thousands of computer-generated tents, flags, stables, braseros, benches and props required to breathe life into the campaign camps. Along with the CG environment extension, MPC’s artists also recreated Napoleonic armies, of all ranks, from the drummers to the generals. In total, 60 unique costumes were recreated, using scans of actors, which allowed the wide shots to feel varied, rich and realistic. Marching and charging armies, including cavalries, were reproduced digitally to reach the epic scale the biopic required. The largest crowd shot included 70,000 soldiers, 5,000 horses, each with dynamic armor and ready-to-fire muskets. The organic look of the armies relied on hundreds of motion capture clips which captured the specific performances of a soldiers in the 1800s.

The SFX team employed air mortars to generate explosions within the live battlefield, while digital cannonballs were programmed to follow accurate trajectories and create explosions upon impact. Hundreds of simulated explosions combined with elements and debris fill the frame. Muzzle flashes from thousands of muskets, and flares and smoke from cannon fire were simulated as well as widespread gore FX. A specialized FX setup replicated the effect of horses being struck and toppled by cannon fire, while VFX artists meticulously hand-animated multiple horses, riders, and their falls.

The Battle of Waterloo also includes CG sky replacements, rain, and smoke simulations. The scene starts in the rain, bogging down Napoleons cavalry and ends with the sun breaking through skies filled with smoke from the battle. The VFX team added simulated rain, stormy cloud plates, compositing patched sunlight moving across the landscapes, SFX generated elements of smoke drifting through the frame and flags fluttering in the wind.

However, the battles were not the only interesting tasks for MPC. Authentic period architecture also had to be created digitally. Much of the photography was shot in England, standing in for 18th century France. Real English buildings were augmented with CG builds to become revolutionary. For Tileries Palace, Ridley Scott filmed at Blenheim Palace in the UK, and it was MPC’s job to transform the building into Tuileries. The building was extended up and out to transform the architecture into the Parisian House of the Kings. Creating a duplicate of the original was less important than replicating the feel of the real Palace, therefore the team relied on iconic elements, such as the slanted blue roof tiles, hundreds of Renaissance sculptures and the triangular gates. A garden, fit for an Emperor, was added based on archived French maps and period paintings.

The next fascinating location MPC recreated was Moscow, including Red Square. Sequences based in Moscow were also filmed on location in the UK and involved a great deal of detailed work to transform 21st Century UK into 19th Century Russia. MPC’s environment design team used the stunning UK photography to ground their extension work and build an empty city, relying on descriptions and paintings from the Napoleonic times. Once the city was built it was then down to MPC’s FX artists to set it on fire.

Finally, MPC worked on one of the first iconic Napoleonic battles, the Siege of Toulon, where he led an attack by night on an English stronghold deemed impenetrable. During the siege, his horse was famously shot by a cannonball, violently dismounting him. The sequence was shot in Malta, using a stuntman on a horse rig with an explosive charge located in the chest to spew guts and blood. MPC added the legs to the horse to enhance the performance, as well as increasing the gruesome violence and realism of the action.

The Apple Original Film Napoleon from acclaimed director Ridley Scott will first be released exclusively in theaters worldwide, in partnership with Sony Pictures Entertainment, on Wednesday, November 22, before streaming globally on Apple TV+

Staff Reporter

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