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Troy - The building of an epic (quick facts)



Compiled by: Jack Foley

TROY is undoubtedly the blockbuster of the Summer which, at a rumoured $200 million to make, has to rate as one of the most expensive movies ever made.

So where did the money go (apart from on the stars’ pay cheques) and how was the look of the film achieved?

l Much of the production teams’ research was accomplished through the British Museum, utilizing its collection of objects excavated from archaeological digs in Turkey, where the city of Troy is widely considered to have stood.

l There remains much speculation about what Troy actually looked like during the period in which the events of The Iliad take place. Several different ancient cities have been discovered at the site, each built directly on top of the next. Troy VI is the level that represents the period that production designer, Nigel Phelps, and his team were charged with recreating.

l Exteriors of the city of Troy, which had to be built from the ground up, were erected on 10 acres inside a 17th Century military compound called Fort Ricasoli, on the Mediterranean island of Malta. More than 500 Maltese workers were hired and nearly 200 UK craftsmen were brought to the island to begin the construction of the city at the beginning of 2003.

l The island’s strong winds, extreme heat and humidity played havoc with the filming schedule, putting director, Wolfgang Petersen, in a daily state of uncertainty about what he’d be filming, until he’d heard the morning weather reports.

l The Wooden Horse of Troy was constructed at Shepperton Studios, in London, but had to be built in two halves, because there was no space available large enough to accommodate the enormous equine. It was constructed mostly of steel and fibreglass fashioned to look like wood, it stood 38 feet high and weighed 11 tonnes.

l In order to move the horse into position for its entrance through the 42-foot high Trojan gates, the film-makers referred to a documentary about the Egyptians building the Pyramids that showed the massive stone blocks being pulled along on logs. Hence, a path made up of dozens of large logs was laid through the gate and a system of cable pulleys - later removed from the film by computer graphics - was set up to take most of the burden off the men towing the ropes.

l The sacking of Troy was, according to special effects supervisor, Joss Williams, ‘one of the biggest outdoor fire jobs that’s been done since Gone With The Wind’. "Ours was slightly different from that one because it was controlled, and we could turn it off - whereas with them, they just lit it and off it went."

l Thousands of feet of gas piping, laid by Williams’ crew, were connected to five liquid propane tanks set up behind the buildings, along the Trojan streets and controlled by a system of 350 individually operated valves. Each tank had a capacity of 5,000 cubic litres of gas, which could be used as either a vapour or liquid. Into this volatile mix were thrown Simon Crane’s stunt team - along with actors, Brad Pitt, Brian Cox and Sean Bean.

l In preparation for the final battle scenes, in Los Cabos, Mexico, an environmental study was required before permits could be issued, which entailed the preservation of certain varieties of cactus. Production had to arrange for botanists to count, categorize and tag each cactus, and then 4,000 cacti had to be removed by hand, transplanted to a nursery and maintained until filming was complete.

l Due to the coast of Mexico being an endangered turtle habitat, a turtle protection programme had to be implemented, with two specialists hired to live on the property and patrol the beach, 24-hours a day, seven days a week, for the six months of filming. When turtles were spotted laying eggs, the team would collect the eggs and put them in a fenced incubation area. Then, when they hatched 45 days later, they would bring them to the shore and release them.

l The supposedly unbreachable wall of Troy proved anything but. Two weeks from the end of filming, Hurricane Marty hit the southern tip of Baja, on September 21, 2003, and the film’s sets suffered major damage - including the collapse of the middle two thirds of the Wall of Troy. It took a month to rebuild.

Creating a 'virtual army'

Troy features the debut of ‘virtual stuntmen’, provided by leading special effects houses, The Moving Picture Company and Framestore CFC, employing technology pioneered by NaturalMotion. The software, called ‘endorphin’, was developed from research into the neurobiology of human motion conducted by Oxford University’s Department of Zoology.

The ingenious program creates virtual characters whose bodies react exactly like real humans to whatever forces are applied to them - unlike most computerised characters, which depend on fixed databases containing animated clips, endorphin’s virtual actors move independently, sensing and reacting to their environments in the same way humans do.

The process behind the artificial stuntmen’s ability to move and think, called ‘active character technology’, is centred around an artificial intelligence simulation of the human brain, body and nervous system. The virtual stuntmen learn how to move and react using artificial evolution, building up their store of knowledge over time. Muscle models within each character are identical to properties in actual human muscles, and information programmed into the AI nervous system sends impulses to the body’s muscles to achieve a given movement, such as maintaining balance and jumping.

Once programmed, the characters react on their own, providing an infinite variety of realistic reactions to action within a scene. For example, neutral networks responsible for self-preservation compel the soldiers in Troy to react to blows from their opponent with movements such as shielding themselves, attempting to maintain their balance, or breaking their fall.

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