The biblical story of Moses & his journey to Mount Sinai, where he receives the Ten Commandments, has long been an inspiration for story tellers. The latest in the line of interpreters is Ridley Scott with his Exodus: Gods and Kings.
Although the film ran into controversies before release due to the liberties taken by Scott & Christian Bale (in the role of Moses), the grand visual spectacle was enough to silence critiques once the movie released. Striking special effects & cinematography were utilised to tell the fascinating story of Moses as he rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton) & leads the Hebrews to Mount Sinai.
In this blog we take you behind the scenes & bring you a VFX breakdown of the grand spectacle.
Parting of the Red Sea
For those who have seen the previous versions of the story, the parting of the Red Sea remains one of the most iconic scenes in the film. Scott & his CGI team had the daunting task of living up to expectations. The team meticulously created this famous biblical miracle under visual effects supervisor Jessica Norman. The scene was filmed at a beach on Fuerteventura, one of the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa. MPC studios, along with Scanline VFX, used a wave animation rig to create the catastrophic ocean waves. Scanline VFX used their in-house fluid effects software – Flowline – to make this scene a cinematic delight. Close-ups of the actual beach water were used to film people fleeing across the sea bed. Except Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton & 30-40 people in the background, everything else including the water heading toward infinity, horses, and the 40,000 people crossing the red sea were computer-generated.
The violent hailstorm
It is believed that 10 plagues were predicted upon Egypt. A violent hailstorm was one of them & has always been an attraction for filmmakers. To create a believable hailstorm in the film, the special-effects team fired polymer balls with the help of 30 pneumatic bazookas. These polymer balls bounce & shatter, just like ice balls. The hail visible in the distant background was simulated in Houdini.
Plague of frogs
An avalanche of frogs was an important part of the plague on Egypt. To bring live frogs to the set would create obvious problems. But to create the effect double negative was included in the visual effects creation of the movie. The most noticeable use of this was the swarms of frogs when they take over Ramses’ wife. VFX supervisor, Peter Chiang created a computer-generated mudslide of frogs. The props department made heaps of fake frogs for the sequence. However, the close-ups show the real ones.
A large part of the VFX work was to recreate the city of Memphis as it may have existed in the time of the pharaohs & Moses. Concept illustrators working with Arthur Max & supervising art director, Marc Homes gave Memphis a traditional sandstone look. The film’s sequences in Egypt were mostly filmed in Spain, Mexico & on sets in Pinewood Studios. Later the scenes were enhanced by double negative & other visual effects.
The large sequence of the anthrax breakout was crucial to the movie. Method Studios in London, under the supervision of Simon Car crafted, delivered 223 shots of the movie, including the views of the outcome of anthrax outbreak that kills thousands of farm animals. The studio played a significant role by creating digital matte paintings of dramatic landscapes to CG stone sphinx, weapons & mosquitoes.
As with any period cinema, a large part of the success of the movie depended on the visual effects & art direction. As it is impossible to shoot on set, most of the large, wide & far shots of landscapes, cities, and people/ armies, are computer-generated; only the eye-level and close up shots are authentic.
Almost 90% of the soldiers are CG in the scene where Ramses and his army pursue Moses & the Jews as they flee Egypt. Horses, chariots, cloth flags & dust were digitally built or simulated to blend in seamlessly with live action. Even though the sphinxes were original, they were built in CG later, due to original flat lighting. The overcast sky too was added later to heighten the drama.
Today technology has become so perfect that it is impossible to differentiate the real from the virtual.