How 'The Crown' Re-Created Buckingham Palace

10:20 AM 8/18/2017

by Carolyn Giardina

No location is off-limits to TV, as this year's Emmy nominees for VFX in a supporting role can attest. Move the Brandenburg Gate to Prague for 'Genius'? Travel back to 1814 London for 'Taboo'? You got it.

'The Crown'
'The Crown'
Courtesy of Netflix

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

  • Genius

    National Geographic

    Courtesy of National Geographic

    The entire production filmed in Prague, with additional locations in several surrounding cities and villages in the Czech Republic. So for locations that the production didn't visit, visual effects representations were required. That included this fully CG shot of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate for the funeral of statesman Walther Rathenau. The entire location, as well as the people and funeral parade, were created by digital artists at UPP Prague.

    The work started with research, including historical photos of Brandenburg Gate as well as photos of a building in Prague that had to be added to the scene. "The actual location was too wide, so we cheated some to fit the frame," explains VFX supervisor Eric Durst. The shot also involved a lot of crowd simulation, which started with photographing small groups of actors then re-creating the crowds in CG. "The crowd had to move a certain way and at the right speed and look random enough," adds Durst. "And it had to match what we had in the other shots. That took a lot of finessing. There were so many elements."

  • Gotham


    Courtesy of FOX

    "We put a lot of love into this shot. It's one of the first iconic moments of Bruce Wayne becoming Batman and the final shot of the season. It had to feel like a big moment," says VFX supervisor Thomas Mahoney of Cosa Visual Effects. To start, David Mazouz (Bruce Wayne) was shot in front of a greenscreen at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn. The environment was created on the computer, combining 3D and a digital matte painting. "Gotham is a city that always feels like a storm is coming," says Mahoney. "It's in a perpetual November. It always feels bleak and slightly overcast. Even at night, we try to bring that heaviness to Gotham." In this case, the completed shot actually includes a virtual camera shot that joins two live camera shots to create the look of one continuous take.

  • The Crown


    Courtesy of Netflix

    A partial set for this exterior of London's Buckingham Palace was built by the art department at Elstree Studios in the U.K. "We used this as the basis to create the [CG] extensions," reports VFX supervisor Ben Turner of VFX house One of Us. The effects in this shot also involved multiple passes of crowd replication after photographing smaller groups of individuals. Says Turner: "This is where the queen arrives at the palace for the first time since the death of her father. The crowd removes their hats and gives a bow as she enters the gates, so they had to be shot specifically for this scene. The overall goal was to do everything historically accurate and give everything the scale that was required. A lot of what we were doing was adding depth or increasing the size of the environments or crowds. The brilliant thing about The Crown is that everything the royal family does is well documented, so there is a huge amount of archival material that we put to good use."

  • Taboo

    FX, BBC One

    Courtesy of FX

    This dark period drama, set in 1814 London, required a lot of visual effects to replace the contemporary environments. In the case of a shot filmed outside of London in the town of Tilbury, the VFX involved making the Thames River more narrow as well as replacing the surroundings, including the buildings and the ships, with a combination of CG and digital matte painting. "The challenge was building 1814 London in every scene," says Henry Badgett, VFX supervisor at VFX house BlueBolt. "We looked at where we could create CG buildings and use them in different scenes at different angles. We did a lot of research. It had to be an alternative London but one that was based on historical London." In the end, a lot of the references were based on the paintings of Italian artist Canaletto as the VFX team worked closely with production designer Sonja Klaus.

  • The Handmaid's Tale



    To reflect how the authoritarian Republic of Gilead has taken over the former U.S., the production wanted to show past monuments — like a church — being destroyed. "We found a church that was being taken down in Hamilton [just outside Toronto], but it wasn't big and grand enough," says VFX supervisor and Mavericks VFX CEO Brendan Taylor, explaining that the designers came up with a concept for a new church — more of a cathedral — based on art department references and research into churches that were torn down or bombed during World War II (including the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin). From there, the team built a 3D model in the computer, adding textures and lighting. In the final shot, a portion of the church and the background also is a digital matte painting. The shot was created at 48 frames per second to match the cinematography.