How The Best Scene In 'Exodus' Was Made

The cinematographer behind Ridley Scott’s Bible epic on the difficulties of bringing rivers of blood to the screen

Most Popular

 The last twelve months have seen a flood of Bible adaptations making their way to cinemas, with more to follow. Noah, Last Days In The Desert (in which Ewan McGregor plays both Jesus and Satan) and now, apparently, Apostle Paul (where Hugh Jackman will turn Christian missionary) are all getting in on the swords, sandals and saviours renaissance.

But, if we’re talking epics, we'd be amiss not to mention Ridley Scott, who described his Christian Bale-as-Moses saga Exodus: Gods And Kings as “f***ing huge”. Running at 154 minutes and shot on a scale that makes Gladiator look like an arthouse indie, we'd have to agree.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

To mark the Blu-ray release of the film, we spoke to cinematographer Dariuz Wolski about the difficulties of bringing biblical plagues to the big screen. 

***


How difficult was it shooting the plague scenes in a realistic way?
The biggest challenge was not having a river, and obviously the whole thing happens by the Nile. We had to shoot the crocodile attack in a tank at Pinewood with a boat and lots of blue screens in the background. The water turning into blood, locusts and hail were all done on a combination of sets in Almería, Fuerteventura and Pinewood with special effects added in afterwards. What were the other plagues? Kids dying?

Most Popular


There were frogs...
Oh yeah of course, the frogs. Before we put the CG in, we had fake plastic frogs and a few real ones as a reference for the visual effects and the actors, because it’s hard to act out the scene without seeing any actual frogs.


How many of these scenes are CGI and how much was actually shot in real life?
I would say 50/50. The frogs are CG, crocodiles are CG, locusts are CG, but people reacting are real and everything else is full on live action. The hail was mechanical, but was then enhanced by the visual team.


How did the actors react to the fake crocodile you used?
We had an animatronic crocodile but we completely replaced it later, because it just wasn’t good enough. However, those scenes were all planned out pretty precisely. For example, when the crocodiles sneak into the water, it was good to have a little interaction with something mechanical to make it look real. In the crocodile attack we used air motors to create all the water splashing about.


How do you capture the scale of these scenes on such a big film?
Ridley is a master of scale and you build your sets as big as you can, knowing it will look three times as big once you do CG. Every time Ridley draws the storyboards he’s says ‘give me a pen, just give me a really fine pen’ and he puts a little dot on the page, ‘that’s the person’.

[Above: Dariuz (left) sets up a scene with Ridley Scott]


What was the hardest thing about shooting the climatic parting of the Red Sea?
We had to shoot at four different beaches to get each stage of the scene from open ocean to the big tidal pools.

The big wave was CG of course, added later. For that final scene we had to take the background from the first beach and added the second beach without the water. It was like one big Rubik’s cube.


Which was the hardest scene to film?
The fire in the grain storage was scary. It was fully combustible and I think a part of the stage caught fire for a second.

Also, the scene where the chariots are passing through the mountains was shot on a real, very narrow road with the chariots going very fast... we actually made the road even narrower so you could see the wheels just on the edge. If one chariot had gone off...

Exodus: Gods and Kings is out now on Digital HD and on Blu-ray 3D™, Blu-ray™ and DVD on 27 April


Favourite plague?


***
MORE TV & FILM:

ESQ&A: Ethan Hawke
The 20 Must-See Films For 2015
15 Reminders Steve McQueen Was Cooler Than You'll Ever Be
***