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The Visual Effects Behind This Year's Two Biggest Biblical Epics

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Both Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings are epic films filled huge numbers of visual effects. And even though Noah is more fantastical than Exodus is supposed to be, there were a number of similarities.

Deadline has a breakdown of both films which is a fascinating read, starting with Darren Aronofsky's vision and the historical research involved in re-telling such a famous tale in the age of CGI:

"Part of the challenge was meeting Darren's vision of visual fury," [VFX supervisor Ben] Snow says. "From the start, he said, 'I don't want to make your father's Bible movie. I want to reinvent the Bible movie for the modern audience.' He didn't want Noah on a boat with two giraffes sticking out the back. He wanted to tweak the world, which gives you a lot of room to get creative."

For Noah, Aronofsky and Snow combed over dozens of religious paintings to get a sense of the iconography of the period. "It's not like other special effects, because most people already have their own visions of what things should look like," Snow says. Religious-themed films require "an integration of faith you don't have to worry about in other movies."


Similarly, Exodus' visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang says he worried about accuracy as well:

But "the main thing is to be true to the historic period," he says. "No one really knows what Egypt in 1300 B.C. looked like. So you have to imagine what existing architecture would be like, and hopefully (the film) strikes a little subconscious chord inside you, that you know this."


Both films also had a fair amount of physical effects which were made grander by CGI. On Noah, the on-set arc was more than 70 feet long and was three stories high. Snow told Deadline that "It gave us an anchor. To give it that huge scale, you could take real, physical sets and extend it with computer graphics."

For Exodus, there were 400 frogs and an Egyptian square to build:

"What I discovered is if you put 400 frogs on the ground, it actually looks like nothing," Chiang says. "But it gave us a live model to digitally create frogs that would make up a surge several feet thick."

Still, Chiang says, 400 frogs looks a lot more daunting when you're trying to corral them. "In between every take, we had to pick up and return every frog," says Chiang, who's also been VFX supervisor on such films as Godzilla and The Bourne Ultimatum. "So the animal wranglers, camera crews, Ridley, everyone spent hours picking up frogs."

Chiang, too, believes in the physical component of visual effects, namely sizable sets that "lead the eye to a much bigger set" on green screen. The film's main square, which features a Ramses statue and a gallows pole, extended more than 200 square yards. The goal, Chiang says, was to express not only the grandeur of the Egyptian square, but the immensity of the problem the city faced.


Read the whole story at Deadline, including Ridley Scott's direction that everything that occurs could actually be a natural phenomenon, like a tsunami or eclipse.