Lincoln hit UK cinemas at the end of January on the back of huge success in this year’s award nominations, with Spielberg’s tale of murky political maneuvering nominated for 12 Oscars and 10 BAFTAs, including best film and best actor in both.
Daniel Day-Lewis has already scooped the latter prize at the Golden Globes – with the backdrop for his brilliant performance in the title role, the American Civil War, subtly but impressively recreated by Framestore.
Much like previous Spielberg project War Horse, Framestore’s work on Lincoln was all about assisting the filmmakers in an invisible way, helping them create a believable world free of anachronisms. For Lincoln that meant recreating America as it was in 1865, ripped in two by civil war, providing the backdrop for the 16th president’s struggle to unite the country and abolish slavery.
Framestore's VFX Supervisor Ben Morris was on set in Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia, to oversee our work removing the traces of the 21st century – telegraph wires, power lines and modern buildings – to make Virginia look like it did in Lincoln’s day, or in many cases, like Washington DC.
The film's opening black-and-white dream sequence stands out visually, showing Lincoln standing aboard the USS Monitor as it rushes towards a shore that gets no closer, viewed as though through a vintage lens vignette. This sequence was shot with Daniel Day Lewis standing on a small section of foreground boat deck in front of green screen, Framestore later integrated the entirely digital background with carefully considered 'photographic' treatments to complete the dreamlike look.
Dream sequence aside, the order of the day was historical recreation, particularly when it came to the Capitol Building. The iconic landmark was built from a photogrammetric survey of the real building in Washington and dropped into the background of shots filmed in the streets of Petersburg.
Building the Capitol Building
Richmond is home to the Virginia State Capitol, a building that possesses the familiar front steps and pillars of its larger Washington equivalent, but not the dome or scale. It makes a good starting point nonetheless and Framestore used it as a basis to start building the Capitol Building. Special attention had to be paid to historical detail as the building was only just complete at the time of Lincoln’s second inaugural address in 1865, a key moment in the film.
That particular speech is famed as one of the first ceremonies of its kind to be captured in a collodion plate photograph. Framestore helped recreate the scene depicted in this famous historic photograph exactly, with the crowd around the smaller, Richmond-based Capital Building replicated from multiple crowd passes, and matte paintings used to add scope at the shot’s margins.
While much Framestore’s work on the film goes intentionally unnoticed, that doesn’t mean it’s not impressive. In one scene Lincoln watches from the River Queen as St. Petersburg is attacked on his orders. It’s a dramatic, apocalyptic glimpse at what the president has ordered his troops to do. You wouldn’t know it, but it’s all photo-real CG with the river, the city and the fire and smoke that engulfs it all created by Framestore.