Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
May 20, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

In the June issue, CGW sails behind the scenes on the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” film, “On Stranger Tides,” to detail the cutting-edge visual effects in the film,  particularly those centered around the mermaids and the fountain of youth. Until then, we thought we would get your feet wet with some general, though interesting, details about this latest film in the popular franchise, courtesy of Disney.
From Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films comes “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” the fourth film in the highly successful, wildly popular “Pirates of the Caribbean” film franchise. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Rob Marshall, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” captures the fun, excitement and humor that ignited the hit franchise—this time in Disney Digital 3D.

Johnny Depp returns to his iconic role as Captain Jack Sparrow and is joined by a host of international players, some familiar, such as Geoffrey Rush, once again as the indestructible Captain Hector Barbossa, and Kevin R. McNally, as Captain Jack’s longtime comrade Joshamee Gibbs, and some new to the “Pirates” family: Academy Award–winning Penélope Cruz as Angelica, the first female pirate of the franchise; Ian McShane, of “Deadwood” fame, as the fearsome Blackbeard; Sam Claflin as stalwart missionary Philip Swift; and French actress Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as the mysterious mermaid Syrena.

“When three films together bring in $2.6 billion dollars worldwide, you understand pretty quickly that a message is being sent to you by audiences,” notes Producer Jerry Bruckheimer of the international response to the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, subtitled “The Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003), “Dead Man’s Chest” (2005) and “At World’s End” (2007).

“The numbers are wonderful,” Bruckheimer continues, “but what’s even better is that they tell you something of what these films have meant to moviegoers. Audiences fell in love with the pirate genre all over again after an absence of some three decades, and they certainly fell head over heels for Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow! There are more adventures for Captain Jack to take on, and our screenwriters, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, had already created a whole world to explore.”

And exploring that world is just what the audience will do when they travel with Captain Jack on his action-packed journey to the legendary Fountain of Youth. When Jack crosses paths (and swords) with the enigmatic Angelica (Penélope Cruz), a ravishing pirate with whom he shares a dubious past, she forces him aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the ship belonging to the legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane).

Finding himself a prisoner on an unexpected journey to the fabled fountain, Jack must use all his wiles to deal with the barbarous Blackbeard and his crew of zombies, Angelica, who can—and will—match him wit for wit and sword for sword, and beautiful, enchanting mermaids whose masterful cunning can lure even the most seasoned sailor to his doom.

Johnny Depp, who had fallen unabashedly in love with the character of Captain Jack Sparrow over the course of the first three films, was certainly game for another new adventure. “The idea of a fourth one after finishing ‘Pirates 3’ was somewhere in the back of your head, thinking, ‘I sure hope so,’” notes Depp. “When you’re done playing Captain Jack, there’s a real decompression getting out of that skin, because I like being in that skin,’ says Depp. “There’s a great comfort in playing Captain Jack, because you have license to be completely irreverent, completely subversive, absolutely abstract in all situations. I know him so well that it just comes naturally.”

Depp adds, “I was very happy with the work that Ted and Terry did on the screenplay for ‘On Stranger Tides.’ It was like the gates were reopened and it was all fresh. It really felt closer in spirit to the first film, getting from Point A to Point D to Point Z without too many subplots and complications.” Depp was also enthusiastic to work for a fourth time with Jerry Bruckheimer, who had guarded the actor’s wholly original vision of Captain Jack Sparrow when the first film began to shoot. “We wouldn’t have been able to get away with a third of what we got away with on ‘Pirates 1’ without Jerry Bruckheimer,” states the actor. “Without Jerry’s support, and his understanding of the material, saying, ‘Okay, I know that some people are scared but this sure seems funny to me, why don’t we go with it,’ the first film would have been much more generic, not much fun, and I would have been fired!

With the stories of both Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) resolved in “At World’s End,” Elliott and Rossio sought to create new characters while retaining some of the franchise favorites, particularly Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin R. McNally) and, of course, Captain Jack Sparrow. Tim Powers’ novel included the legendary Blackbeard, most feared of all pirates, as a primary character, and a better villain for the film could hardly be invented. A new female protagonist was created in Angelica, a woman who can match Captain Jack blow for blow. “It was especially fun to put Jack up against Angelica,” says Terry Rossio, “as Jack had not yet faced off with a woman who was completely against him and his equal in terms of selfishness and cunning.”

“We definitely want to take the audience on a journey beyond and different than what they’ve seen in the previous ‘Pirates’ movies,” notes Jerry Bruckheimer. “With ‘On Stranger Tides,’ we have the great director of photography Dariusz Wolski, who has done all three previous ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ films and, this time, works for the first time in digital 3D. We also have a brilliant Academy Award–winning production designer, John Myhre, who was brought in by Rob Marshall, and we’ve filmed in all-new locations ranging from Hawaii to the Caribbean to London.”

For Myhre, the task to design the fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” epic was literally a dream come true. “Pirates of the Caribbean is just my favorite ride at Disneyland. I think I’ve been on the ride every year since it opened in 1967. I grew up in Seattle, but my family came down once a year to Disneyland.”

As soon as Rob Marshall was announced as director for “On Stranger Tides,” Myhre admits that he “literally started jumping around my living room like an 8-year-old boy.” The reason was that he had already collaborated with Marshall on all three of the director’s previous features, winning Oscars for his dynamic re-creation of the Jazz Age in “Chicago” and an astounding evocation of Kyoto, almost entirely on California locations, for “Memoirs of a Geisha.”

Before filming began, Marshall, his longtime collaborator John DeLuca and Production Designer Myhre went on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride but, this time, were able to stop and examine details as research for “On Stranger Tides.” “Rob and I are both fans of all the previous ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies,” notes Myhre, “but it’s fun to come in with a new creative team, because you have a chance to shake things out and bring your own thoughts to it. We wanted to bring a certain theatricality to ‘On Stranger Tides,’ which is very character-driven. We’re also expanding the ‘Pirates’ world by opening the film in London of the mid-1700s, then moving on to the islands, jungles and beaches of the Caribbean.”

Explains Myhre, “The film kind of divides into three chapters: the opening in London, the middle section on the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and the last third is a trek through the jungle in search of the Fountain of Youth. Looking for those thick, dense, gorgeous jungles brought us to Kauai and Oahu in Hawaii, then a huge set for the mermaid sequence in Los Angeles, on to Puerto Rico for a tiny island and historic Spanish fort, and finally to the United Kingdom for London exteriors and a large number of sets built at Pinewood Studios.”

“Although we filmed the first three ‘Pirates’ movies mostly in the actual Caribbean,” notes Jerry Bruckheimer, “for ‘On Stranger Tides,’ we required landscapes so beautiful, they’re almost otherworldly.” After extensive location scouts, the  ilmmakers settled on the Hawaiian islands of Kauai and Oahu, each offering their particular attributes on both land and sea.

“Both islands, especially Kauai, have these extraordinary jungles, mountains and shorelines,” says Rob Marshall. “They’re so lush, oversized and just stunning. Oahu also has beautiful landscapes, and we also did all of our shooting at sea there of Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge.”

 “The Garden Island,” as Kauai is rightfully called, served up numerous landscapes well beyond Honopu Beach for a bewildering number of environments required for the film, as well as a considerable number of background players. In fact, an estimated 7,000 men turned up for open calls in both Kauai and Oahu a month and a half before the cameras turned, many decked out in pirate gear, including bandanas, headscarves, earrings and tattoos (mostly real). Several were selected, but six lucky candidates living in Hawaii actually became a core group of Queen Anne’s Revenge pirates, each with their own unique (if not eccentric) personalities.

Following the waterlogged and sun-drenched first day’s shoot on Honopu Beach, the company then proceeded, for a full month, to film on numerous locations throughout Kauai. Such locales as the grounds of the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Lawai, Kipu Ranch, Grove Farm and Valley House Ranch provided rich landscapes for thick jungle growth, rivers, chasms and cliffs, much of it ruggedly challenging for the cast and crew to access and film, especially with the two-camera,
3D rigs.

Although known to most tourists merely as the “Blue Room” or “Blue Cave,” to the native Hawaiian people in their richly poetic language, Waikapala’e on Kauai’s North Shore—just across the road from Ke’e Beach, where the company also filmed—is a place of great and sacred cultural significance. The exquisite cave grotto was chosen as the entrance to the caverns that lead to the Fountain of Youth, perhaps appropriate since the Hawaiians believe that the waters in Waikapala’e have their own life-giving power. Appropriately, the day’s filming there began with a powerful blessing ceremony conducted by a Hawaiian cultural practitioner. In fact, the “On Stranger Tides” company made certain that whenever filming on or near sacred grounds, such ceremonies were always conducted before the cameras turned.

The Queen Anne’s Revenge
“It’s always a thrill, and very exciting, to be on a pirate ship,” says Jerry Bruckheimer. “I think every kid wants to be a pirate, and working on these movies, we all have the chance to live our dreams.” Even if that pirate ship is a floating nightmare. Imposing, terrifyingly beautiful, a brutal beast of the sea, the Queen Anne’s Revenge is Blackbeard’s vessel, and an extension of his own dark vision of life…and death. Director Rob Marshall notes, “The Queen Anne’s Revenge is an incredibly evil vessel: It’s made of the skulls and bones of Blackbeard’s victims. It’s been prophesied that Blackbeard will die soon, so there is also a sense of doom on the ship. It’s a majestic pirate ship, so it was absolutely thrilling to sail.”

“The scale of it was unbelievable, and the craftsmanship was amazing,” comments actor Stephen Graham, who filmed many of his scenes aboard the craft. “It’s all hand-painted, hand-crafted, and it’s like being at Disneyland every single day.”

“How fabulous to work on a pirate movie and get to design a ship,” enthuses John Myhre. “We were handed the Black Pearl which was redesigned and built by Rick Heinrichs, the production designer of the second and third ‘Pirates’ films. Rick and his crew, plus the boat builders, constructed the Black Pearl around the hull of a modern steel boat, and it was completely navigable. And since the Black Pearl doesn’t figure into the story of ‘On Stranger Tides,’ Disney wanted us to use the ship as the base for the Queen Anne’s Revenge. So we basically sliced the entire top of the boat off, and were able to come up with whatever we wanted.” (To see how digital tools were used to create the actual vessel, see “Ship Shape” in the July 2007 issue of CGW.)

Myhre looked at a lot of old pirate films and noticed that it was not always easy to distinguish one ship from another in battles, but he wanted to make the Queen Anne’s Revenge stand out and look like the most powerful ship on the seas. “The real Blackbeard captured over 20 ships,” says Myhre, “so I pitched the idea that he kept the one that was the most elegant and grandest. So we took the base of a two-story ship and turned it into a three-and-a-half-story ship.”

Before its transformation into the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the Black Pearl sailed an astonishing 2400 nautical miles in two weeks from San Pedro, California to Barbers Point, Oahu, (since it was constructed for “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” built around the hull of an offshore supply boat called the Sunset, the Pearl has put in more than 8,000 nautical miles), under the expert seamanship of its captain, Glenn Hall, aka “Captain Kiwi” and his crew of seven very hearty shipmates.

After its retrofit and redesign by Myhre and U.S. Supervising Art Director Tomas Voth, the Pearl re-emerged as something utterly unlike its previous incarnation. “We decided to make the stern of the boat as high as it could possibly be and still be able to sail,” notes Voth. “On the third deck, we’re 55 feet up in the air from the water line. We had to put several tons of lead weight in the front of the ship so it didn’t pop a wheelie, and the ship is now 100 tons heavier than it was as the Black Pearl.”

The wall of skulls to the left and right of the door that leads into Blackbeard’s inner sanctum was actually moved from the Queen Anne’s Revenge to Pinewood Studios in England, where the interior of the cabin was constructed on a soundstage. “Designing something like the Queen Anne’s Revenge is what I most love about working on films, because they’re such a collaboration,” notes John Myhre. “I started drawing up these really beautiful baroque details for the ship, almost like Versailles, which would make the ship look really rich and elegant. We showed the drawings to Jerry Bruckheimer and Rob Marshall, and they loved them, but Jerry said something interesting: ‘Blackbeard had to be the scariest pirate we’ve ever had in a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie.’ Jerry said that since the most famous pirate flag is the skull and crossbones, we should work some skulls and skeletons into the actual design of the ship.

“I remembered Kostnice, the famous ‘Church of Bones’ in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic,” continues Myhre. “It’s this amazing church which is literally decorated with bones. They made garlands out of spines and pyramids out of skulls. And I thought, wow, instead of doing all this intricately carved molding details, what if we just used the bones of Blackbeard’s victims in the design of the Queen Anne’s Revenge? So we made moldings of leg and arm bones and teeth, and walls out of skulls, with the idea that Blackbeard actually burned his victims in a giant, flaming lantern on the stern of the ship.”

The figurehead of the “Queen Anne’s Revenge” was based on Blackbeard’s real flag, which was a great horned skeleton holding a goblet of wine in one hand and a spear in the other, as if he’s toasting his victims. “I always loved that,” says Myhre, “and thought that, for the figurehead, we would do something similar. And one of the legends of Blackbeard is that, going into battle, he would light fuses embedded in his beard, so he was always fiery and smoky. I thought it would be cool to transfer this idea to the ship itself, for it to be scary, devilish, fiery and smoky. So for the skeleton figurehead, we have fire coming out of the rib cage, eyes and goblet, and that casts a smoky haze around the entire ship. And the huge lantern in the back is sending off trails of smoke from the bow.

“We thought it would be great fun if Blackbeard has a huge stained-glass window in the back of his cabin at the rear of the ship,” adds Myhre, “which was illuminated by the giant fire lantern just outside. To me, it was about the light creating the atmosphere in the cabin, with the angry, billowing flame moving through the window.”

The interior of Blackbeard’s cabin was actually later built on B Stage at Pinewood Studios and included a large section of the huge stained-glass window. “We had a good time dressing the set,” says Myhre, “because in our incarnation of Blackbeard, he has supernatural powers, so we have many objects of the occult spread about, as well as more typical seafaring charts and navigational equipment. You have all his power and wealth and loot, but also a fantastic layer of magic and alchemy.”

Since Myhre had already appropriated the skeleton from Blackbeard’s real, historically correct flag for the Queen Anne’s Revenge figurehead, a new design was needed for the pirate’s flag in “On Stranger Tides,” ultimately contributed by Heather Pollington. What resulted was a fiery banner which wouldn’t look out of place on the back of a motorcycle gang jacket, fitting right in with the overall concept of Blackbeard as a “biker pirate,” as Costume Designer Penny Rose puts it. The Queen Anne’s Revenge was not only the setting for numerous scenes of action and supernatural mayhem, but also for a moonlit dance of romance, deception and double-dealing between Captain Jack and Angelica.

Whitecap Bay in Los Angeles, Real Mermaids and the Real Caribbean
Leaving behind the sylvan shores of Hawaii, the “On Stranger Tides” company flew to Los Angeles, where they spent a couple of days filming off the coast of Long Beach. In the film, the HMS Surprise—a beautiful replica of the 1757 British frigate HMS Rose—doubled as the Providence, shooting off the coast of Long Beach, Calif., about 120 miles up the coast from where the ship is usually docked at the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

The extraordinary Whitecap Bay set, 343 feet long and 22 feet deep, was designed by John Myhre and built with great skill by U.S. Construction Supervisor Greg Callas and his team at the “Falls Lake” section of Universal Studios in Los Angeles. “Whitecap Bay is the beginning of the third act of the movie,” notes Myhre, “part of the journey to find the Fountain of Youth. Whitecap Bay is where mermaids have been known to gather for hundreds of years.

“We needed to be in a completely controlled environment for the water sequence that happens there,” continues Myhre. “That’s why we went to Falls Lake, a series of connected concrete tanks that you can build a set into and on top of, and then flood. It was the only way you could really shoot the sequence on water and not put actors and stunt players in a dangerous situation.” Adds Rob Marshall, “That was complicated and long, all-night shoots, with a lot of stunt work, and a lot of underwater work. All of our characters were in wetsuits, being thrown around. So that was, without a doubt, the most complicated sequence and the most challenging.”

In addition to Astrid Bergès-Frisbey’s Syrena, “real” mermaids came in the form of seven gorgeous model/actresses (including Australia’s superstar Gemma Ward as the alluring Tamara) and a talented team of 22 synchronized swimmers—some of them Olympic competitors in Beijing in 2008—organized and choreographed by Candace Hipp, and outfitted in motion-capture suits to later be converted into “reel” mermaids by Visual Effects Supervisor Charles Gibson and Ben Snow of Industrial Light & Magic.

Considering the amount of time they all had to spend in the waters of the Whitecap Bay set at Universal—at night, no less—it helped greatly for them to have a comfort level in liquid surroundings. “In Australia, we have beach training from a very young age,” notes Ward, “and I’ve always loved being in the ocean. We did a lot of training in the water for this film with certain types of movements that mermaids make, and the way they move under water is very different from a human being. We had to learn how to move with our legs together and undulating movements.”

 “The biggest challenge,” notes synchronized swimming coach and choreographer Candace Hipp, “is that the girls don’t get to use their arms as much as they would like. So they’re using a ‘dolphining kick,’ one of the hardest kicks to use in swimming because of the stomach muscles that need to be used. This is when the swimmers jump out of the water as far as they can, keeping their legs together. They’re also using what’s called the ‘eggbeater,’ turning your legs around and around in circles as a way of treading water.”

The visual effects for “On Stranger Tides,” which would prove to be as much of a gamechanger as what had been done for the previous three films, were primarily handled by Industrial Light & Magic, Moving Picture Company and Cinesite, with contributions also made by CIS Hollywood, Rising Sun, Method and Hydraulx, all under the supervision of Charles Gibson, who won an Academy Award, with a few collaborators, for their work on “Dead Man’s Chest.”

In addition to creating photorealistic mermaids, Gibson and his legion of VFX artists would be called upon to do everything from extending the urban landscapes of 18th-century London to altering the already-astounding natural environments filmed in Hawaii, not to mention bringing a whole ship to terrifying life in the Queen Anne’s Revenge mutiny sequence.

It would be up to Gibson, VFX Producer David Conley and Ben Snow of Industrial Light & Magic to ultimately convert the blacksuited swimmers into terrifying mermaids. “Based on what ILM had done with Bill Nighy and Davy Jones in ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ and ‘At World’s End,’” notes Gibson, “we knew that we could create fully synthetic characters with great fidelity that matched the performances of live-action characters. The actresses who played the mermaids were tracked wearing either special suits or, in some cases, transfer tattoos when they couldn’t be wearing suits. These were then blended so that we had the best of both worlds.”

Adds ILM’s Ben Snow, “We put the synchronized swimmers into ILM’s tracking costumes. They’re wearing marker bands so we can edit our computer mermaids where the synchronized swimmers and stunt players were. The swimmers are really amazing. They’re able to do incredible things with their bodies, like ‘porpoise-ing’ in and out of the water. One of the ways that we can use the performance of the swimmers is to track them by the markers they wear on their costumes. We have a couple of our people shooting with video cameras, and we are able to synchronize those with the RED digital cameras used for actual filming. That helps us track the movements, because we can use the multiple angles and that allows us to take what Rob Marshall was doing when he directed the scenes and reproduce them in animation. We’ve come up with an interesting design for the mermaids, part creature and part beautiful women, with long, jellyfish-like tendrils that whip out and drag sailors to their doom. It’s technically very challenging, but also very exciting.”

Charlie Gibson and company also helped to create the seaweed whips that the mermaids use to drag the hapless pirates to their doom. “Stunt coordinator George Ruge had his guys getting pulled on rigs and ratchets,” notes Gibson, “so we just rode on their coattails and created the right animation to create a successful hybrid of real action and visual effects.”

And then the “On Stranger Tides” company found themselves, finally, in the real Caribbean as they flew from Los Angeles to Puerto Rico to shoot in Old San Juan and a tiny island off the east coastal city of Fajardo.

Onto London and Back in Time
“One of the most exciting aspects of ‘On Stranger Tides,’” says Jerry Bruckheimer, “is that, for the first time, we have a London setting for part of the story, rather than the jungles, oceans and colonial outposts of the Caribbean. It really gives the film an entirely different look and feeling.”

Although the venerable Pinewood Studios outside of London would provide John Myhre, U.K. Supervising Art Director Gary Freeman and their mammoth art department with a gigantic playground in which to build their sets, some of the region’s most heralded historical buildings and other sites would also host the “On Stranger Tides” production. So ambitious was the effort to create the physical world of the film, the U.K. art department for the film numbered six art directors, five draftsmen and concept, graphic and storyboard artists. Construction Manager Andy Evans’ department included 62 carpenters, 29 painters, 71 plasterers, 36 riggers and 14 sculptors…not surprising when one considers that the production built huge sets on five different Pinewood soundstages, including the 007 Stage, the largest such facility in Europe, and a large exterior backlot set as well.

The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, England, is an extraordinary collection of historic buildings dating from the late 17th to the mid 18th centuries—with its own piratical connections—which essentially became a backlot for more than three weeks of filming. The building standing in for the Old Bailey courthouse in the film is actually Sir Christopher Wren’s magnificent Painted Hall, which was partially financed with funds confiscated by the Crown from Captain Kidd’s booty after he was hung at Execution Dock across the Thames from the complex in Blackwall.

During actual filming, a huge blue screen was situated, with the image of Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and sailing ship masts “painted” in by artists from Visual Effects Supervisor Charles Gibson’s department. “We needed a really wonderful opening establishing shot of deep in the heart of London,” notes John Myhre, “so we used the lower level of the buildings of the Old Royal Naval College for our extras, carriages and horses, but everything above the first level painted in through visual effects.” This included replacing the Painted Hall’s weathervane with a digital re-creation of Lady Justice, who strides atop the Old Bailey, holding a sword in one hand, the scales of justice in the other. A scene was actually filmed inside of Wren’s Painted Hall of Captain Jack being unceremoniously dragged through the entrance hall of St. James Palace by Royal Guards.

A huge swath of the Old Royal Naval College, including the exteriors of the Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul, Grand Square, Queen Mary Court and buildings which currently house the University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music, were also utilized for the film’s thrilling carriage-chase sequence.

Completely obscuring the modern pavement were copious amounts of realistic mud, with more than 500 costumed extras, 25 period carriages (85 percent of which were originals rather than replicas), 50 horses and untold crew members, from Jerry Bruckheimer and Rob Marshall onward, getting realistically filthy in the process, up to their ankles in muck. Trinity College also provided the company with often marvelously incongruous background music to the exciting goings-on, including jazz and modernistic twelve-tone.

Re-creating both the exterior and interior of St. James Palace in “On Stranger Tides” required the seamless melding of shooting at Hampton Court Palace for Captain Jack’s surprise arrest by Royal Guards, then the interior of the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich as the pirate is literally dragged by soldiers to King George II’s lavish dining room, followed by a built set piece of the St. James Palace exterior built at the ORNC. The king’s dining room, however, was in fact a splendid set on R Stage at Pinewood Studios.

“That becomes an amazing action sequence, and for that, you need to control the environment completely,” notes John Myhre. “When you have Captain Jack swinging on chandeliers and throwing chairs through 18th-century windows, you need to build it.”

The St. James dining-hall sequence was exquisitely lit by Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski with flickering candlelight, and with authentic makeup and powdered wigs—a few of hundreds prepared by Hair Department Head Peter King, yet another Academy Award– winning artist—adorning the king and his chief advisers. With great Shakespearean actors Roger Allam and Anton Lesser on either side of Richard Griffiths, the scene gave Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” a run for the money in period authenticity and detail.

Sharing R Stage at Pinewood with the St. James Palace dining hall was an intricate re-creation of an Old Bailey courtroom, circa 1750, with paintings of nobles and other worthies decorating the walls and Set Decorator Gordon Sim and UK Propmaster Ty Teiger’s departments securing the required quill pens, parchment and period law books. With the addition of Penny Rose’s costumes and Hair Designer Peter King’s powdered wigs and other hairstyles of the day, the set looked
ready for actual proceedings.

Just behind the 007 Stage on the Pinewood backlot was a remarkably atmospheric re-creation of a mid-18th-century London dockyard street. The street’s architecture reflects several eras, from Tudor and Elizabethan half-timber to stone and wooden structures, all meticulously detailed, right down to period graffiti.

One ornate set was designed by Myhre and built at Pinewood for the scene in which Captain Jack and Barbossa play teeter-totter in attempting to retrieve the chalices needed for the Fountain of Youth ritual inside of Ponce de Leon’s cabin on the precariously perched “Santiago.” This set has the most overt link to the original Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland, resulting from Rob Marshall’s research ride before he began filming “On Stranger Tides.” He noted the tableau known as the ‘Captain’s Quarters,’ in which a skeletal figure peers at a map with a magnifying glass, surrounded by mounds of treasure. This became yet another in a series of direct tips of the pirate’s hat in the four “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies to the original attraction.

Once again, Set Decorator Gordon Sim and his department created a cornucopia of furniture, pirate’s booty, a harpsichord, drapery and other accoutrements to contribute even more atmospheric flair. Surely, John Myhre’s pièce de résistance was the gargantuan Fountain of Youth set. The final concept of the Fountain of Youth, constructed along with a cavern which extended the entrance and was filmed back at Waikapala’e in Kauai, was designed by Myhre and his team of art directors, and brilliantly erected by Andy Evans’ construction department, on the famed Albert R. Broccoli 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios, the largest such facility in Europe. Inhabiting nearly every inch of its 59,000 square feet—the only stage big enough to contain Myhre’s vision—the set took three months to construct.

U.K. Special Effects Supervisor Neil Corbould was responsible for keeping the Fountain of Youth set filled with 1.5 million gallons of water, which had to be turned over every three hours, with filters taking particles out and chemicals pumped in to keep it clean for the actors, background and stunt players working in it. A separate tank in the back of the set, with pumps and 20 nozzles, created a waterfall backdrop. And two tons of dry ice per day kept an atmospheric mist on the water. Five thousand square meters of moss as well as a few thousand ferns and roots and hanging plants were brought in to dress the set.

“The only way we would release ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’ in 3D,” states Jerry Bruckheimer, “is if the film was actually filmed in 3D. This was very important to both Rob Marshall and me, because what we want to do is to give the audience a completely immersive experience in crystal-clear 3D that brings them right into the action, not hurt their eyeballs. And this is one of the first big adventure films to shoot in 3D on location rather than against green screen or entirely on soundstages. With this one, we are actually in the jungles, on the beaches and on the streets of 18th-century London.

“It’s a much different experience when you have to deal with the elements with two cameras rather than one, so it takes more time and adds to your budget,” Bruckheimer continues. “But shooting in digital 3D gives real dimension and size to the movie.”

“We felt very much like pioneers, I have to say,” adds Marshall, “because rarely has a film taken 3D cameras into these remote locations. We took these delicate cameras into locations like jungles, beaches, caves and ships. It was a challenge. We discovered a lot on our feet as we were going.”

Shooting in 3D presented numerous challenges to Director of Photography Dariusz Wolski (who had served in that capacity on all three previous “Pirates of the Caribbean” films on 2D 35mm film and whose collaborations with Jerry Bruckheimer go all the way back to “Crimson Tide”). “Jerry really threw a curveball at me when he said that we should shoot ‘On Stranger Tides’ in 3D,” Wolski admits. “It was a fairly new technology, and other big adventure films, like ‘Avatar,’ had been done primarily in the computer.

No one had really done a movie from beginning to end, physically on location, in 3D. And especially a movie like ‘On Stranger Tides,’ which required exotic locations, big seats, boats, jungles, beaches and all the natural environments. “It was very ambitious, and very scary,” Wolski continues, “because although everyone wants to make 3D movies, it wasn’t really figured out. We shot with two RED cameras rigged together, one shooting into a mirror. Everything has to be electronically coordinated, so there are a lot of cables, scientists and computers all over the set, and we also had a 3D monitor that we used to analyze the imagery while we were filming.”

The highly evolved RED cameras also allowed Wolski to film 3D with great attention to historic detail and lighting. “We’re trying to be very true to the period in retaining candle and natural light, as you see in 18th-century paintings. The RED is remarkable when it comes to low light level, which people relate to, as they do to a beautiful sunset,” adds Wolski.

As for the artful usage of 3D in “On Stranger Tides,” Dave Drzewiecki, the on-set stereographer, notes, “You can poke people in the eyes with spears and shoot water at the lens, but that’s not really what this movie’s about. It’s actually a very immersive and, in many ways, subtle use of the 3D experience, and it’s much grander in its depth.”

With 106 first-unit days of filming completed on November 18, 2010, it was then up to Jerry Bruckheimer, Rob Marshall, John DeLuca and Associate Producer/post-production maestro Pat Sandston to marshal their vast team of film editors, sound- and visual- effects artists, Composer Hans Zimmer and others to complete the film in a pressure- cooker six months before its mid/late May 2011 openings around the world.

In the end, as Bruckheimer notes, the best memories of shooting “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” are “the relationships with the cast and crew. Johnny is back, Geoffrey and Kevin are back, and now there are new friendships with Rob, John [DeLuca], Penélope, Ian, Sam and Astrid. The fun of it is making new friends and working with them.”

Director Rob Marshall sums up, “It was a grand adventure on-screen and off. Each moment as we were making this film, whether it was in Hawaii or London or wherever we were, I believe everyone felt part of this unique experience.”