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ALEXANDER

Reconstructing the Ancent World
Production Design and Costumes

Oliver Stone’s Alexander is based on the true story of Alexander the Great, one of history’s most luminous and influential leaders – a man who had conquered 90% of the known world by the age of 25, and by the time of his death at 32 had forged an empire unlike any the world had ever seen. Set in Alexander’s pre-Christian world of social customs and morals far different from today’s, the film explores a time of unmatched beauty and unbelievable brutality, of soaring ideals and staggering betrayals.

Alexander director/screenwriter Oliver Stone demanded the highest level of historical accuracy be achieved in every detail of the film. Each prop, weapon, piece of furniture and set dressing was designed and created expressly for the production. Workshops for the art and wardrobe departments roiled with tremendous activity months before the cameras rolled, producing some of the most detailed re-creations of the ancient world in motion picture history.

The story of Alexander the Great encompasses many incredibly diverse ancient civilizations portrayed over several decades and Academy Award-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan was charged with creating more than 20,000 items of historically accurate dress. The costume designer consulted with historian Robin Lane Fox and Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, Doctor of Ancient History at Exeter University, who specializes in ancient costume. “There are an enormous number of vase paintings left from Greek civilization,” notes Beavan, “and a certain amount of written material, so we knew how they wove their fabrics.” Exquisite materials from the world over were fashioned to match the carefully researched styles of ancient Macedonia, Greece, Persia, Bactria, Sogdiana, Scythia and India.

Scenes shot in a grand Macedonian amphitheatre feature one of Beavan’s most striking creations, a red dress boldly worn by Angelina Jolie as Olympias, Alexander’s mother, as she sits in an ocean of white linen worn by hundreds of other actors and extras. “The red dress indicates how much Olympias stood out both in Macedonian society and in Alexander’s mind and heart,” notes Beavan.

Beavan and her crew were also responsible for the voluminous amounts of armor required to outfit Alexander’s army. “We researched the different wardrobe categories of the Macedonian army, with excellent input from [Alexander military consultant] Captain Dale Dye,” says Beavan. “We constructed our initial armor in leather and brass, which were then replicated in lighter and more supple plastic.” Beavan paid particularly close attention to the various suits of armor worn by
Alexander and his generals, some of which weighed as much as 30 pounds. One of the most emblematic wardrobe pieces is Alexander’s double-plumed lion’s head helmet, and upwards of 10 duplicates were on hand at all times during filming.

With the wardrobe department supplying the uniforms, it was up to armorer Richard
Hooper to forge the vast array of weaponry utilized by the Macedonian, Persian, Indian and Scythian armies. Hooper and his crew would sometimes have to equip as many as 1,500 soldiers per day, necessitating the creation of 12,000 functional pieces of equipment: approximately 1,000 sarissas (14-foot-long lances), 2,000 shields, 2,000 swords, 750 bows and 9,000 arrows. Most of the weapons were tooled by Hooper of actual metal, with realistic plastic versions created for stunt and horse riding situations, although the spears and arrows were rubber-tipped for safety’s sake.

The pivotal Battle of Gaugamela was filmed on an 8-mile stretch of desert outside Marrakech, Morocco. It was there that the art department constructed Alexander’s magnificently decorated headquarters in his tented camp on the edges of the battlefield. Alexander was inestimably influenced by stories of Greek heroes from his youth, so the designers mounted the legendary Shield of Achilles above his throne and encased the scrolls of The Iliad and The Odyssey in an ivory box by the side of his bed.

Another of the film’s arresting visuals is the wedding of Alexander and the princess Roxane in a fortress in ancient Bactria – part of today’s Afghanistan. The elaborate set was constructed on a plateau in the Lower Atlas Mountains of Morocco. As nothing remains of ancient Bactria, the fortress was designed by production designer Jan Roelfs from a combination of research and imagination. As much of contemporary Afghanistani architecture is comprised of mud walls, the fort was created from mud, plaster and timber.

Jenny Beavan’s wedding costumes reflect the cultural mix of Alexander’s world, particularly Roxane’s magnificent and exotic bridal attire. “When I researched it, I found that Afghanistani techniques haven’t changed much in two thousand years,” says Beavan. “They sewed gold into clothes, which we did both for Roxane and Alexander’s wedding costumes. I wanted Roxane to look sexy, and I often think that the less you see the more there is.”

London’s famed Pinewood Studios housed enormous environments created by Jan Roelfs and company for the film, crafted and constructed with enormous care and attention to detail. The first was the exotic courtyard of an Indian palace. Due to the fact that the Indian people constructed their palaces of wood, no architecture from Alexander’s era is left, leaving the design of the courtyard of the Indian palace open to interpretation. To better illustrate the monsoon rains that Alexander’s troops experience on their journey, Roelfs chose an open air concept with a grand
courtyard, accented with pools of water.

On the next soundstage resided the interior and the courtyard of the royal palace of Pella, Macedonia’s capital and Alexander’s boyhood home. Olympias’ chambers – in which Alexander would spend his earliest days – contain powerful frescoes from Homer’s The Iliad, and the floor is comprised of painstakingly inlaid pebbles, with hand-painted bas relief human figures decorating the walls.

Roelfs’ piece de resistance proved to be the magnificent city of Babylon. “Babylon is definitely the richest set I’ve ever done,” enthuses the designer. “Alexander’s entry into Babylon is the pinnacle of his career. He’s never seen such splendor in his life, never before encountered a culture which in many ways is superior to his own.” The lush Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, were incorporated into the design. Set decorator Jim Erickson called upon his gardening skills and horticultural knowledge to acquire plants appropriate to the historical time and place. Scenic artist Steve Mitchell painted a 150 foot long, 45 foot tall,
wraparound cyclorama depicting a photo-realistic, microscopically detailed panoramic view of Babylon as seen from the palace terrace’s apex.

Perhaps the most dazzling part of the set is Darius III’s bedroom, which Alexander takes as his own after defeating the Persian King. The intricate wooden screens were all hand-carved in Morocco, as was the huge overhead fan featuring the woven image of the Persian supreme deity Ahura Mazda, and all of the canopies and drapings, fabricated in Pakistan.

Shepperton Studios played host to the incredibly ambitious re-creation of one of the world’s lost treasures, the Alexandria Library. The geometrically designed marble floor offsets mosaic frescoes depicting Alexander’s heroic deeds. The massive shelves that lined the walls held over 25,000 different scrolls, each made from real papyrus imported from Egypt to simulate the library as it was 2,500 years ago. So exacting was Jan Roelfs’ team’s attention to detail that there was a separate papyrus scroll to represent each and every single work that would have been enshrined in the ancient library, with each scroll bearing a unique identifying label noting the name of the work.
This meticulous and painstaking attention to detail is emblematic of the care taken by everyone involved with the production, ensuring that Alexander the Great’s ancient world was faithfully recreated for modern audiences to experience as never before.

Production Design - Part I

(Click images for larger versions)

The Amphitheatre where King Phillip
(Val Kilmer) has himself enshrined as
the 13th god of the Greek Pantheon.

Wide shot of the filming of the entrance
to Babylon including the Ishtar Gate.

The magnificent furnishings of
Alexander’s campaign tent include the
Throne of Darius III, taken by Alexander
after his defeat of the Persian King at
Gaugamela.

The courtyard palace in Pella, dressed
for the feast celebrating King Philip’s
betrothal to Eurydice.

An anteroom inside the Pella Palace,
clearly showing the exquisite rock
mosaic floor.

The courtyard of Balkh Fort, decorated
for Alexander and Roxane’s wedding.

A sweeping view of the Babylon Palace
central courtyard.

Another view of the Babylon Palace.

A bedchamber in the Babylon Palace,
showing the Persian love of ornate
detail.

The magnificent interior of Alexander’s
campaign tent.

The center court of the Indian Palace
constructed on the 007 stage at
Pinewood Studios.

One of the entrance stairways to the
Indian Palace, demonstrating the
intricate woodcarving.

A view of the exotic Indian Palace
courtyard, which took 4 months to
construct.

A view from Olympias’ chamber, filled
with exquisite design detail.

The atrium of the Alexandria Library,
one of the lost wonders of the world,
re-created for the film.

Interior of Alexander’s military campaign
tent.

The Costumes - Part II

Alexander (Colin Farrell) watches the
vast Persian army gather at Gaugamela. .

Alexander (Colin Farrell) in Babylon.

An older Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins)
muses about the past. (A bust of Philip
of Macedonia on the left.)

Alexander (Colin Farrell) and Roxane
(Rosario Dawson) in front of the
wedding bread that celebrates their
marriage..

Roxane (Rosario Dawson), later on her
wedding night.

(Angelina Jolie) as Queen Olympias.

Olympias (Angelina Jolie) seated in the
Greek amphitheatre.

Alexander will be released on November 24, 2004, and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures,
a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, and Intermedia.
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