Oliver Stones Alexander is based on the true
story of Alexander the Great, one of historys 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
Alexanders pre-Christian world of social customs and morals
far different from todays, the film explores a time of unmatched
beauty and unbelievable brutality, of soaring ideals and staggering
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 Beavans
most striking creations, a red dress boldly worn by Angelina Jolie
as Olympias, Alexanders 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 Alexanders mind and heart, notes Beavan.
Beavan and her crew were also responsible for the voluminous amounts
of armor required to outfit Alexanders 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 Alexanders
double-plumed lions 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 safetys 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 Alexanders 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 films arresting visuals is the wedding of
Alexander and the princess Roxane in a fortress in ancient Bactria
part of todays 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 Beavans wedding costumes reflect the cultural mix of
Alexanders world, particularly Roxanes magnificent and
exotic bridal attire. When I researched it, I found that Afghanistani
techniques havent changed much in two thousand years,
says Beavan. They sewed gold into clothes, which we did both
for Roxane and Alexanders wedding costumes. I wanted Roxane
to look sexy, and I often think that the less you see the more there
Londons 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 Alexanders
era is left, leaving the design of the courtyard of the Indian palace
open to interpretation. To better illustrate the monsoon rains that
Alexanders 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, Macedonias capital and Alexanders
boyhood home. Olympias chambers in which Alexander
would spend his earliest days contain powerful frescoes from
Homers The Iliad, and the floor is comprised of painstakingly
inlaid pebbles, with hand-painted bas relief human figures decorating
Roelfs piece de resistance proved to be the magnificent city
of Babylon. Babylon is definitely the richest set Ive
ever done, enthuses the designer. Alexanders entry
into Babylon is the pinnacle of his career. Hes 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 terraces
Perhaps the most dazzling part of the set is Darius IIIs
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 worlds lost treasures, the Alexandria Library.
The geometrically designed marble floor offsets mosaic frescoes
depicting Alexanders 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 teams 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 Greats ancient world was faithfully recreated
for modern audiences to experience as never before.
Design - Part I