Ancient Times

By Kadner, Noah | American Cinematographer, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Ancient Times


Kadner, Noah, American Cinematographer


The makers of 10,000 B.C. used modern tools to reviisit the prehistoric era.

The movie 70,000 B.C. chronicles the prehistoric life of young hunter D'Leh (Steven Strait) and his epic journey across several civilizations in an attempt to save his tribe from marauders. Along the way, D'Leh must tangle with man and beast, the latter in the form of saber-toothed tigers, woolly mammoths and other creatures. The film was directed by Roland Emmerich, who was aided by two of his frequent collaborators, cinematographer Ueli Steiger, ASC and visual-effects supervisor Karen Goulekas. New to the team was production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos, who worked across several locations, including some in South Africa, Namibia and New Zealand, to create primitive villages and action set pieces.

"I was contacted about the project in June 2005 and did weeks of conceptual research," recalls Puzos. "I did two sets of propositions for the look of the film, and Roland chose me. I began work on the film in September 2005, and by then, Karen and her team were already working on the woolly mammoths for the opening sequence. My work was constantly overlapping with Ueli's and Karen's. They'd done several movies with Roland, and they helped me get connected to Roland's world."

The giant elephant ancestors featured in the sequence were entirely CG and had to interact with both real and digital Stuntmen in a series of handheld and helicopter shots. "The mammoth hunt was completely previsualized in Maya," says Steiger. "We had to know which shots had animals, when we would need greenscreen, where the real people would be and so on. It's whole armies moving, and we're seeing them from the air. The previz really helped to isolate the big, expensive shots."

The mammoth sequence was originally to be shot in Drakensberg, South Africa, but the filmmakers discovered they couldn't get the necessary permissions to do the work they'd envisioned. "There was a lot of red tape because it was a national park and heritage site," notes Emmerich. "I went with UeIi to scout in New Zealand for a second-unit shoot and some additional mountain plates. We were in a helicopter, and I saw this absolutely perfect spot on a mountain. I convinced the studio to switch locations. We'd already started setting up the huts for the mammoth hunt in South Africa. We packed it all up and flew it over in a giant cargo plane. It took about eight or nine weeks to make the switch, but it really paid off."

Another major effects sequence showcases D'Leh struggling with an all-CG saber-toothed tiger in a pool of water at night in the rain. "The idea is the tiger is stuck underneath tree branches," says Goulekas. "We had to determine the tiger's size and position; Jean-Vincent's department was building logs and everything lying over the creature, but we wanted to make sure there was still room for the tiger. …

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