Another key "casting" challenge was finding
the ideal vessel to portray the HMS Surprise, Captain Aubrey's 28-gun
warship. Early in pre-production, during a trip to Europe, Weir walked
the deck of the restored HMS Victory, the vessel commanded by Lord
Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar. ln addition, the director attended
several tall ship festivals and spoke with scores of people from the
worldwide tall ship community.
ln 2000 Weir joined Captain Chris Blake (who would become one of the
films many prominent technical advisors) for a cruise on the Endeavor,
a museum-quality replica of Captain Cook's famous vesse!. A year later,
Weir embarked on a second voyage aboard the Endeavor, this time bringing
along producer Duncan Henderson, executive producer Alan Curtiss and
cinematographer Russell Boyd. "I wanted to be sure they too would
have the experience stored in their bones when it came time for our
'voyage'," says the director.
Weir's search ultimately led him to the American tall ship Rose,
home port Rhode Island. The three-masted wooden frigate, formerly
the country's largest sailing school vessel, is a twentieth century
replica of a 1800s-era British Royal Navy ship.
Twentieth Century Fox purchased the Rose. (Upon completion of principal
photography, Fox donated the ship back to a non-profit naval history
organisation.) The Rose travelled through the Panama Canal en-route
from Rhode Island to the West Coast, enduring a hurricane and a broken
mast before arriving at a San Diego dry dock to prepare for her transformation
into HMS Surprise.
ln its incarnation as HMS Surprise, the Rose was utilised for several
weeks of shooting at sea by first and second units. This unique "shooting
stage" was retrofitted to be authentic to the period, as well as to
be able to accommodate the principal cast, filmmakers, camera crew,
hai´r, makeup, wardrobe, props and other departrnents necessary to
shoot the scenes. The Rose's actual crew manned the vessel as it moved
through the Baja waters. (Russell Crowe also learned to sail The Rose,
and assumed the "helm" on several occasions.)
"We've gone to great lengths for historical authenticity,"
says master shipwright Leon Poindexter, another of the film's technical
and historical consultants. Poindexter also worked with twenty shipwrights
to retrofit the Rose in San Diego, and helped relocate it to its production
home in Ensenada, Mexico. "We received fully documented construction
details from the Admiralty in the D.K., and used mathematical formulas
to determine the proper anchor size," says Poindexter. "Every
inch of this ship, clown to the placement of the mooring cables bas
been carefully researched."
"I loved being out on the Rose," says Russell Crowe, who
earlier had sailed through tempest-tossed waters in Fiji (coincidentally
in a boat named the Surprise) to begin preparing for bis role as Jack
Aubrey. "Climbing a mast on The Rose at sea, 137 feet above the
ocean, was a highlight for me. Those days were really special; there
was an immense sense of freedom because we weren't connected to the
The filmmakers built a second "HMS Surprise" - the 60-ton tank ship
- over a four month period. This ship was placed in a 6 - acre water
tank at the Fox Studios Baja home to Titanic. This Surprise
was constructed completely trom scratch, with painstaking attention
to detail, clown to the lanterns, hammocks and the aging of the ship
and its sails.
At the same time, New Zealand-based special effects house Weta Workshop,
part of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy effects team, built
detailed ship miniatures. Their Surprise was over 25 feet in length.
Additional models were digitally constructed in the computer of visual
effects bouse Asylum.
The massive tank ship in Mexico was mounted on a specially constructed
gimbal, the largest ever used in a motion picture production. Powerful
hydraulics brought to life the monstrous mechanism, which faci1itated
a complete range of motion, duplicating a ship's movements at sea.
"We rocked and rolled from Brazil to the Galapagos Islands in
that tank," says Weir.
Director of photography Russell Boyd notes that thanks to the gimbal,
shooting on the tank sometimes felt like filming at sea. "The
gimbal gave a pitching and rolling motion to the set, so that the
whole set actually moved like a ship at sea," says Boyd. "We
all had to develop sea legs fairly early on, just to work on the tank
ship." Boyd and bis team used a techno-crane with a libra head,
with the camera sitting on three axes-horizontal, forward/backward
and levelling - enabling them to counteract the ship's movement.
A set representing the Surprise's gkun deck was also outfitted with
a gimbal, and built on a bluff overlooking the ocean at Fox Studios
Baja. This set, like the tank ship, could be rotated.A third gimbal
wasused for the Sage 3 Berth Deck, the low-ceilinged and crampedquarters
where sailors slept in rows of hammocks and ate their meals. The Orlop
Deck, the lowest deck of the Surprise was situated on Stage 4, which
later housed the Acheron gun deck, the site of major hand-tohand fighting
during the final battle.
Fox Baja soundstages housed other sets representing different deck
levels of the Surprise, including the ship's Great Cabin, on Stage
2.The Great Cabin housed Captain Aubrey's relatively elaborate private
quarters and seved as the backdrop for dinner parties for the Captainand
his officers, as well as scenes where Aubrey sought solitude to contemplate
some difficult decisions. The Great Cabin was also a meeting place
for Aubrey and Maturin, who would relax playing duets on violin and
Over a period of several months,the filmmakers constructed an Acheron
tank ship, in a parking lot near the Studio's front entrance.Upon
the "Acheron's" completion, it was carefully divided into
four portions and moved by a giant crane down the street and into
the tank for use in the final battle.
As the sets were readied,theactors portraying the officers and crew
of the Surprise underwent training to immerse themselves in the rigors
of life aboad ship.They trained in open ocean sailing on the Rose,
climbing the rigging, navigation, small arms handling, canonts, sword
fighting, military etiquette and learning how to perform the work
or the characters they portray in the film.