The Far Side of the World

Master and Commander

The Ships and Sets

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 land."

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 cello.
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.

HMS Surprise



Backgrund Information about the
Napoleonic Wars and the Movie
Master and commander 5: huge photos
Cast and Crew The ships of those times
The crew of the Surprise (from the Premiere documents) The Royal Film Premiere
The Ships and Sets (from the Premiere documents) Creating the most realistic sea storm ever filmed (from the Premiere documents)
Historical and Character Research (from the Premiere documents) A dictionary of nautical terms for Landlubbers
The Captain's Log Musical Evenings with the Captain