The studios are large enough to house a small forest. In fact, Barrandov’s brand new ‘Max’ Stage 8 became C.S. Lewis’ Dancing Lawn, an indoor forest complete with a sophisticated sprinkling system to feed the living set. “Dancing Lawn is a place so deep in the forest that the Telmarines have never found it,” production designer Roger Ford explains. “In the book, it's a place where the fauns and other Narnian creatures go to dance in the night. In the film, it’s the place the Narnians gather to plan their campaign with Caspian.”
The designer used Lewis’ scant descriptive phrases as the inspiration for his vivid interpretations of the film’s settings. He did not take his obligations lightly, understanding that his interpretations would be closely scrutinized by fans.
Ford’s signature set piece was the mammoth castle courtyard built on the studio’s backlot. The set, which he calls a character in the story, began with Lewis’ simple phrase: “Caspian lived in a great castle...” Six stories high, the castle shoots some 200 feet into the sky courtesy of VFX augmentation and contains more than 20,000 square feet of interior space. The magnificent design took 200 carpenters, painters, sculptors and other craftspeople 15 weeks to build.
Two symbols were chosen to emphasize that the Telmarines “are warlike, and not a very nice bunch of chaps,” according to Ford. Much of the Telmarine world is adorned with the head of an eagle, which embellishes not only the castle courtyard on the backlot and the crossbows used by the Telmarines, but the arms of the various thrones scattered throughout Miraz’s Great Hall.
In addition, Ford was inspired by the Telmarines’ origins as a pirate culture to use the compass on the soldiers’ shields, in the architecture of the Great Hall and in the banners fabricated for each of the 21 lords under Miraz’s rule.
Equally impressive in scope and detail are the ruins of the Stone Table in the How, where Aslan the Lion was sacrificed in the first story. The crypt-like, circular structure was carved out of plaster and polystyrene, with pillars reaching dozens of feet towards the stage’s towering ceiling. It contains a series of detailed plaster carvings that depict the history of the Narnians over the past 1,300 years.
“The How was such an important storytelling piece because of the Stone Table,” explains supervising art director Frank Walsh. “We had to develop and tell the story of what happened during those missing hundreds of years. These carved stone panels are all very important images.”
Adamson came up with the idea of “a channel or trough around the How directly beneath the wall carvings,” Ford says. “It is a well of oil that Caspian lights with a torch. The flames encircle the room, lighting up the panels.”
“We couldn’t use real oil or burning liquid because it’s hard to control,” explains mechanical effects supervisor and designer Gerd Feuchter. “We had to create a special propane burner which we then placed underneath a level of colored water.” The grid of propane valves sat underwater in the circular trough, which baffled set visitors, who had no idea that propane could burn underwater.
Ford’s crew spent over two months in the Bovec region of Slovenia erecting a massive bridge over the River Soca and its tributary Gljun for the setting of what may be the most memorable moment in the film, the River God sequence.
“In the book, the Bridge at Beruna is built by the Telmarines hundreds of years earlier,” says the designer. “When the Narnians are finally victorious, Aslan calls on the River God to destroy the bridge and free the river.”
Industrial engineers were called in to reroute the river’s flow to accommodate Ford’s set designs for the scene. The film’s bridge was constructed out of over-sized pine logs lashed together with massive ropes. It had to be a practical bridge that could hold 200 soldiers (and dozens of crew members and heavy equipment) charging across it. “It was really quite extraordinary,” Ford says, referring to the engineering and the machinery involved.
“It required a real piece of civil engineering,” adds supervising art director Frank Walsh, “We were introduced to the biggest bridge builder in Slovenia, the Primorje Group, and they didn’t even bat an eye. They adapted their operation and approach to what we wanted, came on board and were fantastic.”