Centurion

Director Neil Marshall, Producer Christian Colson, Celador Films/Pathe - 2010

Centurion is based on the legend of the Ninth Legion, the army of 3000 Roman soldiers who vanished without trace in Scotland. It tells the tale of their vicious conflict with The Picts who's leader has taken hostage Roman corporal Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) and the Ninth are ordered to bring him home and end Pict domination in Scotland. Led by General Virilus (Dominic West) and guided by a Pictish warrior prisoner Etain (Olga Kurylenko), the army marches towards enemy territory and finds itself in the midst of perilous battle with a mysterious foe.

Click below to watch the trailer.

Set for a tavern on York.

Set for a tavern on York.

Roman military camp.

Roman military camp.

The project demanded a good knowledge of the Roman military, their hierarchy, fighting techniques and multinational mix of the legionaries as well as their uniforms, armoury, tents, forts, eating habits, lighting, cooking equipment, horse tack, etc. A fantastic amount of information was gathered from artefacts in museums, records from archaeological sites and re-enactment groups.

Chancellor Agricola's private tent, shot at Shepperton Studios.

Chancellor Agricola's private tent, shot at Shepperton Studios.

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Graphics were an important part of the design for the film, from a map that showed the spread of the Roman Empire into Britain in the opening credits to the 9th Legion motif which appeared on the uniforms, horse tack and banners.

The script required a Roman fort a day's march from Carlisle. In the Roman period this would have been made from the trees felled to make the clearing in which it stood. I wanted it to look regimented, as if really built by a group of experienced and well organised soldiers. I wanted the 100 foot square fort to have an area for their leather tents, stable space for horses and livestock, a cooking area and a blacksmiths for making and maintaining weaponry.

A 1/4 inch scale model of the fort built for the film, used by construction explanation, story boarding and stunt meetings.

A 1/4 inch scale model of the fort built for the film, used by construction explanation, story boarding and stunt meetings.

Fort dressed and being filmed.

Fort dressed and being filmed.

Huts made from cast foam walls with real thatch roofs.

Huts made from cast foam walls with real thatch roofs.

Model showing layout of the round houses along with three cut-out background huts.

Model showing layout of the round houses along with three cut-out background huts.

Standing stone decorated with carved Pictish art.

Standing stone decorated with carved Pictish art.

Within the film kept a theme that the Romans follow geometry and symmetry in their architecture and decoration whereas the Pict people design using flowing shapes with animal symbolism. I used these symbols on the twelve foot high standing stone at the centre of the village, decorated with authentic Pictish representations of animals foretelling the story of the film using a bull (the Roman 9th Legion motif) and a wolf (Etain the Pictish warrior). These designs were then used by the makeup department for tattoos on some male and female characters.

Fat-burning dragon head flambeaux added to give the DoP a light source for night scenes.

Fat-burning dragon head flambeaux added to give the DoP a light source for night scenes.

Arianne the Pictish outcast (Imogen Poots) lives in the middle of a forest. I built her roundhouse using real hazel wattle daubed with a mix of plaster and paint. As we had scenes to film inside, once dried I smashed off pieces of the plaster to leave large holes for lighting through. An established garden was planted, goats and chickens placed and a small bridge built over the stream.

The finale of the film takes place at Hadrian's Wall on the border of the Roman Empire between Scotland and England. At the time of the story the wall was still under construction. I built just a 30 foot section to film the scripted action around, complete with a door and wooden scaffolding. This was continued as a VFX set extension for a few wide shots, (shown below).