BlueBolt recently completed work on Napoleon, Ridley Scott’s epic depiction of the rise and fall of iconic French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (Joaquin Phoenix), for Apple Original Film. 

Led by VFX Supervisor Henry Badgett, BlueBolt delivered 126 VFX shots to support Scott’s vision of Napoleon’s 1793 Siege of Toulon and his violent suppression of the Paris Riots two years later. 

Henry collaborated closely with overall VFX Supervisor Charley Henley to interpret Scott’s storyboards and ensure BlueBolt’s work recreated the immersive, visceral tone required. BlueBolt’s VFX work for both sequences was also informed by reference paintings and engravings of the events from the period.

The Siege of Toulon was one of the first major Napoleonic battles, in which Napoleon demonstrated his tactical genius by leading an attack by night on an English stronghold previously deemed impenetrable. BlueBolt created 90 shots split between the daytime ‘before’ and the dramatic night time battle in the Port of Toulon. 

Creating a plausible and consistent geography for the Toulon Harbour environment was a major challenge on the show. Filming was done at several locations in Malta including a set build surrounded by blue screen. BlueBolt’s brief was to tie these separate locations together with 3D and DMP environment work, to replicate crowd, to add the British fleet in the harbour (including CG sailors) with a fully rigged recreation of the British fleet in the Mediterranean – including HMS Victory – and to enhance the battle with a wide range of FX work which climaxes with the explosion of the ammunition-carrying ship ‘Iris’. 

Henry Badgett, VFX Supervisor, BlueBolt comments: “The FX and lighting work were key as the FX explosions and flashes also needed to light the scene, vastly more than if it were daytime. As a result the timing and animation of these mortar explosions were crucial and needed careful execution, also requiring off screen as well as on screen explosions to achieve the immersive feel of the dramatic battle.”

Henry continues: “The team at BlueBolt brought their experience from numerous past projects with CG historic ships, building a hero model for each of the six or seven classes of ship and from there making three or four variations of each of those to form the fleet, before adding intricate period rigging, sails and flags with rope and cloth sims. To help with this, we received reference from an element shoot in which production built 1/16th scale miniatures that were then attacked by cannon balls from the SFX department and set on fire.”

The Paris Riots cover the historical events of the ‘13 Vendémiaire’, the name given to a battle between the French Revolutionary troops and Royalist forces in 1795. This battle was part of the establishment of a new government and a major factor in the rapid advancement of Bonaparte’s career.

BlueBolt’s brief was to extend the environment, replicate the crowd, add CG crowd and then apply riot-control cannon grapeshot fire into the crowd. All shots were filmed at Greenwich Naval College in London, a filming location that the BlueBolt team were familiar with from previous projects. In extending the environment, the challenge was therefore both to present a new look at a familiar location, and to work sympathetically with the architecture whilst adding to it to create a new Parisian street look and feel. 

Henry’s research into the architecture of Paris was supported by the production’s historical advisor Inigo Minns from UAL. One wing of the Louvre Palace in Paris was the key reference for an administrative building in the background behind Napoleon’s soldiers. BlueBolt rebuilt it in 2.5D and gave the Greenwich Old Naval College a French style mansard 3D roof top up. In the other direction behind the crowd of rioters they added a DMP based on very rough geometry for scale and perspective, using additional Louvre references from Inigo.

For the crowd replication layers BlueBolt painted out jerk-rig wires from an entire row of crowd and individually tracked on blood patches and removed limbs from victims after the cannon fire. Some gaps were filled with CG crowd that could take more violent reactions. These crowd actions were animated with motion capture performed by stunts from a session at the Imaginarium in Ealing Studios. The crowd was waving large flags, some of which were replaced by 3D simulations to allow for violent tearing from the cannon shot. The shots were finished with 2D element dressing for cannon fire, smoke, torn fabric floating in the air and two types of blood – a misty blood vapour and a wet blood spray. The crowd are seen throwing various 3D bottles and stones which were individually hand animated.

Henry Badgett, VFX Supervisor, BlueBolt said: 

“Napoleon not only boasts significant VFX set pieces but also integrates subtle VFX throughout the cut. These small touches collectively contribute to creating the immersive and atmospheric experience of Ridley Scott’s Napoleon and we are proud to have been part of it.”

Napoleon premiered in cinemas on 22nd November and will be available on Apple TV+  in 2024.


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Allan Torp Jensen
Author: Allan Torp Jensen

Allan has worked on visual effects for feature films and television for 20 years. He has experience of the full VFX pipeline but has focused on compositing for the past 15 years and has been a Lead Compositor and Compositing Supervisor on various shows. He has worked with the talented people at Cinesite, Bluebolt VFX, Automatik VFX in London, and Weta Digital in New Zealand. For the past five years, he has worked remotely at his own Torper Studio on various high-end TV and feature film projects.