From acclaimed director Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Prometheus) comes the epic adventure EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS, the story of one man’s daring courage to take on the might of an empire. Using state of the art visual effects and 3D immersion, Scott brings new life to the story of the defiant leader Moses (Christian Bale) as he rises up against the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton), setting 400,000 slaves on a monumental journey of escape from Egypt and its terrifying cycle of deadly plagues.
The film’s intrigue, scale, scope, adventurer and vivid characters provide a unique theatrical event. The Exodus from Egypt is the original and definitive heroic saga. It's also a powerful and personal story rich with emotion, rivalry and betrayal and an undying quest for freedom.
Notes Scott: “Moses’ life is one of the greatest adventures and spiritual quests of all time.” From its opening battle where 15,000 Egyptian soldiers attack a Hittite encampment, to the towering structures, a terrifying series of plagues, and the parting of the Red Sea, Scott brings his signature vision to one of our most cherished and important stories.
“I love anything larger-than-life,” he continues. “I knew what to do with Gladiator – how to make it really breathe, live and feel like people did in that era. With EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS, I wanted to similarly bring to life the Egyptian culture and the Exodus in a way never before possible.”
EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS was shot in Pinewood Studios, London and on location in Almeria, Southern Spain and Fuerteventura, the Canary Islands.
PLAGUES AND THE PARTING OF A SEA
When Ramses rejects Moses’ pleas to let the prophet’s people go, Egypt is hit by a series of plagues and pestilences. Ramses’ advisors offer science-based explanations for the phenomena –spectacles that are both thrilling and horrifying.
The first of ten plague comes after crocodiles in the Nile begin attacking each other, along with several seafaring Egyptians, in a vicious feeding frenzy. The bloody, roiling water turns the Nile red, leading to a carpet of dead, oxygen-deprived fish floating atop the surface. Frogs swarm over the city of Pi-Ramses, and even into Ramses’ palace, searching for food.
Four hundred frogs were called to set, with six frog handlers, a frog handler dog and a one meter high frog fence. In this scene, Golshifteh Farahani, playing Nefertari, showed her bravery over several takes by pretending to be asleep, knowing that a large bag of live frogs was being emptied over her head, and becoming entangled in her long hair.
After the amphibians die, flies swarm from their rotting, maggot-filled bodies, and the streets of the city Ramses has built in tribute to himself becomes invisible through a black curtain of flies. Says visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang: “We took the plagues to a new and different kind of level. The flies become very distinctive and thick in their movements, and [the subsequent invasion of] locusts become even more troubling in the way they move and swarm.”
Next, lesions and boils mar the bodies of almost all Egyptians. Night brings hailstones the size of rocks, followed by a massive swarm of locusts.
Laws of nature, taken to their extreme – and perhaps with divine intervention – can explain these plagues, but the final scourge transcends nature: The firstborn sons of Egypt are killed overnight, including the Pharaoh's own child. When Ramses realizes that no Hebrew slave children have died, he orders them to leave Egypt – but shortly thereafter leads his army to pursue and kill the fleeing Hebrews.
Moses and his ill-equipped band of 400,000 followers, loaded down with whatever meager household goods they could carry, struggle to cross the foreboding mountains, heading for the Red Sea and to a crossing area that Moses had used before.
Arriving at the Red Sea, with the Egyptian army close behind, Moses realizes he has taken the wrong route and missed the shallow waters. Faced with the massive body of water on one side, and the thousands of Egyptian troops on the other, Moses despairs. As Ramses prepares for his final assault, Moses realizes that the tide is receding at a rapid pace. He rallies his people and they begin to stumble through the shallows. When the Hebrews complete the crossing, Ramses’ pursuing troops are engulfed by a massive wave.
DESIGNING AND BUILDING A WORLD
Scott’s creative collaborators on EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS include two-time Oscar-nominee production designer Arthur Max and Academy Award® winning costume designer Janty Yates, each of whom has worked on nine previous Scott-directed films, including Gladiator and Prometheus. “The idea of building a universe is always appealing,” says Scott. “What's so attractive about world-building on film is that anything goes, as long as it is real. I'm an architect at heart, and so is Arthur Max.”
Max says EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS is the biggest production he has ever worked on. “The scale is epic, because that's what Ancient Egypt was, and we wanted to do it justice.” he explains. “Of course, it's never big enough for Ridley, which is why we have visual effects.”
The production design and visual effects teams – the latter created over 1500 VFX shots – worked together to create the film’s enormous sets and action sequences. For example, the Statue of Ramses rises 200 feet, 30 of which the production built; the rest was computer generated. “When you pan down from the sky to the statue, you’ll see the digital extensions on top gradually joining up with the practical version on the ground,” Scott explains. “It’s seamless.”
Visual effects supervisor Peter Chiang elaborates: “The visual effects are grounded in reality. Arthur and Ridley designed amazing and expansive sets that provided a brilliant springboard for the VFX. It was good to see real lighting on an actual set, which would ultimately inform the look of our CGI.”
The art and construction crew numbered over one thousand, working in three locations. The Pinewood stages housed the interiors of the lush palaces and temples of the Egyptian royalty, as well as the sparse slave hovels. The huge exterior of Pharaoh’s Great Hall was filmed on the mammoth backlot, where scenes were captured of the Egyptian army setting off to fight the Hittites, and later, during their bloodied but triumphant return. The stage’s paddock tank was transformed into the River Nile, turning red as fierce crocodiles cannibalize each other. Scenes of the Red Sea turning into a massive parting of the sea, drowning hundreds of Egyptian soldiers, were filmed in the underwater tank.
The production used a pulley system devised on Gladiator to quickly arrange huge statues, columns and pieces of walls, leading Scott to call it a giant LEGO-like set.
After completing work at Pinewood, the production moved to Almeria in Southern Spain, taking over a large plain in Alhamilla, in the shadow of the Sierra Madre Mountains. This dry desert area was also used in several of the Westerns directed by Sergio Leone, as well as in the landmark Lawrence of Arabia and in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
“Working in Alhamilla is like having your own huge back lot.” says Max. “The area is bigger than the 20th Century Fox back lot in California.” On a plain measuring 1 by 1.5 kilometers, the central line is an avenue of palm trees. Many of these were already in place, but the production replaced those that were diseased, and all the trees needed nurturing and augmenting. The production also installed a water tank, and built the exteriors of Egyptian palaces and villas, and a street of ordinary Egyptian homes and merchants. The city of Pi Ramses and the surrounding slave ghetto were united by the avenue of palms. In addition, the brickworks supplying the new city were a short distance away.
The Battle of Kadesh, in which Ramses and Moses lead the Egyptians to victory over the Hittites, took place nearby. The actual battle was hailed as the biggest military action ever fought, with thousands of soldiers and hundreds of chariots fighting in the blazing sun.
The sequence was shot over five days, with hundreds of extras, stuntmen, animals and chariots on set, alongside five cameras and two crews – interrupted only by a huge storm which swamped the area in water, cutting of many of the crew from the road, and which the local media called “biblical” in its scale.
A few days later, following a sunset so spectacular that it was filmed for inclusion in the movie, a sandstorm blew up on the plain of Alhamilla, damaging sets and blinding cast, crew and extras.
Fuerteventura, one of the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa in the Atlantic Ocean, was another key location. Wide empty sandy beaches, fringing high volcanic rock mountains made the island the perfect location for the Hebrew flight from Egypt in the Sinai desert. “Parts of Fuerteventura are almost prehistoric looking; they’re untouched,” says Bale. “It’s one of the most stunning locations I’ve ever seen.”
High in the mountains is the mining town of Macael, from which marble has been extracted since the time of the Phoenicians. The marble quarry appears as a slave workplace, where Moses first encounters Nun. Moses passes through again, on his way to confront Ramses with his request to free the slaves. Traveling by night, he observes the slaves, driven by cruel masters, toiling by torchlight, and hauling huge blocks of marble up mountains.
In addition to finding and building locations, Max and his team took on the enormous task of furnishing and decorating the spaces. “You can't buy anything Ancient Egyptian, so every single item and embellishment had to be designed and made.” he explains. Referencing materials in the British Museum and the Museum of Cairo, Max used a mixture of old techniques and modern technology.
The palaces were furnished with thrones and chairs, based on ancient frescoes. The production built statues from modern lightweight materials for ease of moving, but finished and aged them using ancient techniques.
The design team consulted experts in the fields of hieroglyphics, language and ritual behavior, and looked at Victorian era romantic painters of England and France, who brought intimate scenes to life. “The film reflects an eclectic mixture of influences, which we think will maximize the grandeur that was Ancient Egypt, alongside the suffering and deprivation that accompanies slavery,” says Max.
Max describes Scott’s exacting working methods with his creative department heads. “We sit round a table and go through the script page by page, using visual references. When we visit locations, different ideas are thrown up, and also come from the work of other departments. Ridley always surprises us by taking a direction none of us have thought of. The characters and their environment, and how they interact, come from his mind; it's his vision of their world. Ridley draws beautifully, so you have to keep track of whatever he has just produced, which is sometimes on the back of somebody's script. If you have a good idea, he makes it better. And he finds the best position on any set, sometimes an angle nobody else has thought of. As well as being an artist, he is a cameraman and a very quick study in modern technology, grasping what's going on, and how he can use it.
“It’s like working for a Renaissance Master; we are his pupils, implementing his vision of how he wants it to be seen on screen,” says the production designer.
Janty Yates won the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Costume Design for her work on Gladiator, and has collaborated with Scott on six other features. She views this collaboration as the ultimate challenge. “Ridley is a painter, and he is an inspiration. Watching him set up a shot, no detail escapes him. It's exciting to experience because you know every frame is going to be special.”
The basis of Yates’ design is research and, as she points out, she was lucky that so much reference is available, recorded in the art of Ancient Egypt, on walls and statues. “For Gladiator, nothing much was available online, so a lot of time was spent wandering around Rome, looking at statues for guidance.”
For Yates, her most exciting discovery during her prep work was how advanced the Egyptians were in fashion and design. “The jewelry in particular is made with such craftsmanship, so detailed and delicate,” she says.
The scope of the film is enormous and Yates and her associate costume designer, Stefano de Nardis, set up a factory in Ouarzazate in the Moroccan desert, bringing together cutters, seamstresses, embroiderers, metal workers, shoemakers and jewelers to create the costumes for the Egyptians, the army, the Hittites, the palace guards and some of the specially featured players. Each of the twenty principal cast members had many elaborate costumes, with multiple details, and often had to have eight or nine repeats of one costume, so Yates additionally set up a huge organization of dyers, cutters, and other specialists, in London.
Dressing Moses was the most complicated undertaking. "He has several looks,” Yates explains. “In the first one, Moses is a young prince of Egypt, loved by Seti, close to his cousin Ramses and distrusted by Tuya. Ridley wanted him to be discreet, in this court of flamboyance. He is primarily a military man, so he has sober tones, neat clothes, and is almost clean cut, with short-ish hair.”
In the second act, wandering in the desert, he looks like a vagabond, and after being attacked by some tribesmen, he wears their clothes. When he meets his future wife Zipporah and settles down, he is a shepherd, in the countryside. Then when he decides to return to Egypt to confront Ramses, he is the guerrilla warrior, living in the mountains with his posse and eventually leading his people to freedom.”
While acknowledging the challenges of dressing the ever-evolving Moses, Yates notes that her favorite creations are the outrageous costumes worn by Ramses. “In a sea of Hittites, or in amongst some rather grubby Egyptian soldiers, Ramses’ gold outfit and armor have that ‘wow’ factor. And Joel wears it so well. Every time I dressed him, I just fell in love with the look.”
As Scott puts it, Ramses wears a lot of bling. Edgerton quickly became accustomed to his character's preference for gold and was heard to joke, “I’m not having that …unless it's gold,” or “bring me my gold skirt - the number seventy six.”
Says Yates: “Ramses was arrogant, erecting more statues to himself than any other Pharaoh, so everything he has reflects that personality. It literally reflects, in that it is all gold, including jewels, helmet and clothes. Seti is gilded but not flamboyant like his son, while Tuya is both flamboyant and sexy. Tuya expects to be Queen of the country when Ramses takes over, so she is gearing herself up for that role in the public eye.”
Zipporah, whom Moses marries in a village far from Egypt, is, says Yates, “young, fresh, beautiful and modern, so her clothes reflect that; she is a working tribeswoman.”
Zipporah, portrayed by Maria Valverde, is a physically striking character, thanks in part to makeup department head Tina Earnshaw, an Oscar winner for her work on Titanic and who collaborated with Scott on Prometheus and The Counselor. Earnshaw gives Zipporah black coal for her eyes, facial tribal tattoos and Henna tattoos on her hands, arms, feet and legs. “She just looks beautiful at all times,” says Earnshaw.
Every costume, prop, design, structure and visual effect speaks to the film’s epic scale. But as Ridley Scott notes, the sensibilities of EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS are always grounded. “Moses grew up as an important Egyptian noble –a Prince of Egypt –with some very real human insecurities and questions.”
For Christian Bale, portraying Moses was an unforgettable experience. “He’s such an intoxicating character to play, that in many ways I felt like, ‘Wow, can’t we keep going?’ There is so much more to tell about him, and he’s even more fascinating than anything I had realized.”