London-based VFX facility Framestore recently contributed to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Much like the company’s work on War Horse, Lincoln called invisible effects to help create a believable world, free of anachronisms. That meant recreating America as it was in 1865, ripped in two by civil war, providing the backdrop for the 16th president’s struggle to unite the country and abolish slavery.
Framestore’s VFX supervisor Ben Morris was on set in Richmond and Petersburg, Va., to oversee VFX work removing the traces of the 21st century – telegraph wires, power lines and modern buildings – to make Virginia look like it did in Lincoln’s day, or in many cases, like Washington D.C.
The film’s opening black-and-white dream sequence stands out visually, showing Lincoln standing aboard the U.S.S. Monitor as it rushes towards a shore that gets no closer, viewed as though through a vintage lens vignette. This sequence was shot with Daniel Day Lewis standing on a small section of foreground boat deck in front of greenscreen. Framestore later integrated the entirely digital background with carefully considered photographic treatments to complete the dreamlike look.
Aside from the dream sequence, the order of the day was historical recreation, particularly when it came to the Capitol Building. The iconic landmark was built from a photogrammetric survey of the real building in Washington and dropped into the background of shots filmed in the streets of Petersburg.
Richmond is home to the Virginia State Capitol, a building that possesses the familiar front steps and pillars of its larger Washington equivalent, but not the dome or scale. Framestore used it as a basis to start building the Capitol Building. Special attention had to be paid to historical detail as the building was only just complete at the time of Lincoln’s second inaugural address in 1865, a key moment in the film.
That particular speech is famed as one of the first ceremonies of its kind to be captured in a collodion plate photograph. Framestore helped recreate the scene depicted in this famous historic photograph exactly, with the crowd around the smaller, Richmond-based Capital Building replicated from multiple crowd passes and matte paintings used to add scope at the shot’s margins.
In one scene, Lincoln watches from the River Queen as St. Petersburg is attacked on his orders. It’s a dramatic, apocalyptic glimpse at the consequences of his orders. The shot is all photo-real CG with the river, the city, the fire and smoke all created by Framestore.