Making History: Stonehenge

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by Denis Minihan
Set Designer

Stonehenge has always been shrouded in mystery. This circle of standing stones in Southern England has mystified scholars through the ages and has given birth to a thousand theories. The tricky thing about Stonehenge is that one question leads to a dozen more. If you ask how they moved those huge rocks from Wales, then you have to wonder who it was that moved them and what was so special about these particular stones and so on into infinity and beyond. But we’ve uncovered concrete answers to these questions and others in this programme by talking to the world’s top experts on this mystical site. We show the murder, magic and terrifying tests of manhood that lie beneath Stonehenge and serve it up with our graphics boys at the top of their game.

They were at their most experimental on this shoot, always ready to try different techniques to get the perfect shot. From using zip lines to whirligigs the boys buzzed around the set testing out their ideas like nutty boffins. It can be hard to keep up with them but a lot of fun doing it. The shots they got were fantastic and we all feel privileged to have seen them work and the great thing about these programmes is that everyone can see how they did it. Everyone can see how one idea can blossom into something truly magical on screen. Who needs Hollywood budgets when these guys can recreate Matrix style bullet time shots and Apocalypto style fight scenes with one camera and their magical green boards!

Video Preview: “Rebuilding Stonehenge” — Graphic designers attempt to recreate what it was like for a worker to help build Stonehenge in the Neolithic Era.

The laughter has subsided to be replaced by feelings of nausea and panic. We’re in woodland in Northern Ireland and the boys had one of their wacky brainwaves of attaching the camera to a zip line to try and simulate an arrow being fired. I could sense misgivings among some of the crew but we set it up by fixing the line between two trees and we try a few test runs which go great. We’re ready for the real thing—Smackkkkk! Perhaps predictably it whacks off the other tree. A few faces have turned a whiter shade of pale after the initial giddiness. But these things happen, it’s all trial and error with these boys, so we dust ourselves off and get back to it.

Steve gets it again. After getting unceremoniously kicked in the face by Neil’s size 10 jackboot in the Hitler programme, he has now felt the power of Colin’s mighty shoulder barge. The boys are being taught to fight Bronze Age style by Faol Lia (an Irish group of history re-enactors who’ve been a great help to us) and Steve has bit the dirt once more. The boys are in full Stonehenge era attire with replica animal skins and fur. Neil has mistaken a shoe for a hat and wears it on his bonce for the rest of the filming. The item even had some gifts from native sheep and cattle on it, so look out for that one.

Unsurprisingly my scoffing at the boys in their outfits has backfired and I find myself sitting in a field typing on my laptop in a kind of camp Stonehenge villager costume, let’s just say my costumes involves a pair of animal hide chaps. You laugh at these chaps, you end up wearing a pair of chaps. Lesson learned. The Matrix moment has also come today, we’ve set up a huge whirligig so the boys can film an actor who stays absolutely still on the contraption with an arrow in his chest. We spin it and we get the bullet time effect. Sounds crazy? It works a treat.

Still in costume as we spent most of the morning running up and down past the green screen in various garments and we all gratefully flop down onto the ground in the afternoon to film a village scene. The history re-enactors teach us how to cook food over the fire and twine rope like good little villagers. We then have to react as our community is attacked by outsiders, my reaction is to have tears stream down my face as the smoke of the fire has been billowing into my eyes for at least an hour. Maybe it’ll look like I had some kind of breakdown during the attack, not really what you need in a combat situation.

Another first on the 360 set. The first time I’ve experienced horizontal rain. If you haven’t had the privilege get yourself up a mountain in Wales first thing in the morning, there’s tons of it. But the thing about this job, is one day you’re being lashed by a sideways monsoon and crying for your mother and the next you’re having an out of body experience as you see the most beautiful sunrise between two of the pillars at Stonehenge. It’s all part of the job at 360 Production.

Video Preview: “Neolithic Forensic Science” — Filmmakers are recreating a historical murder—and solving its mysteries in the process.

Making History “Stonehenge” premieres Tuesday, October 19th at 9P et/pt.