Making History: Nostradamus

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by Denis Minihan
Set Designer

It was never going to be easy. The first problem is the man himself, Nostradamus. Did the bearded one truly have a gift? Was he sent to the earth to tell us of the grave ills that await mankind—or was he just a grizzled old charlatan with all the prophesying abilities of my cousin’s pet goldfish? Was he a just a French medical man scribbling abstract poetry for his own entertainment—or has his work been doctored over the years by devious hands for political gains? It’s hard to know, so we presented all the arguments in our programme. Whatever the truth is we knew we had a special weapon to make a great show.

That weapon was our three graphics boys who could show us Nostradamus’ predictions onscreen in the most mind blowing way. The boys, Colin, Steve and Neil had already become a YouTube phenomenon with their Bloody Omaha video. We knew what they were capable of, but none of us expected the wonders they created for this programme.

Below: Graphic designer Colin observes a recreation of the joust that led to the death of King Henry II of France. Nostradamus’ poetry seemingly predicted this death, contributing to the factors that led people to consider him to be a true seer.

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I saw firsthand how they transformed a man wearing a Nostradamus costume in a field into the great man himself, striding through a plague ridden town. I saw how they transformed six guys lying in a small ditch into hundreds of bodies in a huge plague pit. I saw how they created the moon landings and I saw the meteor landing that blew the earth to bits! It was incredible, but what struck me most was that anyone can do this. Essentially all you need are green boards and a computer, anyone can make history.

Oh yeah, you need talent too!

Below: The production crew recreates the NASA moon landing in front of a green screen. Nostradamus, a famous 16th century prophet, predicted a landing on the moon in one of his quatrains.

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Below: A CGI image of the end of the world as predicted by Nostradamus.

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Entry 1
How can we dress the set of Nostradamus’ 16th century study without blowing our budget to pieces? Does anyone have an astrolabe in their attic? After much perseverance things are starting to look up. Through the kindness of local antiques contacts we get our hands on some buried beauties and the office is starting to look like a Medieval tavern, minus the frothy ale.

Entry 2

The boys have arrived! We set off from our Derry office to find a suitable place for Nostradamus’ study. Man this isn’t easy, we hit parish halls, stately homes, church halls even a disused army base and nothing’s right. Feeling worn out we stumble into the cellar of Donegal Castle and praise the lord we’ve found it! It’s like we’ve just been dumped out of a time machine and landed slap bang in the whiskered wizard’s hovel.

Entry 3

Nostradamus is in our office right now! Well sort of. A local actor and all round good egg, Pat has just undergone a make up test in our office and it’s all feeling a bit on the spooky side. It really feels like the man himself is in our presence and bizarrely we’re chatting about where we’re going on holidays. He correctly predicts Malta for me. Weird! Conversation quickly moves onto lottery numbers. This is gonna be a good year.

Entry 4

We’re underway with the shoot at the castle. The expensive antiques look fantastic after having being covered in special effects dust. Fingers crossed that comes off later then. Gulp! The castle is still open to visitors during the shoot so we’ve had a few confused tourists wander in on the set. They all look impressed which is a good sign.

Entry 5

Picture this beautiful scene. It’s grey, it’s raining, it’s night time and I’m watching a man dig a hole in a field. To top it off I’ve just fallen into a puddle. The glamour of it all! But that was yesterday, today six men are now lying face first in this delightful ditch while I chuck mud at them under the pretence of making them look more ‘authentically dirty’. The graphics boys are in overdrive today. Neil happily joins in on the mud flinging and I just witnessed Steve and Colin cackling like witches after they soaked half the crew with Colin’s famous hole in a bucket trick.

Entry 6

The end is nigh for Steve. The once lively Scotsman is lying on the ground gasping for breath after jumping around in a spacesuit for six hours. We’re recreating the moon landing in a green screen studio in Belfast with Steve in the Neil Armstrong role. I give him a pat on the back to comfort him and get a handful of man sweat for my efforts. But these boys aren’t quitters, he’s back on his feet and back into the harness that looks like it may be causing chafing in sensitive areas. Colin is finding this incredibly amusing, but the sight of him walking in an unflattering all-in-one lycra green suit earlier stands as the single most funny moment of my life.

Entry 7
What an odd day. I’m watching an actual joust taking place right before my very eyes. Horses and knights abound, I’m fulfilling boyhood dreams here.

Entry 8
This is the only second I’ve had in seven days to stop. We’ve been travelling non stop, sprinting around France, interviewing experts and catching trains with over 20 heavy bags. Jeff, our presenter has proved his worth—the man can carry anything—he may be half buffalo. There were a few close calls with speeding trams but we’ve got to the end with all our limbs intact. We’ve made it! Now I just can’t wait to see the show.

Video Preview: “Making Plague Victims” — How would you recreate a plague pit from the 1500’s with a tiny budget? These graphic designers show you how.

The boys have brought Nostradamus back from the dead—witness the man behind the prophecies in Making History Nostradamus” premiering Tuesday, October 12th at 9P et/pt.