Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Anthony Hopkins
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
Running Time: 138 minutes
Synopsis: Russell Crowe stars as Noah in the film inspired by the epic story of courage, sacrifice and hope. Directed by visionary filmmaker Darren Aronofsky.
Release Date: March 27th, 2014
The entire story of Noah and the Ark he is commanded to build before the earth is flooded takes up just a few pages in the Book of Genesis. But those few passages have had a profound, lasting impact on billions across the globe, evoking both the very depths of evil and the heights of faith and holding out the hope of redemption after catastrophe.
Nevertheless, since the beginning of film history, the majority of screen depictions of this foundational story have been send-ups, comedies or animated films - echoing a pop culture in which the Ark is most often seen in the toy store. The story was first brought to motion pictures in 1928's 'Noah's Ark," which merged a brief Hollywood re-creation of the biblical flood with a World War I drama. Since then, there have been Disney shorts, cartoons and several variations on a comic theme. Yet remarkably, the story of Noah has never before been attempted as a full-scale, visual epic that brings the pages of the Bible to life, nor has any filmmaker delved directly into its core motifs of what it is to be human.
'There are comedic versions, there are animated versions, and there was even a Broadway version with Danny Kaye that was a musical," says 'Noah" director and co-writer, Darren Aronofsky. 'Historically, the approach has always veered towards folklore, humor and children's stories. But if you look at the story's place in Genesis, there is so much more to it than just the animals going two-by-two. It's the story of ten generations of wickedness of man that eventually climaxes in God coming to a place where he wants to redo it all. For me, it was the very first end-of-the-world story."
It was also a story he felt could be finally be told viscerally through 21st Century filmmaking techniques, while respecting the indelible power of the biblical text. He says: 'I didn't want to add further to the clichéd preconceptions we already have from pop culture … I wanted this Noah to feel fresh, immediate and real."
Darren Aronofsky's engagement with Noah's themes began at the age of 13, when he wrote a prize-winning school poem about Noah. Later, as he began his filmmaking career, he started to envision how this colossal story could live on the modern movie screen. He knew it would be the greatest challenge of his career, a hugely ambitious motion picture requiring both passion and extreme attention to detail. At the same time, he was deeply drawn to the personal side of the epic story, that of Noah's family – wanting to explore their very human fears and hopes, their conflicts and search for meaning amidst these extraordinary events.
'As the story of the first apocalypse, imagining how a family would survive that was extremely interesting to me," says the director.
That became the jumping off point for a writing process that would take Aronofsky and co-writer/executive producer Ari Handel deep into the unknown. Since the text of Genesis is brief, contains virtually no dialogue, and offers little to suggest Noah's internal feelings about the impending flood, they poured through a wide span of religious, historical and scholarly sources to better understand Noah's times and the significance of his actions. Though they did not aim for line-by-line adherence to scripture, they focused on dramatising the authentic themes of the Noah story and exploring the questions posed by the biblical narrative.
Darren Aronofsky has always been a filmmaker drawn to the most far-reaching stories and the boldest means of storytelling. From the mathematician's quest of his debut film 'π," to the bittersweet search for reconciliation of 'The Wrestler" to the intense ballet world thriller 'Black Swan," he has become as known for his innovative visual approach as for his willingness to dig into such fertile subjects as mortality, love and the meaning of the sacred.
Ari Handel says that Darren Aronofsky was also the only director he could imagine taking on the visual risks of bringing audiences into an ancient world rife with both roiling chaos and divine presence. 'Darren Aronofskyn was the right director because the visual challenges of -Noah' are stupendous, so you need someone whose visual skills are equally stupendous. But you also need someone who can combine that visual majesty with emotional intensity and Darren has that unique combination," he comments.
With Darren Aronofsky's visual skills in mind, the script did not hold back on scope, action… or the unexpected. 'We wanted to bring a grandness and magnitude befitting a story that is so important," Ari Handel explains, 'but within that, to also surprise people with some elements that defy their expectations."
'For instance," Ari Handel continues, 'in Genesis Noah is told to build an Ark and bring two of each kind of animal onto it. There is no description at all of how he manages this task. But Darren Aronofsky came up with a cinematically exciting and dramatic way for Noah to get the materials for his Ark and to find and gather representatives of all the animals on the planet. These solutions are not in the Bible, although they don't contradict it, but we felt they had a miraculous quality that fit with the spirit of the story."
At the same time, Darren Aronofsky says that he was interested in capturing more than just epic scope: 'What we did was to start with the actual text of Genesis, then expand that into a family drama."
'There's actually very little explicitly known about many aspects of Noah's story, Noah doesn't even speak a word until he gets off the Ark," says Ari Handel, 'so everything these characters thought and said was left open. But if you look closely at the text there are hints. Consider Noah getting drunk after he reaches the New World. This is never explained in Genesis but to us it felt like an insight into Noah's character that we wanted to explore and try to understand. What kind of strain and difficulties must he have gone through that even after he has succeeded in his task he needed to turn to drink? How do we reconcile the description of Noah as a -righteous man' who, drunk and naked, curses one branch of his descendants to eternal slavery?"
'Or consider," Ari Handel continues, 'what might be the most painful part of the Genesis story: a Creator deciding that He must destroy most, if not all, of His own creation. Surely there were children amongst those who were drowned in the flood? Certainly there were plenty of innocent animals beyond the two by two? If so, the deluge must have been about creating a clean slate despite those loses – something that must be painful for a just Creator who loves His Creation. How do we dramatise that pain on a human level that we can all relate to? Our greatest task was to figure out how to explore these questions in a compelling, cinematic way while staying faithful to the specifics of Genesis."
At the heart of their screenplay was Noah's resolve, and his very human attempts at perseverance, in the face of what seems a daunting mission. When God warns him of calamity and commands him to save the animals, Noah does so with unquestioning faith - and without any of the disbelief some might expect.
"In many of today's films, if a character says they've seen visions or heard voices the people around them might doubt their sanity at first. But Darren Aronofsky and I felt that was a modern way of thinking," Ari Handel explains. 'Noah lives in a time period where his grandfather was alive while Adam was alive, and Adam had actually walked with God, so Noah has no problem believing what God tells him. But the bigger questions for Noah are 1) how can you be sure you understand fully what you're being asked to do and 2) how do you pull it off?"
Even just imagining the contours of Noah's world – marked in the Bible as the tumultuous, sin-fueled time between the Fall of Man and the coming of the great flood – was a profound undertaking. There are biblical references to an age of ferocious wickedness and of angelic 'giants in the earth," but scholarly specifics are limited.
'We know certain things about Egypt, we know certain things about ancient Judea – but there's a lot less to go on about what the antediluvian world was like," notes Darren Aronofsky. 'We decided to not shy from that but to embrace that this is a world different from our own."
In addition to Genesis, Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel consulted texts including The Dead Sea Scrolls, the Book of Enoch (a work ascribed to the great-grandfather of Noah) and the Book of Jubilees, as well as historical and modern analysis by theologians and historians. Yet, they were always aware they would have to make a daring leap from that research to capturing Noah's world on screen in a way that could captivate filmgoers of all backgrounds. The risks were clear, but so too was their commitment to bring people closer to the inspiration of the story.
Summarises Ari Handel: 'When we set out to tell the story of Noah, we knew it would be daunting because the story is so meaningful on so many levels to so many people. But we jumped at the chance to do it for those very same reasons – because it is such an incredibly powerful story that means something so deep and fundamental."
Adds Darren Aronofsky: 'I think it will be very exciting for people to be reminded how amazing these stories are –so I was very focused on making this film equally available for believers and non-believers."
For producer Scott Franklin, who has worked with Darren Aronofsky on all of his films, the mix of Noah's timeless themes with the adventuresome nature of Darren Aronofsky's style held out the promise of a movie that would be technically thrilling yet also deeply fulfilling.
'The film is multi-faceted," Scott Franklin says. 'It aims to stay authentic to the text as we know it, but fills in some details with imaginative context. There is a definitely a big visual effects component. But I think the heart and core of this movie is Darren Aronofsky's original view of Noah's story as a great family drama. He brought such personal passion for this material."
Producer Mary Parent, who most recently produced Guillermo Del Toro's 'Pacific Rim," was equally excited about Darren Aronofsky's approach. 'Darren Aronofsky has created something that reflects the genuine essence of the biblical story but at the same time also allows him to be the very modern storyteller that he is," she observes. 'In the visual language of the film, you are going to see a lot of contemporary signposts, yet the result is something classic and epic. He brings the performances, the level of filmmaking and the pure action-adventure that transports you into this world."
She continues: 'One of the things that makes Darren Aronofsky a great filmmaker I think is his ability to push you to the limit, to take you to the edge, and in this case to take you inside Noah's predicament. At the same time Darren Aronofsky tells a story that's incredibly heartfelt. Those things usually don't reside together."
When the filmmakers began talking about who could carry the story of 'Noah," one name quickly came to the forefront: Russell Crowe. An Academy Award® winner for 'Gladiator," Russell Crowe is often sought after to bring an earthy humanity to towering characters. But playing Noah would be an extreme undertaking even by his standards – in part because Noah has never before been seen on screen as a real, layered, imperfect man chosen by God to stand up under the most enormous burden in human history: to assure the survival of all living things.
Says Darren Aronofsky: 'Russell Crowe intrigued us because he is always authentic, and so very, very believable. No matter what, you never question if Russell Crowe believes in what he's saying. And of course the possibility of working with someone with that much talent, that much power, was very exciting for me - just to see what we could create together."
Ari Handel was gratified to have an actor who could step right into the outsized contours of the role. 'We really needed someone in the great tradition of biblical epics who has that gravitas," he says. 'Russell Crowe is someone you believe could follow through on the most Herculean, impossible task without complaint. You never doubt his capability or his strength, but in his eyes, you see an underlying compassion."
To help recruit him, Darren Aronofsky made Russell Crowe a promise: he would never be shot in the hoary cliché with a pair of giraffes behind his head. But once he began his research, Russell Crowe found that trying to get inside Noah from a modern perspective was endlessly fascinating. 'You start with all these preconceived notions about Noah, but when you start to break down what the world might have been like in his time, it's very intriguing," he says.
The biggest challenge for Russell Crowe was coming to terms with how an ordinary man would grapple emotionally and morally with such an urgent but still hazy call to action from the Creator. 'Noah only starts to understand the task he faces as a sort of deduction because he's not getting a lot of direct input," Russell Crowe explains. 'What he understands is that he needs to look after all the animals, but he doesn't have any information at all about how he is to address the human question, so a lot is left for him to figure out. One of the cool things about him is that I don't think he finds there's any honor in this job. In fact, he sees it as the worst job he could possibly get from the Creator. But he will do everything in his power to finish it."
Working with Darren Aronofsky was a major lure for Russell Crowe throughout. 'I felt that we never finished a day without something really cool being captured," says the actor. 'He's intense because he wants to get a lot done, but that's great because you know he's always looking for something. And here's the other thing: he never stops directing. Even in the longest, coldest, toughest night, he never stops talking about that thing that you're pushing towards, which I suppose explains exactly why he makes the type of movies that he does. He's always taking people into places and experiences that are not average or typical. And hopefully that's what this movie does as well."
Playing alongside Russell Crowe as Noah's wife is Jennifer Connelly, an Academy Award® winner for 'A Beautiful Mind," in which she starred with Russell Crowe. Jennifer Connelly also garnered accolades for her work with Darren Aronofsky on 'Requiem For a Dream."
Noah's wife is not named in the Bible, but Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel wanted to explore her experience more deeply in the film and gave her the name attributed to her in Jewish scholarship, 'Naameh.' We don't really know from Genesis what Noah's wife does or thinks, but it was important to us that she be an important part of events", says Ari Handel. 'We wrote her as a woman trying to hold her family together, even while they're under the tremendous strain of what they need to do in the world. Jennifer Connelly gave Naameh a moral strength – even as she is helping Noah follow his call, she is focused on what is right, and on whether we as humans deserve mercy or not."
Jennifer Connelly says she was thrilled to reunite with Darren Aronofsky. 'It was amazing for me to see him at the helm of a film of such epic proportions, and one that is such a very different endeavor than the film that we did before," she says. 'This is a story Darren Aronofsky's been passionate about telling for a very long time, so it was exciting for me to watch him bringing it to life. As a filmmaker he's very visually innovative and striking, but at the same time he's so very focused on performance and so sensitive to the way actors work."
With so little to go on to inhabit Naameh, Jennifer Connelly conducted as much personal research as she could into the mystery-shrouded lives of women in early history, looking to create an authentic experience. 'Genesis doesn't say much about my character but Darren Aronofsky wrote her as a loyal wife and a devoted mother who is both emotionally very strong and also virtuous. I was really curious about what her contribution to the household would have been, so I explored what archaeologists had to say, what the Bible had to say, and by incorporating all of that, she became more industrious. Emotionally and physically, she's a very capable woman."
She also found inspiration in Proverbs 31, which speaks of a virtuous wife whose 'worth is far above rubies," and who 'girds herself with strength" yet 'reaches out her hands to the needy." Jennifer Connelly comments, 'I think Naameh really embodies all that Proverbs 31 talks about – not only in the way she supports Noah, but also in her strength, industriousness, wisdom and modesty. I think she's a very striking character in that way."
For Russell Crowe, reuniting with Jennifer Connelly brought an organic depth to the vital husband-wife link between Noah and Naameh. 'I didn't realise just how detailed and complex my relationship with Jennifer Connelly would be because of what we'd experienced before," he says. 'We hadn't seen each other much since we did -Beautiful Mind' together, but something about that earlier experience gave us a higher starting point to find a deep connection."
Darren Aronofsky was gratified that Jennifer Connelly put so much thought and consideration into Naameh's experience. 'Jennifer Connelly was one of the best choices I made on the film because she really was able to expand her character and make the whole story richer," he says.
'Noah's" Supporting Cast
Joining the cast of 'Noah" is a mix of award-winning veterans and rising young stars who bring further touches of emotion and humanity to the compelling spectacle. In the role of Methuselah –mentioned in just one biblical passage in the lineage linking Adam to Noah and as the longest-lived man of his time – the filmmakers cast Oscar®-winner Anthony Hopkins.
'We saw Methuselah as a mentor figure for Noah – so we needed someone wise and trustworthy but also with a bit of twinkle and mischievousness to him," says Ari Handel, 'but he's more than that. There is a Jewish legend that Methuselah had a sword engraved with the many names of God with which he slew 10,000 demons – we wanted our Methuselah to have that kind of power."
Adds Darren Aronofsky: 'Casting someone to play Methuselah is nearly impossible, because you have to find someone who can play the oldest man in the world in an interesting way. So when Tony Hopkins came along it was incredibly exciting for all of us. He was able to ground the character because he is such a tremendous actor."
Taking the role of Tubal-cain, Noah's nemesis and a descendant of the infamous Cain who slew Abel, is Ray Winstone, the English actor known for his roles in Martin Scorsese's 'The Departed" and 'Hugo." Although he is mentioned in the Book of Genesis, Tubal-cain is not included as part of the story of Noah – but Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel brought him into the screenplay for a very specific reason. 'Here's a guy who is a descendant of Cain, the first murderer, and who himself is defined as forger of weapons in the Bible," explains Ari Handel. 'He seemed like the right person to serve as the leader of the descendants of Cain, representing the wickedness and corruption of man."
Winstone was a leading choice from the start. 'We had to hire someone who you believe could kick Russell Crowe's butt," muses Darren Aronofsky. 'And he's a big, tough guy who really sizes up to Russell Crowe. They have a great stand-off and confrontation."
In his approach, Winstone perceived Tubal-cain as a flawed but savvy man determined to survive at any cost. 'I kind of saw Tubal-cain not as the bad guy, but as very human," Winstone says. 'He has his own very strong point of view."
Winstone continues: 'I think that he's tormented because the Creator doesn't speak to him; he's like a child that's been shunned. There's a lot of envy going on between him Noah and there's a sadness. I think he's a man who from a young age has been a warrior fighting for land, fighting for minerals, fighting for meat, and he has come to a point where he is wondering, -what have I done with my life?'"
Mary Parent was impressed with Winstone's complexity. 'Tubal-cain is very much the manifestation of all that has caused God to question where man is headed. There's an incredible moment in the movie where he even begins to compare himself to God, and takes it to the level of hubris. Yet, at the same time, Ray brings a vulnerability, so you feel for Tubal-cain – and you see that from his perspective, what he's doing makes sense. While Noah respects all of Creation, Tubal-cain sees everything as for the taking."
Noah's sons – Shem, Ham and Japheth, who will replenish a new generation of the world – are played by three rapidly rising actors. Logan Lerman, who has received acclaim in 'Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief" and 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower," plays Ham; British heartthrob Douglas Booth, who won accolades as Pip in the BBC series 'Great Expectations" portrays Shem; and playing Japheth is new discovery Leo Carroll.
While the Bible doesn't give the exact age of Noah's sons, it's believed that they were somewhere in their low 100s. 'In an era when men live 900 years, how old should a 100 year old look? Or a 500 year old? Noah had kids at 500, built the Ark at 600, died at 950," Aronofsky explains. 'So in our story, when Noah is building the Ark should he look like you or I would look if we somehow lived to 500, or should he look like a man who's lived 5/9thths of his life – in other words a middle aged man? And Noah's kids who are about 1/10 of their natural life-span – what should they look like? What matters is that they are relatively young compared to their father, still learning their own sense of manhood from their patriarch. We wanted people to feel that."
While the prospect of being the only human survivors of the deluge is difficult for Noah and Naameh, it is especially hard for their middle son, Ham, to accept. 'That's a difficult thing to accept at any age – that you're going to be among a handful of people to survive humanity's destruction," says Russell Crowe. 'But when you're talking about young men in the prime of their lives, who feel they won't ever experience even what their parents have experienced, you're going to have moments of rebellion."
Ham does have his moments of rebellion, but Logan Lerman views his character as motivated by hope. 'Technically, he's the wicked child, because he questions what his father says," says Logan Lerman. 'But I think he's also just a kid looking for someone to love."
To find Noah's youngest son, 10 year-old Japheth, the filmmakers launched nationwide auditions. Ultimately, these led to the discovery of Leo Carroll in Chicago. 'There are not many young actors you can find who could fit into this family with Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly," Scott Franklin muses. 'But Leo Carroll has a natural ability and some serious acting chops. He wowed Russell the first time they were on camera together."
Booth describes Shem as seemingly the most dutiful of Noah's sons. 'Shem really is his father's son throughout the movie, until one pivotal moment," the actor describes.
But even for Shem, the future his father is taking them into is terrifying, and Booth tried to imagine what it would be like to truly be in that position. 'Imagine if you knew you were going to be the last family on the planet and everyone else is going to die," he says. 'It's such a huge thing and I love how Darren Aronofsky captures that in such a personal way."
Ari Handel explains further: 'The Bible says that Noah, his sons, and his sons' wives went onto the ark. And that is exactly what happens in the film, although it happens in a way that is surprising and unexpected. By the end of the film, it is clear that there are 3 sons and 3 wives and all of them were on the ark. But we used the way those wives came on, and the uncertainty about that, as a means to help dramatise the questions of whether mankind is good or wicked, deserves justice or mercy, should be wiped out or should be spared – the questions we felt were at the heart of the Noah story."
Also joining Noah's family is Ila, an orphan Noah adopts after finding her left for dead in a refugee camp, creating a unique bond between them as she grows into a woman. Taking the part in another departure is Emma Watson, best known as Hermione Granger in the popular 'Harry Potter" film series, who has grown to more mature roles in 'My Week with Marilyn" and 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower."
'For Ila, we were looking for someone who has that innocence of a girl, but also could surprise us with the strength of an adult. Emma Watson really brought that," says Ari Handel.
'Ila is a catalyst in the story," adds Parent. 'As she grows up, there's a love story with Shem, but the impact she has on Noah, and his faith in particular, is very emotional."
Emma Watson says the role had her delving into areas of experience that were new for her. 'I thought a lot about what it means for a woman to be able to have a family, and I thought a lot about the life that made Ila the person she is – living in poverty and seeing some very dark things. I think that makes Ila feel very close to Noah who saves her and brings her into his family, fueling her desire to have a family of her own. There's a sense in the movie of generations, of family, of things passed down, which is very interesting."
For Emma Watson, Darren Aronofsky's approach to Noah was surprising but also moving. She summarises: 'I think when most people think of Noah's story they just think of the animals walking two-by-two. But the story we tell is as much about what this family experiences - the interpersonal relationships between Noah, his wife and their children. So even though it's an amazing epic with incredible scale, it is also intimate and subtle."
The Production Builds An Ark
Right out of the gate on 'Noah," Darren Aronofsky made a key decision: he would build from scratch an actual Ark, honoring scriptural references to it and hewing to the most authentic measurements for what Noah was written to have built. He knew that a CGI Ark would be far simpler, but Darren Aronofsky felt it could never give audiences the thrill of experiencing just how massive Noah's project was, just how striking the Ark would have appeared to the local populace and just how precarious a proposition it really was, though Noah was unwavering in his commitment.
The remarkable Ark seen in 'Noah" might surprise many who have more frequently seen it depicted as a rudimentary ship. Darren Aronofsky's biblically-detailed research, however, took him in another direction. 'Our idea was to always go back to what it says in the Bible - which basically describes a rectangle, a box," Darren Aronofsky explains. The Genesis account provided detailed specifications for the dimensions of the Ark – this is one of the few places in the text where incredible direction is given. Darren Aronofsky adhered closely to this text, using it as a blueprint for the craft seen in the film. 'All the renditions we've seen for the last hundred years have been ships, but realistically, the Ark didn't need a keel because it didn't have to navigate. It just had to survive the flood. So we went to the Bible, and we built it to the actual scope that's described – which is pretty impressively sized."
For centuries, searches have been conducted to find remnants of the Ark in the mountains shared by Turkey and Armenia, but only a handful of re-creations to scale have been attempted. Crafting something akin to the real thing was both educational and created an inimitable atmosphere for cast and crew. 'The cast could touch the walls and really climb on it," Darren Aronofsky notes. 'And we all learned a lot from seeing how an Ark might actually have been put together."
To design and build the Ark, Darren Aronofsky collaborated closely with production designer Mark Friedberg, a recent Emmy Award winner for HBO's 'Mildred Pierce." Mark Friedberg began the process more than a year before production, focusing first on proportions. 'In Genesis the dimensions of the ark are laid out as 30 cubits high, by 50 cubits wide, by 300 cubits long," he describes. 'But there are Egyptian cubits and Venetian cubits – so we had to go deep into history to try to figure it out."
The production designer kept in mind that Noah didn't have the luxury of time to create something beautiful for the ages – he needed something that could quickly be up to the job, even if that job was sacred. 'The building of this Ark was done in desperation," Mark Friedberg observes. 'So it's not a piece of cabinetry; it's not a fine, seafaring craft. It's a functional object. It's there to keep the animals floating as the world fills with water. It does not need to steer, because where would you go if the world is all water?"
While function was key, Darren Aronofsky and Mark Friedberg were also inspired by art – especially the raw, apocalyptic vision of German artist Anselm Keifer, whose symbolist paintings and sculptures incorporate materials such as straw, ash and salt. 'Anselm Kiefer spoke to me because his work is about desperation, about beauty and brutality," recalls Mark Friedberg.
Taking cues from Anselm Keifer, Mark Friedberg continues: 'Darren Aronofsky and I felt the craft of this Ark would be very rough, rugged and handmade, and that the wood would not be sawed but snapped, and broken, and attached with straps. I think that's what gives the Ark its vitality, the sense that doom is impending, and that this object is the result of people working quickly, working roughly, to do what they could to make something that might survive."
Finding the right materials alone was a challenge. In the Bible, Noah is instructed to use gopher wood, a mysterious genus unknown to modern man. 'We couldn't quite find that here on Long Island," Mark Friedberg laughs. 'But what we most wanted was for this Ark to be seemingly made of the forest that it was built within. So we used a steel frame, wood flooring and then created the big timbers for the ark carved from foam."
Once the designs were completed, construction began in the Planting Fields Arboretum State Park in Oyster Bay, Long Island. In a grassy field normally used for event parking, the team erected the Ark over five months. Friedberg's crew of hundreds built 170 feet, or about a third of the Ark, while the rest was completed by the visual effects team in post-production. Meanwhile, a second Ark was constructed inside Brooklyn's vacant Marcy Armory - once a storehouse for National Guard munitions - for interior scenes.
During the building, Friedberg was thrilled to bring in a pair of artists who were another major influence on the Ark's design: the Starn Brothers, the New York-based sculptors who created 'Big Bambu," a complex structure formed from thousands of bamboo poles, atop the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Originally, Friedberg called them to see if they knew anyone expert in working with bamboo to create the scaffolding of the Ark.
'Instead, they volunteered," Mark Friedberg recalls. 'So Doug and Mike Starn came out and built this remarkable five-story bamboo structure themselves. It added a lot of creative life to the film and aesthetically, it's a great counterpoint to the monolithic quality of the Ark."
The Ark's interior was laid out on three levels, as written in Genesis. 'The bottom level is the tallest Mammal Deck for the mammoths, elephants, giraffes and giant beasts. Reptiles and insects live in the middle level, which is only eight feet tall, and at the very top is the twelve foot Avian Deck, where the family lives with all the birds," Friedberg describes.
Rather than building each of the three levels of the ark side-by-side, as would normally be done on a stage, Darren Aronofsky had them authentically built one atop the other, to further add to the visual dynamism. 'It allowed us to connect the levels visually, so you can watch as the characters move up and down through the levels," explains Mark Friedberg.
Later, cinematographer Matthew Libatique, an Academy Award® nominee for his work on 'Black Swan," made utmost use of the three-story structure, his camera often moving through the Ark with the characters.
Lighting the interior of the ark was another quandary for the filmmakers, as Genesis only mentions one window in the massive craft. After much discussion, the decision was made to build a huge furnace in the center of the Ark. 'The furnace becomes a major light source during the forty days and forty nights where there's really no exposure to the outside world," says Mark Friedberg. 'So the furnace gives us light, it gives our characters heat, and allows us to cut away the center section of the ark so we can always feel the scale."
When cast and crew first saw what Mark Friedberg created their jaws dropped. 'I don't care if they made a hundred movies before, people had just never seen anything like it. The scale and the magnitude of it, and the originality of it was shocking," says Handel.
Adds Darren Aronofsky: 'The detail inside was even more incredible because we had built the three floors of the ark. It was by far the biggest set built in New York in a very long time because movies don't really build things like this anymore. So it was pretty exciting."
The actors felt awed, and also transported. 'The first time I saw the Ark it was an experience. Mark did an amazing job," says Russell Crowe.
Adds Douglas Booth: 'For us to be able to have this incredible set was an amazing thing. Darren Booth wanted it to be raw and visceral – and we could feel it, we could smell it. Everything seemed real."
The Animals of The Ark
While the Ark was palpably real, the animals that enter it as their refuge are a mix of digital wizardry and sculpted replicas – all to give audiences a sense of the breath-taking sight of thousands of animals coming aboard. 'When you work with live animals you're limited to the type you can have, and it's a tremendous responsibility to care for them," Darren Aronofsky explains. 'I also didn't want the Ark to look like a modern zoo. Creating the animals digitally gave us a larger freedom to show the tremendous diversity of the entire animal kingdom."
The crafting of the animals began with the work of Academy Award® nominated special effects make-up artist Adrien Morot, who filled the stage with life-like replications of reptiles, mammals and birds, which were later given movement and breath through CGI. 'Adrien Morot did a phenomenal job creating these animals," says Mary Parent. 'They looked like they could spring to life at any moment."
Jennifer Connelly was also moved when she saw the animals on the newly constructed Ark. 'It was as impressive as any Natural History Museum I have ever seen," she muses.
Meanwhile, special effects supervisor Ben Snow, of Industrial Light & Magic ('Iron Man," 'King Kong"), led a team that spent months meshing artistry with computing power to forge the menagerie. Snow's team worked with Darren Aronofsky to present a range of species, including some that are now extinct. 'Creating every animal, and some unique creatures that existed in the times before the flood, really required us to lift our game," says Ben Snow.
Once the animals board the Ark, they are sent into a long snooze by a special herb to keep them safe through the long journey. 'The problems that could manifest from all these animals in one space are huge," notes Ari Handel. 'But a lot of people have thought about this over the years, and there's a tradition in some commentary that the animals were placed in a kind of stupor to prevent the lions from eating the lambs. We took that further so that when they come onto the Ark they fall into a slumber, resting until the time when they can repopulate a New World."
Ben Snow's team also digitally created the Watchers, Darren Aronofsky's creative vision of the giant Nephilim said to have inhabited Canaan in Genesis. 'The design of the Watchers was a big challenge," comments Snow, 'and we had some of the top designers in the business working on it, from Aaron McBride at ILM to Aaron Simms down in LA. Early on, Sam Messer, a New York sculptor, gave us a real basis for what they would become."
Adds Darren Aronofsky: 'Nephilim are fallen angels talked about in a unique paragraph in the Bible. We created them as the Watchers, who are voiced by Frank Langella, Mark Margolis and Nick Nolte, and are these incredible creatures you've never seen before."
Though the animals and the Watchers add elements of the imagined to 'Noah," Snow notes that Aronofsky's over-riding emphasis was on a core realism – on pulling the audience into Noah's world as if it was fully alive in the here and now.
'I think one of the great decisions on this film was to shoot everything as realistically as possible," he observes. 'When you have that level of realism, it also gives you a strong foundation to which you can then pin the visual effects. This way, the spectacle is there but it doesn't overwhelm the story – it's all in support of the main thrust, which is always Noah and his family."
'Noah" In Iceland
Finding a location for the pre-flood world of 'Noah" might have been a challenge – but early on, Darren Aronofsky happened upon a landscape that resonated on a vacation to Iceland. Though Iceland might seem the last place one would think of for a biblical epic, it was the fact that the landscape felt so new and full of life that attracted him. 'As I was driving around I was thinking wow, this is a great landscape for -Noah.' It has the feeling of a primordial earth because you can see the heat and steam coming out of the ground," Aronofsky recalls.
Scott Franklin also became smitten with the terrain. 'We didn't want to use the stereotypical yellow sand of old epics – we wanted something different," he notes. 'Iceland presented itself with these incredibly beautiful, dark, barren landscapes made out of lava – but then you could drive twenty minutes and be in an amazing, lush, waterfall-filled, valley that could represent Eden. We scouted other places but no landscapes proved as fruitful."
In Iceland, Mark Friedberg helped bring to life a sin-corrupted human society bent on destructiveness. 'Our -Noah' takes place in a decimated landscape where the cities have failed, people are foraging for survival, and the sin is not against one another, but against Creation itself," he explains of the concept.
This idea also led to the design of Tubal-cain's chaotic camp overlooking Noah constructing the Ark.
'Tubal-cain hears of this man who has built this giant fortress – and then he realises what it is," Mark Friedberg explains. 'His followers start flocking from all over the world, as they have also heard that the end is upon them. His camp is therefore made up of the remnants of unraveled cities – with old billboards and banners making up the tents."
While shooting in the natural landscapes of Iceland, Darren Aronofsky collaborated closely with cinematographer Matthew Libatique. They utilised the latest technology, including the suspended Spydercam and zip-line CableCam, to capture the most sweeping scope, yet also employed intimate, hand held cameras to bring the audience in closer. Some of the most intense action sequences involve hundreds of soldiers and refugees running for their lives toward the ark. 'Those battle scenes at night were intense," says Scott Franklin. 'The extras that we cast in New York were fantastic, and the stunt men did an incredible job."
Make It Rain
Just as Noah is finishing the Ark, the skies darken, the floodgates open and the hardest rain earth has ever known falls upon the land for 40 days and 40 nights. Creating this unprecedented cinematic weather in a way that would feel both real and supremely powerful to audiences fell to special effects supervisor Burt Dalton, an Academy Award® winner for 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."
'We wanted rain on a biblical scale," says Burt Dalton. 'Darren Aronofsky wanted it to be bigger than anything done before, so we went to great lengths to do that. We would set up one rain test, and he would say -not heavy enough,' another rain test and he'd still say -heavier.' He wanted it so heavy that it was hard for people to see or talk, and we accomplished that."
It started with burying a vast system of water pipes under the Arboretum's field, where the Ark set was built. 'To supply the water, we had two giant pumps behind the Ark, with five 22,000-gallon retaining tanks supplying the pumps. From the edge of the Ark all the way around the field we laid 3000 feet of 12-inch pipe for a main. That's a bigger water main than you have going down the street to your house," Dalton points out.
The large main also supplied water to several immense cranes, each weighing 300 tons, that held six custom-made 'rain bars" – each 100-feet long and 50-feet wide, with varying sizes of heads. 'We could manipulate each head through an iPad," Burt Dalton explains. 'We could get huge drops, little drops or mist, based on the shot. And when all three cranes were going, it was 5,000 gallons a minute – or triple a normal rain scene. I would say it's record breaking in its density." (The water was also carefully recycled so as not to waste it.)
Meanwhile, cinematographer Libatique looked for ways to photograph the scenes in the midst of a sunny New York summer – and settled on shooting at night. 'But how do you shoot at night so it looks instead like heavy clouds? Matty came up with a great idea," Burt Dalton recalls. 'Since we were already building massive trusses for rain, he came up with the idea to put lights inside helium balloons so they gave off a soft light, like a cloudy day."
The onslaught of rain soon leads to a towering, explosively destructive sea deluge, which became the piece de resistance for visual effects supervisor Ben Snow. 'Darren Aronofsky really wanted something original," Ben Snow comments. 'We looked at many classic and religious paintings of the deluge, and there's some very inspirational work that's been done in that area. But our idea was to not repeat what you've already seen. We wanted to have the deluge be more than just a wall of water coming at you, and the result is exciting."
To deepen the vitality of 'Noah," Darren Aronofsky worked with costume designer Michael Wilkinson, an Academy Award® nominee this year for 'American Hustle," to create a fresh but atmospheric look for the film's Old Testament-era wardrobe. 'There were lots of great discussions about the costumes," recalls Michael Wilkinson. 'We looked at what is known of ancient cultures, but we also looked at modern, high-tech outdoor gear – and when you put all of these influences together, it results in something unique."
Given the film's richly textural feel, Michael Wilkinson and his team took great pains to find the right fabrics. 'We explored traditional plant-based fibers and home-woven textiles – but we also worked with some amazing textile artists to kind of create new fabrics," he explains.
For Noah, Michael Wilkinson wanted a look that changes as he goes from a vibrant, longhaired young father, to the streamlined silhouette and shaved head befitting a man on a mission. Later, Noah wears heavier clothes to shield him from the clammy air inside the Ark - and as his burden takes its toll, he becomes increasingly disheveled. 'His costumes are really quite thread-bare at that stage, his hair's all grown out," Michael Wilkinson describes.
Unlike Noah, Tubal-cain wears an elaborate costume of leather and metallic armor, a weapon always within reach. 'He's the fierce, intimidating warrior, so he has a long cape and all of his armor and fabrics are very foreign to Noah and his family," says Michael Wilkinson.
Winstone spent hours in the make-up chair each day with Adrien Morot, who gave Tubal-cain his battle scars and train of hair that reaches almost to the ground. Adding to Tubal-cain's fearsome look is a shock of bright yellow at the end of his long locks. 'It's a sulfurous color which reflects the tzohar, the fuel that they use for fire," explains Michael Wilkinson.
While Noah and his family wear earth tones, Michael Wilkinson added touches of aubergine and finer textures to Naameh's wardrobe, echoing the description of a virtuous wife in purple in Proverbs 31. 'For Naameh, we used China silks fused onto stretch fabrics, then sanded away and cracked to give a beautiful organic texture," he explains.
The costume challenges went far beyond the main cast. 'We had about 400 extras to think about, and we had to create each of their costumes pretty much from scratch," says Wilkinson. 'Some of it was done in New York, and some of it was done in Morocco, where for example we had 400 pairs of shoes and boots made for us, weaving together many interesting textures and fabrics. So it was a huge event."
The words 'huge event" could summarise the entire production, but there were also sudden moments of simple, life-affirming grace that underlined the meaning of it all. Singer/songwriter Patti Smith, who contributes the film's lullaby, recalls one extraordinary day when she was visiting the set in Iceland for inspiration. It came suddenly and startlingly.
'I was standing there at base camp, and it was raining for a little while, and then the sun came out, and I thought, -oh wouldn't it be something if there was a real rainbow,'" she says, musing on the rainbow that appears in Genesis, symbolising the unbreakable covenant between Noah and God. 'And suddenly, as I was standing there, there did come a rainbow. Then I felt someone tap me on the shoulder, and I turned around and it was Russell Crowe – and I thought this is a beautiful sign that this is going to be a powerful film."
Release Date: March 27th, 2014