VFX company BlueBolt played key role in Ridley Scott’s Napoleon

VFX company BlueBolt played key role in Ridley Scott’s Napoleon

Paris riotsLondon-based VFX company BlueBolt provided key effects for Ridley Scott’s historical epic, Napoleon, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the iconic French emperor. 

Overall, BlueBolt delivered 126 VFX shots to portray Napoleon’s Siege of Toulon in 1793 and his violent suppression of the Paris Riots two years later. 

VFX supervisor Henry Badgett headed the team, working closely with overall VFX supervisor Charley Henley to interpret Scott’s storyboards to create the desired immersive, visceral tone. The team also used painting and engravings of the events of the period as reference. 


The Siege of Toulon 

During the Siege of Toulon, which was one of the first significant Napoleonic battles, the French military leader displayed his strategic skills by leading a night-time attack on an English stronghold that had previously been considered unbreachable. 

For the siege scenes, BlueBolt created 90 shots, divided between the daytime ‘before’ and the dramatic night battle in the Port of Toulon. 

ToulonToulon before

Creating the geography of Toulon Harbour was a major challenge. Shooting took place in several locations in Malta including a set build surrounded by blue screen.


The remit for the BlueBolt team was to use 3D and DMP [digital matte painter] environment work, to replicate the crowd, to add the British fleet in the harbour  – including CG sailors – with a fully-rigged recreation of the British fleet in the Mediterranean, including HMS Victory, and to enhance the battle with a wide range of FX work which climaxes with the explosion of the ammunition-carrying ship ‘Iris’. 

tOULON AFTERToulon after

Badgett said: “The FX and lighting work were key as the FX explosions and flashes also needed to light the scene, vastly more than if it were daytime. As a result the timing and animation of these mortar explosions were crucial and needed careful execution, also requiring off screen as well as on screen explosions to achieve the immersive feel of the dramatic battle.”


Toulon 2

“The team at BlueBolt brought their experience from numerous past projects with CG historic ships, building a hero model for each of the six or seven classes of ship and from there making three or four variations of each of those to form the fleet, before adding intricate period rigging, sails and flags with rope and cloth sims. 

“To help with this, we received reference from an element shoot in which production built 1/16th scale miniatures that were then attacked by cannon balls from the SFX department and set on fire.”

The Paris Riots 

The second major part of the film in which BlueBolt played a key role was the depiction of the Paris Riots and a battle known as the ‘13 Vendémiaire’ – when the French revolutionary troops fought the Royalist forces in 1795. This battle was part of the establishment of a new government and a major factor in the rapid advancement of Bonaparte’s career.

Paris riotsParis riots before

BlueBolt’s brief was to extend the environment, replicate the crowd, add CG crowd and then apply riot-control cannon grapeshot fire into the crowd. 

All shots were filmed at Greenwich Naval College in London, a filming location that the BlueBolt team were familiar with from previous projects. In extending the environment, the challenge was therefore both to present a new look at a familiar location, and to work sympathetically with the architecture whilst adding to it to create a new Parisian street look and feel. 


Paris riotsParis riots after 

Badgett’s research into the architecture of Paris was supported by the production’s historical advisor Inigo Minns from UAL [University of the Arts London]. 

One wing of the Louvre Palace in Paris was the key reference for an administrative building in the background behind Napoleon’s soldiers. BlueBolt rebuilt it in 2.5D and gave the Greenwich Old Naval College a French style mansard 3D roof top up. In the other direction behind the crowd of rioters they added a DMP based on very rough geometry for scale and perspective, using additional Louvre references from Inigo.

For the crowd replication layers BlueBolt painted out jerk-rig wires from an entire row of crowd and individually tracked on blood patches and removed limbs from victims after the cannon fire. Some gaps were filled with CG crowd that could take more violent reactions. These crowd actions were animated with motion-capture performed by stunts from a session at the Imaginarium in Ealing Studios. 

The crowd was waving large flags, some of which were replaced by 3D simulations to allow for violent tearing from the cannon shot. The shots were finished with 2D element dressing for cannon fire, smoke, torn fabric floating in the air and two types of blood – a misty blood vapour and a wet blood spray. The crowd are seen throwing various 3D bottles and stones which were individually hand-animated.

Badgett summarized thus: “Napoleon not only boasts significant VFX set pieces but also integrates subtle VFX throughout the cut. These small touches collectively contribute to creating the immersive and atmospheric experience of Ridley Scott’s Napoleon and we are proud to have been part of it.”


TOulon Toulon after CG HMS Victory

You can watch BlueBolt’s VFX breakdown reel here:


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