If you’v seen The Legend of Tarzan filmed you’ll have been impressed by the jungle locations which appear to be in some exotic faraway idyll but actually the film was shot almost entirely in the sumptuous and glamourous locale that is Watford or more specifically Leavesden Studios, just north of London as well as a few places in Surrey.
Depsite most of the story being in Africa it was mainly studio-based, with huge jungle sets built on two large sound stages including a 100 foot waterfall driven by pumps and half a dozen large-scale variations to the two stages to pull the wool over audiences by give the impression of completely different jungle locations.
Jungle fauna was imported from the Netherlands, Special lighting and in-studio irrigation systems were used to keep all the plant life alive most of which had been imported from the Netherlands .
The mountainous landscapes were shot in the Italian Dolomites to compliment the rock formations built using moulds taken from a slate quarry in Wales. River scenes were split between Leavesden’s water tank facility and Virginia Water near London’s Heathrow Airport in Surrey and Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire in the Midlands stood in for Tarzan’s stately home, Greystoke Manor.
Convincing jungle locations present major problems with access and communications issues as well as weather conditions from extreme heat to tropical torrential showers to lethal wildlife and many central African countries have a total lack of infrastructure all of which can make a $180m movie even more expensive.
Instead, a small unit spent a few weeks on location in Gabon filming what were essentially plate shots of the landscape as well as high-definition aerial footage using a specially-designed rig of half a dozen cameras hanging from a helicopter by a 50-foot wire before being digitally mapped into shots during post-production.
The leap in technology means that awkward locations can be recreated artificially by combining them with studio sets as was done in the recent version of The Jungle Book.
Not every director chooses to do it this way though and recent film ‘After Earth’ with Will Smith was shot partly in the rainforests of Costa Rica where crew on horseback used machetes to clear the way forward before production then had to build their own roads to get to the locations and they faced major issues housing the crew massively increasing the films budget. The crew were also restricted with the kind equipment they can use in places where the environment is protected and even noise levels can limited so as to avoid disturbing local wildlife with even the weight of some equipment having to be kept off the ground itself as part of conversation efforts.
Filmmakers are always wary of shooting films on water – Jaws famously went massively over budget and Kevin Costner’s Waterworld became notorious but with the leaps in visual effects it seems that anything is now possible to recreate a location. The next step up will be the sequels to Avatar which go into production next year with rumours of both land and underwater sets.