The city of Nottingham perpetually exists in two states: the metropolitan center that it is today, and the fictional home of one of the world’s most famous outlaws. So when the filmmakers behind Robin Hood, which is now streaming and on DVD, looked to recreate the fictional Nottingham, they needed to build it from scratch with help from London’s Cinesite Studio. The film stars Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, and Jamie Dornan.
Working closely with Robin Hood’s VFX supervisor Simon Stanley-Clamp and director Otto Bathurst, Cinesite created a handful of settings and backgrounds for the film, starting with a digital model of Nottingham built to scale. Given its modern look and feel, Nottingham of today wouldn’t do, so the team used Dubrovnik, Croatia, as its template. The Croatian city — best known to TV fans around the world as the model for Game of Thrones’ Kings Landing — has become a popular spot for filming historical fiction, thanks to its famed stone walls and medieval structures. That made it an ideal starting point for a film set around the time of the Crusades.
“Robin’s Nottingham is a teeming industrial city dominated by global influences, politics and religion. It’s also full of posh grandeur but populated by soot-choked mines and sprawling slums reflecting the gap between haves and have-nots, and we needed to establish that at a glance for audiences,” says Cinesite’s head of assets, Tim Potter. “With so many buildings making up the city, the Substance Suite allowed us to achieve the many variations and looks that were required for the large city of Nottingham in a very quick and easy manner.”
Using Autodesk Maya for the builds and Pixologic ZBrush for sculpting and displacement, the VFX team then relied on Allegorithmic Substance Designer (which was acquired by Adobe recently) to customize the city, creating detailed materials that would give life and personality to the stone and wood structures. From the slums inspired by Brazilian favelas to the gentry and nobility’s grandiose environments, the texturing and materials helped to provide audiences with unspoken clues about the outlaw archer’s world.
Creating these swings from the oppressors to the oppressed was often a matter of dirt, dust and grime, which were added to the RGB channels over the textures to add wear and tear to the city. Once the models and layouts were finalized, Cinesite then added even more intricate details using Substance Painter, giving an already realistic recreation additional touches to reflect the sometimes messy lives of the people that would inhabit a city like Nottingham.
At its peak, Cinesite had around 145 artists working on the project, including around 10 artists focusing on texturing and look development. The team spent six months alone creating the reimagined Nottingham, with another three months spent on additional scenes. Although the city of Dubrovnik informed many of the design choices, one of the pieces that had to be created from scratch was a massive cathedral, a focal point of the story. To fit with the film’s themes, Cinesite took inspiration from several real churches around the world to create something original, with a brutalist feel.
Using models and digital texturing, the team also created Robin’s childhood home of Loxley Manor, which was loosely based on a real structure in Završje, Croatia. There were two versions of the manor: one meant to convey the Loxley family in better times, and another seen after years of neglect and damage. Cinesite also helped to create one of the film’s most integral and complex moments, which saw Robin engage in a wagon chase through Nottingham. The scene was far too dangerous to use real animals in most shots, requiring Cinesite to dip back into its toolbox to create the texturing and look of the horse and its groom, along with the rigging and CFX.
“To create the world that the filmmakers wanted, we started by going through the process of understanding the story. From there we saw what the production had filmed and where the action needed to take place within the city, then we went about creating something unique,” Potter says. “The scale was massive, but the end result is a realistic world that will feel somewhat familiar, and yet still offer plenty of surprises.”
Robin Hood was released on home media on February 19.