The Prague Post
March 29th, 2008
Prague accommodation


Local shoots shrinking

By Josh Campbell
For The Prague Post
(February 5, 2004)

A person walking into the old Letnany airplane hangar would never suspect that it holds a massive arctic icebreaker, an alien lair or a soon-to-be-destroyed whaling station.

Yet in one room the Arctic Ocean gives way to a massive expeditionary ship. Developments next door are downright frightening: The queen's chamber of an alien race is taking shape.

If you think this sounds like something out of a big-budget Hollywood movie, you're right.

For the first time, Prague is in the business of building miniature sets for a major production. Miniatures are generally used when practical sets would be too expensive or too massive to construct. After each set is shot by computer-controlled cameras, digital details are added -- such as people and moving water -- to create a massive and realistic-looking scene.

In this case, the film is the big-budget sci-fi actioner Aliens vs. Predator, and the miniatures are some of the most precise and elaborate that have been shot anywhere.

Visual special effects (VFX) producer Arthur Windus is in charge of making sure each detail is right. And there is a lot of detail: The 15-foot (4.5-meter) icebreaker features working lights and mechanically revolving radar. Rust has been painted on the hull, and the smokestacks have been rendered intentionally dirty.

Shooting miniatures is a time-consuming process. The 25-meter (82-foot) whaling station -- consisting of dozens of buildings rigged to crash into the earth -- took many months to build. It was constructed completely by Czech technicians and will be deliberately collapsed in a six-second shot. To give the filmmakers some choice, the VFX crew will spend two weeks painstakingly reconstructing the set for a second take.

The icebreaker took 10 weeks to build in London at a cost of nearly £20,000 (960,000 Kc/$37,000), but the benefit is immediate, according to Windus. "With computer graphics, you need to spend a lot of time making it real. With a miniature, you shoot it and it's there," he said. Considering the short schedule and the need to work near director Paul W.S. Anderson, who's directing the live action in Prague, building the miniature set in this city was the only choice.

Prague also makes economic sense. For the same number of miniature shots, the latest Harry Potter film will run up a bill four to five times more than Aliens vs. Predator's. And that's the kind of savings that brings film production to Prague -- even the smallest productions.

Josh Campbell can be reached at

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