Murder on the Orient Express filmed in UK studio
Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel Murder on the Orient Express filmed at Longcross Film Studios in the UK with an all-star cast.
Branagh himself stars in Murder on the Orient Express as iconic Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, while his line-up of suspects includes Johnny Depp, Judi Dench and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Production was based at Longcross Film Studios west of London. Branagh’s team travelled on the real Orient Express ahead of the shoot to assess the practicalities of shooting on a real train but it quickly became apparent that the logistics were too challenging, especially given that they would be filming with bulkier 65mm cameras.
Instead, they built a 30-tonne locomotive at Longcross, along with two working replicas of the Orient Express herself. One of these sets had moveable walls for added shot flexibility and there were also separate sets of a couple of the story’s key sleeper cabins, again with walls and ceilings that could be easily removed depending on what worked best for camera positioning.
A rig of hydraulics and air bellows beneath the train was used to make the set move in a way that mimicked the movement of a real railway track.
Mountain footage filmed separately in New Zealand was digitally stitched together and provided the background landscapes as visual effect shots, visible whenever the carriage windows were in shot.
Additional sets built at Longcross included Stamboul Station (‘Stamboul’ being an archaic word for ‘Istanbul’, where the train starts its journey in the story) and a huge viaduct where the Orient Express becomes stranded following a snow drift.
The drift itself came from a mountainside that was specially built as a 35-foot-high set that stretched for several hundred metres in either direction inside the Longcross production facility.
Snowfall was a significant dramatic element of the story and the crew faced challenges creating the right ‘types’ to suit the demands of the production.
“Dave Watkins (the film’s special effects supervisor) had to put a lot of work into it, as there were all sorts of different types of falling snow, from powder to snow candles to smoke,” says Matthew Jenkins, one of the film’s executive producers.
“In addition, when we were on the stages he had to devise a way of having snow move past the windows without making any noise, so he built a very complicated ducting system, which filled the stages, to ensure that we could have wind and moving snow passing our carriage windows without anybody hearing that it was going on.”
Longcross offers four stages, the largest of which spans some 42,000 sq ft. Producers also have access to a 200-acre back lot and a test track facility that stretches a little over two miles. In recent years Longcross has hosted Marvel’s superhero movies Thor: The Dark World and Doctor Strange.
Images: 20th Century Fox