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Disney’s Mars Adventure in London

Date posted: 07.03.2012

John Carter is the first live action feature film from director Andrew Stanton, whose previous animation successes include Oscar®-winning WALL-E and Finding Nemo. Shot almost entirely in the UK, including London, it also utilised the capital's world-class post production houses.

The film is an adaptation of cult classic sci-fi adventure 'John Carter of Mars', the pioneering epic from Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs tells the story of a broken hearted American Civil War Veteran who is astral projected to the red planet.

A stellar ensemble cast is led by Taylor Kitsch (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Lynn Collins (True Blood) and Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man). The cast also includes Brits Samantha Morton (Elizabeth: The Golden Age), Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes), Dominic West (The Wire) and James Purefoy (Vanity Fair).

Star Taylor Kitsch describes the film as an epic adventure, saying that "it takes us from the 1800s on the wet streets of New York to Virginia, to Arizona, to Mars, then back to Earth again, all in one movie. The grandeur of what we are doing, how it works and how it is intertwined is great".

Considered by many to be the first space hero, John Carter was first introduced to the world in the story 'Under the Moons of Mars'. Burroughs' stylish pulp fiction sci-fi and fantasy stories, involving Earthly adventurers transported to various planets, lost islands and interiors of hollow earth, have garnered a cult following and exerted an influence which extends to the Star Wars films and beyond. Science-fiction writers Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury have all credited John Carter as inspiration for their own work.

Stanton has also been a huge fan of John Carter for many years, recalling that he "stumbled across these books at the perfect age". He remembers, "I was about ten and I just fell in love with the concept of a human finding himself on Mars, among amazing creatures in a strange new world. A stranger in a strange land. It was a very romantic aspect of adventure and science fiction".

In 2010, Stanton's John Carter production landed in the UK, setting up a production base and ambitious sets at Shepperton Studios and Longcross Studios, as well as shooting on location, including at The National Trust's Ham House in the capital.

The production also boasted a number of high profile and well respected crew behind the scenes including the Oscar®-nominated production designer Nathan Crowley (The Dark Knight). Stanton describes that "he and I came together right at the height of the awards season that was honoring WALL-E and The Dark Knight, so it was really exciting to be working with each other based on all the hype surrounding our films".

Stanton goes on to praise's Nathan's talent, explaining that he "brings a really fresh eye and original perspective...he has an astonishing aesthetic sense. He totally rethought the architecture and the functionality for a world that isn't coming from our own".

As much as was possible, the film-makers wanted to use real locations and landscapes to film the action. "We decided to shoot in actual locations and minimize the amount of digital set creation," says Producer Jim Morris, "so that the audience always feel like they are grounded in real places. We hope this will add an additional layer of authenticity that will heighten the believability and realism of the film".

In looking for a grand waterfront house that could double as a New York mansion on the Hudson River, the production selected Ham House, which not only fitted the brief, but is also experienced in hosting large scale productions.

The sumptuous red-brick Stuart mansion on the southern bank of the River Thames, was transformed into the American home of heroic adventurer John Carter, which is neglected and ramshackle as Carter becomes increasingly obsessed with all things related to Mars.

To aid the transformation, the West Passage and Great Hall were filled with glass fronted cupboards for the storage of specimens and artefacts. Outside in Ham House's maze-like wilderness a full size mausoleum was built. Working with the National Trust and filmrichmond, Disney diligently followed a Green filming policy

Elsewhere in London, a 'Palace of Light' was built at a disused warehouse in Greenford in Ealing. The enormous structure, which was the largest of all the set built for the production, took over four months to complete and was strong enough to hold the 400 extras required for an extravagant wedding ceremony scene.

When it came to post production, Stanton also found what he was looking for in the capital for the film's stunning VFX. Working with Peter Chiang, of effects house Double Negative, Stanton recalls, "It felt like they were running an operation that seemed very similar to Pixar in its early days, so we felt very comfortable bringing his team on board".

John Carter is released in cinemas on 9 March.

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