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Image of behind-the-scenes production still from Jupiter Ascending at the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum in Jupiter Ascending

Date posted: 01.02.2015

Mila Kunis (Black Swan) and Channing Tatum (22 Jump Street) star alongside Academy Award nominee Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything) in the highly anticipated science fiction space opera Jupiter Ascending. Written, directed and produced by the Wachowski siblings, Jupiter Ascending sees their first original screenplay come to the big screen since The Matrix trilogy.

The film takes off with genetically engineered ex-military hunter Caine Wise (Tatum) warning stuck-in-a-rut janitor Jupiter Jones (Kunis) of her real genetic identity, rooted in otherworldly royalty, and her destiny as heir to Earth. Elsewhere in the galaxy, Balem Abrasax (Redmayne), his sister Kalique and brother Titus fight out their interplanetary inheritance, only to find their plans further disrupted by news of a new heir – Jupiter.

Finding an intergalactic space palace

The Natural History Museum's impressive interior – both the building itself and its extraordinary collections – were the right fit for the production's brief of an 'Intergalactic Space Palace' for Jupiter Ascending. The film used three main locations within the museum: the Zoology basement corridor, the Old General Herbarium and Hintze Hall.

"We were very privileged to have the opportunity to feature this location as part of the Intergalactic Space Palace," said Jamie Lengyel, Location Manager.

With a crew of 400, plus a cast of extra-terrestrials numbering 150, Jupiter Ascending is the biggest film production that The Natural History Museum has accommodated to date. In addition to the impressive numbers, limited shoot time called for extensive and efficient planning for set-up and filming. "Being a Grade I listed building and only open to film crews after public closing time at 6pm, the Museum can be a fairly challenging location for big shoots," explains Alice Beer, Events Manager.

Lengyel coordinated with a wide variety of teams within the Museum, including curators, estates managers and events operators. Open communication and cooperation was vital to ensuring the filming went smoothly, and both parties have since left the experience with nothing but kind words for each other. Beer enthused that, "by the time the shoot came around, the Museum was in very safe hands!"

In a shoot of this scale, challenges were inevitable, and the Museum excellently accommodated the complexities. Relocating some Mollusca and Botany collections, for example, required working with Museum curators and was pulled off smoothly. Relevant areas were also dressed accordingly for filming, as Beer describes, "with piles of files, typewriters and other archaic peculiar looking devices" – making for intriguing scenes!

Dippy Descending and live action stunts

ramp set-up for live action stunt in Jupiter Ascending

A spectacular stunt scene was created in transforming the central hall. A highlight for Beer, she explains: "the crew constructed a ramp which followed the staircase down from the second floor to the bridge which stretches across Hintze Hall from the first floor balconies."

'Dippy', the affectionately-named 26 metre long Diplodocus and celebrity of the hall had to be avoided as the stuntman rollerbladed down the ramp, jumped off the bridge and ended up free-falling into a pile of boxes. "I probably should have been more nervous but the crew were so meticulous in the planning and the execution of the stunt that it was just incredible to watch," says Beer.

the Natural History Museum's Dippy the Diplodocus surrounded by prep for a live action stunt in Jupiter Ascending

Lengyel thanks the Museum for taking on the large crew numbers, complicated stunt scenes, rigging requirements and other logistical complexities. Highlighting the ability of the location to deliver such a high-profile shoot, he says, "Alice Beer and the team at the Museum were brilliantly supportive in accommodating the many demands of a major studio feature"

The Natural History Museum recently facilitated a six night shoot for Paddington as well as David Attenborough's Natural History Museum Alive 3D last summer, which consisted of an 18 night shoot.  

Background on the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum offers filmmakers a variety of opportunities. From its landmark South Kensington building to its sister museum in rural Hertfordshire, the Museum is home to world-class research collections and unique architecture. The world-famous Waterhouse building is one of the most distinctive buildings in London and a work of art. This beautiful terracotta building was designed by Alfred Waterhouse and opened on Easter Monday 1881.

Architectural features include:

  • grand Romanesque entrance
  • imposing Central Hall with its intricately painted ceiling, relief carvings of plants and animals as well as its iconic replica Diplodocus skeleton

interior shot of the Natural History Museum main hall

The Museum site was extended in the 1960s to include the palaeontology wing and Earth Galleries. The first phase of the Darwin Centre, which opened in 2000, provides world-class storage for precious collections, new laboratories and behind-the-scenes access for visitors. The building is at the forefront of environmental architecture. Its green credentials feature:

  • energy-saving glass solar wall that limits heat in the summer and heat loss in the winter
  • caterpillar roof made of recyclable materials.

The Natural History Museum at Tring has been part of the Natural History Museum since 1937 and its remarkable collections were once the private passion of its founder, Lionel Walter, second Baron Rothschild. It is a beautiful Victorian museum with original fittings and displays.

To film at this location please contact Alice Beer: filming@nhm.ac.uk or a.beer@nhm.ac.uk 0207 942 5273

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