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Leather (and laces): the "Ben Hur" training chariots


In 2015 I worked on the remake of the 2016 "Ben Hur" movie.

I was called to join the crew in charge of sculpting, molding, casting and finishing the chariots for the famous race and that's what I did...I still smell the styrene in my mind!

It was an intense and fascinating period and probably will be the subject of a future post.

Below that's me while working intensely!

Well, Luckily for my lungs I had been called primarily to dress the training chariots with leather.

The Training chariot is the one used by the main character to learn drifting with a small chariot trained by four powerful horses! It is a poor piece build from wood and leather.

When the incredible prop maker Riccardo Andreotti completed the frame (working with real and fake cane wood) I was transferred from the resin department (where we where making the race chariots) to the training chariot room.

Above you can see the Concept (made by talented Henry Fong), of course, during the making of the real piece, lot of small differences and problems arose, so multiple variations had to be imagined by tireless art director Massimo Pauletto (our connection with production designer Naomi Shohan).

The production designer choose to heavily modify the original concept, in particular she decide to add a sort of mudguard a conver for the side axle of the chariot, completely missing on the concept.

At that point I started trying a lot of different weaves using fake leather strips, till I got the right result on the chariot (and the measures of the strips without wasting real leather)

The result was fine with the main chariot body, but it was a mess on the mudguard, expecially if seen from behind (not shown on the image).

So I came up with something different using a mix of strips and leather laces.

I showed it to the chariot art-director who showed it to the first assistant production designer, who showed it to the production designer (maybe there was some link of the chain I omitted!!!)

and finally I got a green light to dress the chariots!

Of course we where in a hurry, not so many days left for the beginning of the shooting. Oh and I forgot to mention that there where three chariots to dress: one brand new, one slightly damaged and one eavily damaged we had to dress upside down!

Luckily, after I dressed the first one all alone I was given great assistants: Claudia Brugnaletti, Renzo Iemmolo and a nice, silent guy whose name I don't remember (Please contact me if you read it and I'll add your name!).

In the picture below Claudia and Renzo working on the second chariot.

and a picture of the upside-down eavily damaged chariot.

It was more than fun to dress this chariots, and the whole period was extremely instructive for me. I have to thanks Leonardo Cruciano (on of the founder of Makinarium, the effects company that called me for this job) for the chance he gave me.

Hundreds of other things can be told about that experience, maybe this will be material for future blog articles.


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