Welcome to Jim Hill Media - Entertainment News : Theme Parks Movies Television

Get an in-the-depth look at the making of Disney's newest summer blockbuster with "The Art of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

Get an in-the-depth look at the making of Disney's newest summer blockbuster with "The Art of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"

Rate This
  • Comments 5

A year ago today, Johnny Depp was in a helicopter flying along Kauai's Na Pali coast. This copter eventually touched down along the shoreline. Depp then hopped out and - in full pirate regalia - carefully made his way across the sand to that beautiful natural arch which graces Honopu Beach.


Photo by Peter Mountain. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Once in position in front of the cameras, Johnny then shot the scene from "On Stranger Tides" where Captain Jack Sparrow discovers Ponce de Leon's ship, the Santiago, teetering at the edge of a cliff.


Dean Tschetter's conceptual painting of Jack Sparrow's discovery of the Santiago.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And that - my friends - is how the first day of principal photography on "Pirates 4" actually got underway. "And how do I know this?," you ask. Because I've just finished reading Michael Singer's fine new making-of book, "The Art of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (Disney Editions, May 2011).


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

As you leaf through this 160-page hardcover, you'll notice that - while this making-of book is loaded with beautiful concept paintings, preliminary costume & character sketches as well as of some stunning on-set photography - "The Art of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" is curiously light on text. Which was a deliberate choice on Singer's part.

"I wasn't looking to fill up the pages of this making-of book with my own personal impressions of the production. What I really wanted to do was capture the voices of the actual filmmakers. People like 'Pirates' costume designer Penny Rose and set designer John Myhre. Have them talk about why they did what they did on 'On Stranger Tides,' " Michael explained.


Blackbeard concept drawing by Miles Teves. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Take - for example - why Penny decided to dress Blackbeard in a weathered leather coat:

"Once I'd seen that Ian McShane was cast," notes Rose. "it struck me that we needed to find an identity for this new pirate character suited to Ian's uniquely badass screen persona. So we did him as kind of a Hells Angels biker pirate. We have him in lots of beaten-up weather and stud work, and Ian looks just great in them."


Aaron McBride's developmental illustration for Syrena
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Likewise Singer takes you behind-the-scenes as "Pirates" producer Jerry Bruckheimer and "On Stranger Tides" director Rob Marshall struggled to get a handle on what the mermaids in this motion picture should look like.

Though ILM's Aaron McBride came up with a truly killer concept for these "Pirates 4" characters (i.e. that -- because mermaids were genuinely creatures of the deep - their hair should have long, flowing locks that are made out of kelp), Bruckheimer and Marshall opted to make the sirens that we see in this movie " ... more human and less creature-like & monstrous in their underwater form."


Wil Madoc Rees' illustration of Jack Sparrow's arrival at a snow-covered
Captain's Daughter tavern. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

That's half the fun of reading "The Art of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides." The way that Singer shows you some of the roads not taken on this summer blockbuster. Like the visually daring way that "Pirates 4" screenwriters Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio initially wanted to distinguish this movie from the first three films in the "POTC" series. Which was by ditching the heat & sand of the Caribbean entirely. And - instead - at least for the initial portion of this motion picture, cutting Jack loose in London during the depths of winter.

Admit it. Seeing the already-unsteady-on-his-feet Captain slip & slide over ice-covered cobblestone streets would have been great fun. But from a film maker's point of view (i.e. always having to make sure that the snow matched up from shot to shot), this creative conceit would have taken an already-hugely-complex production and made it nightmarish. Which is why - sadly - a snowy England of the 1700s got dropped in favor of a gray, overcast and sooty version of the UK.


One of Dean Tschetter's many attempts to find just the right look for the Fountain of Youth
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But my favorite part of "The Art of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" deals with the artistic development of the Fountain of Youth. It took Bruckheimer, Marshall and Myhre months to come up with a version of this legendary location which properly served "Pirates 4" 's story. Which - since this set was going to be built on the Albert R. Broccoli 007 stage at Pinewood Studios - was going to be massive. Filling up nearly all 59,000 square feet of this famed soundstage.

Though they always had a sense of the size & scale of the thing, Jerry, Rob and John went through dozens of ideas (among them a vine-covered grotto that was guarded by two-headed snakes) before finally settling on a somewhat timeless setting. "A mixture of architecture," according to Myhre,"With Egyptain, Babylonian, Greek, even Japanese elements."


Developmental illustration by Dean Tschetter. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

With this particular making-of book, Michael made an effort to touch on virtually every aspect of the development & production of "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides." From Michael Jackson's storyboard drawings (which helped this movie's cinematographer set up his shots) ...


Storyboards by Michael Jackson. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

... to this beautiful ship-in-a-bottle version of the Black Pearl (which - according to Singer -- was " ... built under the supervision of U.S. property master Kirk Corwin and was later animated by Charles Gibson's visual effects department for maximum effect").


Photo by Peter Mountain. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Singer then handed his somewhat spare text off to Disney Editions' designers. Who took that material plus all of these terrific concept paintings & Peter Mountain's amazing on-set photography (much of which is pretty enough to frame) ...


Sparrow and Gibbs walk off into the sunset, in search of a crossbow, an hourglass, three
goats and a man with a trumpet. Photo by Peter Mountain. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... with the end result being what is arguably one of the better making-of books of the past five years.

So if you're looking for a way to expand your knowledge of "Pirates 4" (which - FYI - just this past weekend sailed past the $200-million-in-domestic-ticket-sales mark. Which means that "On Stranger Tides" is now officially a summer blockbuster. More to the point, given that "Pirates 4" has - to date - grossed $887 million ... it's quite possible that - before the summer is over - "On Stranger Tides" will join "Dead Man's Chest" in the billion-dollar box office club), picking up a copy of "The Art of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" would be a sure-fire way to get an in-the-depths look at this Jerry Bruckheimer production.

Your thoughts?

Blog - Post Feedback Form
Your comment has been posted.   Close
Thank you, your comment requires moderation so it may take a while to appear.   Close
Leave a Comment
  • * Please enter your name
  • * Please enter a comment
  • Post
  • Wow. Every concept painting and idea was much better than what ended up in the final movie. What a shame.

  • The film looked like it borrowed all of its sets from the previous films. Nothing in it looked original.

    And I know they cut the budget, but I was disappointed that there was no grand fight sequence. No Kraken, no giant spinning wheel, no Maelstrom, nothing. The majority of the action was made up of poorly directed sword fighting.

  • Now I love Johnny Depp, ESPECIALLY as Captain Jack but this movie was missing something. I actually found myself wondering when it would end and I could leave the theatre, I was that bored! It felt like they just threw this film together, lots of questions, no back story to some of these characters. It was confusing. I was deeply disappointed and kinda wish they'd stopped at 3 films...

  • I loved the 4th movie.  I think that it had more of the comedic feel that Curse had.  I loved the comraderie between Sparrow and Barbossa.  But to be honest-if you put Johnny Depp in his Capt Jack costume and  expanded his ComicCon teaser where he talks to the audience directly-to 2.5 hrs-just take my $$$. Love it.

  • The biggest problem is that Jack doesn't work as a point-of-view character.  It really felt like the mermaid and the missionary were supposed to be our "Will and Elizabeth" in this movie and that their part got cut out for more wacky Jack antics.  He's better as a fringe character upsetting the main characters with his untrustworthiness.

    Also, I was pretty sure that Ian McShane was asleep the entire movie.

    However, Angelica was a great addition and I'm a huge sucker for the franchise, so I'd probably go see a 5th.  I'd just hope that they realize their mistakes, and maybe bring back a few more familiar background faces. (Mackenzie Crook, etc.)

Page 1 of 1 (5 items)