The Production Built a Giant Big Ben

Like any major movie made in the 21st century, Mary Poppins Returns is chock-full of CGI. But one thing was made clear time and time again during our visit to the set: if something could be built practically, the team built it. Which meant they built a giant recreation of the clock face of London’s famed Big Ben for the film’s climax.

Myhre explained the process of blending the practical set (which was huge and occupied an entire sound stage) with digital effects, which would transplant the partial Big Ben and place it on top of a CGI tower:

We have a piece of the film with Big Ben in it and I’ve always wanted to build that part of Big Ben. We just started filming the clockface whole side, so we’ve got all of the metal work in and we’re building the room behind it. But we’re actually ended up building about five or six separate pieces for Big Ben that we put through visual effects so you feel like you’ve seen the real thing.  

Of course, building Big Ben meant scouting Big Ben, which meant Mhyre and his team had to navigate a web of red tape:

It’s really touchy with even reproducing. So thank goodness it’s Mary Poppins because I think if Michael Bay was coming for the Transformers movies, they’d say thanks but no thanks. So it was a very complicated negotiations, but we were actually able to go and scout it and we were able to do some, not filming with actors, but we were able to film some sections to be able to use in the movie. So we have a whole fun sequence at the end that involves it. It will be a combination of the real place and the pieces that we built.

Mary Poppins Returns poster

They Built a Practical Umbrella

There’s not getting around it: the first Mary Poppins is a movie that I hold close to my heart. It’s a beautiful blend of musical and fantasy, a remarkable showcase for the powers of Walt Disney and his empire of talented geniuses, and a big-hearted movie about redemption and childhood and parenting and family. Everything I saw on the set of Mary Poppins Returns suggests that this is a production with the very best of intentions. It warmed my heart until it was gooey and dripping.

And few things melted my heart quite like the revelation that Mary Poppins’ iconic bird cane, you know, the one that can talk, was built as a practical effect, one that was able to have full-on conversations with the cast on camera. As Myhre told us:

This is actually a character in the movie that holds conversations, not just with Mary Poppins, but also with the three children. Rob immediately said to me, ‘I don’t want the kids to be talking to a CG character because I really want them to interacting because they’re kids.’ And so we’ve made another version of this that’s actually auto animatronic. It’s pretty incredible. The beak opens and closes, the eyes blink, the head can turn and swivel. And we were able to actually put a battery in it from here and have a remote control. So when it became time, I had to show it to Rob. He was really busy, Rob our director, couldn’t get to him, couldn’t get to him because he’s always busy on set. So I just walked by him one day and I handed him the umbrella and I walked away. And he stood there with this umbrella wondering what was going on and it turned around and said, ‘Hello, Rob. How are you doing?’ And he had a conversation with it. And I just saw last week some footage of a scene we shot with it and it’s really fun for the actors to have something that they can interact with and respond to.

Mary Poppins Returns opens on December 19, 2018. I’ll be first in line.

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