Merlin: The special effects

Thursday 6 December 2012, 15:12

Colin Gorry Colin Gorry Director, special effects

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I’ve been interested in films and effects since I was a child, coupled with an obsession for knowing how things work.

Deconstructing things and making something else from the pieces often led to trouble from my parents.

I’d pull something apart (for that vital cog!) to the point where the item in question was broken beyond repair, generating a corresponding animated reaction from my father.

So to end up in special effects, I suppose was inevitable.

Effects are in essence all about creating an illusion, crafting the image of something happening for real when in reality it’s a manufactured event, like a cave wall collapsing or a building bursting into flames.

Of course the effect you see on the screen has to be controlled and happen without damage to the surroundings, cast or crew so safety is also one of our primary considerations during design and planning.

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First look at The Kindness of Strangers.

Working on Merlin was a delight and a privilege.

It was a rollercoaster script full of magic and natural effects (like rain, mist, wind, fire, a net trap etc) - a lot of which could be shot front of camera.

On occasion I had a team of up to six technicians depending on the complexity of the effect.

We’ve had many diverse challenges over the five years of filming from the very simple, such as extinguishing or igniting a burning torch on cue to the more complicated set-up of controlling a boat’s direction and speed around a weed-filled moat.

Earlier effects involved arranging a mattress to move independently around a room, to stop under a falling actor, breaking his fall.

We incorporated a hidden system of wires and pulleys into the set, and the mattress had to change direction too, so some lines needed to be released or extended during its travel.

It was basically a puppet moving on the horizontal plane.

We created a radio-controlled rolling barrel which chased some guards as a diversion, by using an adapted remote control car with a very lightweight barrel fitted to the front on a small universal joint.

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Skeleton hands: series three, The Tears of Uther Pendragon - part two

To get these skeleton hands smashing out through stone tomb lids [above], the lids were copied from the originals and made from soft lightweight material which closely resembled stone.

The hands’ movements were operated from beneath.

And of course for the dragons breathing balls of fire in the clip below, we specially constructed pressure vessels to hold propane gas.

The gas was released instantly by a timed valve and ignited, giving precise control over the distance and size of the flame.

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From series two, The Last Dragonlord

Whatever the effects, they were always an immense amount of fun to work out, work on and produce.

The snow in this series was one of our biggest setups.

We had the weather to consider when choosing the material as the more economic ‘snow’ was not weather-proof enough to endure a week’s filming in Wales.

The greater challenge, however, was the brief to construct the safe and fast-moving sleigh driven over rough, undulating ground by the lovely Morgana.

20622-morganna-1024x576.jpg Morganna (Katie McGrath) on her sleigh, with Gwaine (Eoin Macken)

We wanted to use the actor (Katie McGrath) and not a stand-in, so for stability we chose to build it on three wheels with the front free steering.

We angled the rear two at 45 degrees to spread the footprint. An advantage of this was a softened, very realistic movement. We avoided using a rail which was both difficult to hide, expensive and also inflexible.

Instead, we pulled the sleigh over 30 metres on a hydraulic winch which, in the end, we had also built as there was not one in existence fast enough for our needs.

The end result was a perfect blend of safety and stable movement matching that of a sleigh at speed.

Colin Gorry is director of Colin Gorry Effects, the company which produces the special effects on Merlin.

Merlin continues on BBC One and BBC One HD on Saturday, 8 December at 7.55pm. For all programme times, please see the episode guide.

It's been announced that the current series of Merlin will be the last. See the official press release on the BBC Media Centre.

More on Merlin
Digital Spy: Merlin news and spoilers
Den of Geek: Merlin

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Can someone at the BBC please explain why the popular programme Merlin is being axed my family thoroughly enjoy it every week , there are several programmes on TV that deserve to be axed first.
    Please review your decision.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    We understand that Merlin is coming to a "natural conclusion", not an "axing" though it feels like the same thing to our family too. The producers want the show to end on a high note and with us wanting more; not by slow death and deflated fizzle! But from across the pond, this show fills a void - well written, wonderful cinematography, funny, and clean. BBC, please keep the blockbuster planned for 2013 in the same vein. Better yet, could you do a Merlin spin off?

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    Comment number 3.

    Hello Lesleyphil (#1), thanks for your comment. I don't work on Merlin but thought I would share this link to the press release announcing that the current series will the last. It's got some interesting quotes from the cast and the co-creators and executive producers for Shine TV, which is the company who makes Merlin.

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    Comment number 4.

    Merlin Is a children's programme that should be filled with wonder. Why destroy the wonder by telling how the special effects are achieved?

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I am very upset that Merlin is going what a programe , Please BBC think of some like Merlin to go on please . I loved to see more but i don't think anyone will change your minds . Merlin is and will always be the best thing on tv . We dont want thing like Eastenders we want Merlin and other things like this .

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    It would be nice to see the BBC do a follow up series with the same actors 10 years later as the whole idea of Merlin and Arthur still has legs. This series though is looking a bit tired - the plot is basically about evil sister every week which gets a little predictable. The special effects seem ok although the CGI can be a bit too clean. The lighting and makeup in the last series could have been improved though - the lipstick worn by the actors is often all too visible.

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    Comment number 7.

    Please Please continue to the series Merlin. Its fantastic and both me and my partner and my children enjoying watching it every week.

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    Comment number 8.

    I am also very disappointed to discover that Merlin is ending with this series. I have enjoyed watching it with my son (he is now 14) since it started - It is one of few offerings on TV that we have looked forward to each year. Paper dolls I've made based on Morgana and Gwen and posted on a blog have proved to be amongst my most popular entries with 1000's of page views so I know I'm not alone in being a fan of the show.

    Arthur was the heir presumptive for most of the earlier season's. It hardly feels as though his reign has started. To end the series now (especially if Arthur is killed at Camlann) gives little indication of why his rule has echoed and resonated down the ages. Merlin has also had no opportunity to become the wise old advisor of legend. It does really feel as through the story is being cut short before it gets into full stride.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Please do not conclude Merlin, if you can keep Dr Who going for years, surely you can continue with Merlin, which is a superior drama, it is fab-u-lous darling and we care so much for the characters, please reconsider.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I would like to thank you for Merlin. It still an amazing show and I appreciate the time and money put into it. I know it was a tough decision to end it but I honestly believe it was the right one to make.I would feel totally at a loss if I had slowly grown disinterested in it.

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    Comment number 11.

    "WHAT a superb episode! i was almost jumping in to the TV! and i hate the character Morgana so much now, please complete the story, its going to be a great part 2 and yes i will watch repeats and yes i will buy the DVDs and yes i watch it again and again! Yes i will be heart broken when Merlin ends But HEAR MY WORDS Merlin I WILL NOT WATCH CHEAP NASTY SPIN OFFS WITH REPLACEMENT ACTORS FOR THE CHARACTERS, THIS WILL NOT BE ACCEPTABLE!!!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Really enjoy Merlin, something thats funny, clean, magical, clever, comical, able to watch with the whole family and have watched since episode 1, series 1. Have bought every episode and the series 5 box set is on order. Come on BBC why does it have to end? However end it must we are told so looked forward to the grand finale and it lived up to its great expectations. That is right up to when the truck rattled across the screen snatching us cruelly back from magical, mystical, medieval Camelot to present day. It was disappointing enought that King Arthur died and Merlin was unable to save him despite being the greatest ever sorcerer to walk the earth, but why o why couldn't the ending have seen Merlin return to Camelot, Gaius, the Knights and Queen. Left feeling really disappointed. The ending just didn't fit the rest of the series.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I have to say I'm really dissapointed with the way Merlin ended, I committed 5 years to watching Merlin and have loved it but I was expecting much more. Plus the whole Harry Potter flash forward to the future thing was just silly. I loved that Merlin finally killed Morganna but it should have been magic against magic. Oh well what's done is done i guess. ps so gutted Gawain was killed off he was my fav! So long Merlin its been good knowing you

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    Comment number 14.

    I havent stopped crying since the end and dont know why. The series wss excellent and have watched since the very first. This is one of the best programmes on TV and a credit to all cast, crew, writers, producers etc but to end it all now with no more to come is just wrong and there needs to be more, Even my kids watch this as there is something for evety age in it.Arthur needs to return, there is so much more that could be told, was mordred really dead, was Morgana was Arthur. So so hope there will be more. Would be nice if the bbc could keep us updated on this as I know im not the only one that feels like this. Thank you. I hope to get a response.

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    Comment number 15.

    gutted it's ended -in the series Arthur has really just become king - hasn't had the chance to become legend and as yet merlin hasn't had the chance to become the renowned legendary sorcerer. Colin Morgan and Bradley James had just started to inhabit these roles - criminal if it's not brought back stronger and darker than ever - we didn't see Arthur burn so PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE change the decision - bring it back. Gawain can rise again too certainly.I pay the license for 2 reasons - Strictly and Merlin - have to wait til October 2013 for Strictly so for the love of well produced tv BRING BACK MERLIN ASAP. I'm 50 next year so do it for the almost wrinklies

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    ps agree with comment 12 and most of the above
    AND FURTHER for once we have had a plethora of exceptional acotrs and actresses - don't take this away from us now - sick of soaps - sick of reality tv (except Strictly) bring back Colin, Bradley, Ang

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    opps to finish...
    Bring back Colin,Bradley, Angel and co ASAP....It's not often we have a series that has universal appeal - well written, well filmed, brilliantly acted. What will replace it? Rubbish probably SO BRING BACK MERLIN .......NOWWWWW.
    pps my cat's called Merlin and is 11 so do so before he bites the dust

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    wow what a disapointing last ever episode, i was expecting so much more but for me it was a massive massive let down, my ideal last episode would have been for the battle to rage for half an hour of the episode then to have merlin swoop down finally showing and unleashing all his magic (the guy desearves at least one balls out, fury, rageing, no holds bar'd magic spell), riding the dragon and sweep away morgana's forces then a showdown with morgana showing everyone he was a sorceror and a hero and saving the day, throw in arthur defeating mordrid, accepting merlin etc perfect ... instead we get mordrid killed ever so easily (no realisation of merlins vision then!) a wound to arthurs chest when clearly he is stabbed in the stomach, the pathetic death of morgana, gawain confiding in a woman hes shagging and discovering shes betrayed him all within 2 episodes bah! gaius amazingly discovering merllin and arthur in the forest somehow, merlin going from old merlin to young merlin with no explanation, merlin telling arthur he had magic when he easily could have covered it up like every other episode (there was no need to tell arthur he had magic.. no compulsion) and then a flash forward to the present ... why? this episode could have been so much more, but instead it felt rushed, disjointed and lacking in real ambition .... ive loved every season and nearly every episode of merlin .. but not this one!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    When I wrote comment 8 I was just disappointed. Now I'm gutted. You wrecked it. I don't suppose any of us will get any sort of response (or if these comments are even read) - but thanks for letting us say how we feel!

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    Comment number 20.

    What a fantastic final show . I as a 60 year old just sat and cried all through the end of the show . I am so glad that Morgana got killed off , as i never like her character . It was fantastic how Merlin was telling Arthur when he was dying that he was a wizard and the ending was brilliant when the lorry drove passed Merlin and you just realize its present day . What a great shame it had to end , saturdays wont ever be the same .Maybe it could come back again .


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