Journey to Mecca: Damascus, The Red Sea, the Nile


Set against the abandoned French Legion Headquarters, Fort Zara, the art department brought the ruins back to life by adding roofs, and carting in every single stick of set dressing from market stalls, artificial palm trees, the caravan luggage, carpet coverings, bales of straw, green hay, Bedouin tents, carpet and interior dressing for the tents; to camp fires, flags, palm fronds, large and medium sized baskets, spices, bamboo chicken cages and chicken baskets and horse blankets. Colourful period costumes helped to recreate the hustle and bustle of the marketplace and engender the energy of the caravan gathering together.

The Red Sea

When a hotheaded Ibn Battuta, against the Highwayman's advice, heads to the Red Sea where he thinks he'll take a shortcut to Mecca, he comes across a scene of devastation and is forced to retrace his steps. The Mediterranean outside Agadir doubled for the Red Sea.

To create the war zone in the Red Sea, Art Director Phil Murphy rehabilitated five decommissioned fishing boats, linked by a pulley system to one-ton concrete blocks set 200 yards out on the beach at low tide. This allowed him to haul the boats out to the picture perfect spot where they would be the basis for digital alteration in postproduction. One hour later, the ships suffered serious alteration themselves in the rough Mediterranean surf which destroyed the carefully restored boats before the camera was set up. Masts and yardarms stuck in the sand disappeared four hours later at high tide. Undeterred and ever-inventive, Murphy resurrected all the elements of the wrecked boats: cargo, chests, items of clothing, masts and yardarms, and reassembled them just in time for the matte shot at 3:00 p.m. Grins Murphy, "The upside was that the wrecked boats, although in bits, were still chained and these elements were used for CGI reference points."

The Nile

Filmmakers are nothing if inventive. Need a river? We'll create one. Need a sailboat? We'll build one. Need it to travel along a river? We'll connect it to a two-way cable. To transport Ibn Battuta and The Highwayman down the Nile en route to Cairo, the ingenious art department dammed a trickle of a stream four inches deep which rose to six feet two days later, deep enough to launch the ton-and-a-half Egyptian Felucca built in studio. To draw the boat up and down the river, they sunk eight standard plastic garbage cans filled with concrete through which were threaded three-quarters of a mile of cable which was attached to the boat. Two winches pulled the boat up and down the river, five men on each winch. "Well, it won't win America's Cup, but it might win a few hearts".


Heading for Saudi Arabia
The Filmmakers
The Screenplay
Casting for Ibn Battuta
The Highwayman
Ibn Muzaffar and Hamza
Ben Kingsley as Narrator
Filming in Mecca
IMAX® film logistics
Mecca in Morocco
The Camel Caravan
Camel Capers
Damascus, The Red Sea and The Nile
IMAX® Isn't For Sissies
Historical Advisors
Arabic Calligraphy
Ibn Battuta