Old and new faces fight for humanity in Marvel’s latest superhero blockbuster. Costing around £250 million to shoot, the movie was filmed in various corners of the globe, including Korea, Italy, England, Bangladesh and Johannesburg. “The studio was very keen to take the Avengers global,” explains supervising location manager Jamie Lengyel – “the ambition from the outset was that we would go to four continents.”
No doubt the star-studded cast, including Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson, has aided The Avengers: Age of Ultron to become Marvel’s biggest grossing movie of all time. Fans like it so much that they are already jetting off around the world to discover the locations for themselves. Lengyel guides us to them, with the help of behind-the-scenes pictures:
Aosta Valley, Italy
“I would pick northern Italy as the best holiday spot, and interesting place to travel to from the movie,” says Lengyel. Northwest Italy's Aosta Valley is where Marvel Studios did the most location work. One of the most iconic landmarks seen on screen is the Forte Di Bard, explains Lengyel: “It just had a presence to it. Nestled under mountains, it's on a hill in the valley and has mountains all around it… from a film point of view it has an air of mystery, you wonder what's inside and there could be something sinister going on in the bowels of that impenetrable fort.” Fully open for tourists, visitors to the fort can walk the walls and take a futuristic Avengers-style glass lift to the top of the fortified rock, looking over stunning views of the medieval village of Bard as they go.
Forte Di Bard is where Ultron creates his master plan. In the opening scenes, a battle involving Iron Man, Black Widow and the Hulk takes place at the Forte Di Bard itself, and the final act takes place in the city streets around the fort, including the city of Aosta and Verres and further afield in Pont Saint Martin. “We created the city in the movie from a combination of narrower, medieval, Eastern European looking streets,” explains Lengyel. One exciting scene sees is like an earthquake, remembers Lengyel. “The whole city rises out of the ground and as it does the buildings crumble, cars are getting crushed, and among all of this the Ultrons are emerging out of the ground, out of the riverbeds, and then there is a battle with all the Ultrons.”
“We chose Seoul because we knew there was a really impressive Asian city,” explains Lengyel. “It has a great transport infrastructure, trains, trucks, motorbikes and planes, and we filmed a major action sequence involving Captain America and Black Widow there.” Marvel Studios did some very complex road closures and stunt work through the centre of Seoul’s Gangnam District. “It’s a bit of Gangnam style,” jokes Lengyel. “The story takes our characters to Asia in their pursuit of Ultron, there's a laboratory there where Ultron has been creating the vision. It's a spectacularly big Asian city, with one of the most impressive skylines I’ve seen, alongside Hong Kong. There’s also a lot of mountain trekking around Seoul and lots of Korean barbecues to try.”
Johannesburg, South Africa
“In Africa we filmed the Hulk bust-up, in which Iron Man (in a huge Iron Man costume) battles with the Incredible Hulk,” says Lengyel. As the Incredible Hulk goes out of control, Iron Man has to tame him in the distinct African city. “Johannesburg has the most impressive skyline and the tallest buildings,” continues Lengyel. “It's a very different sort of city skyline to the sort of glassy Asian look that we had in Seoul, it's very clearly Africa and we filmed in some of the colonial-style streets. We had incredible support from the city of Johannesburg, which allowed us to close some of the major roads and junctions in the city. “There's a lot going on in Johannesburg,” adds Lengyel. “It's a city that's in revival as well – its edginess is also part of its attraction. It has a fascinating mix of African culture – you have immigrants there from all over Africa.” At one point, South Africa’s famous Cullinan Diamond Mine was going to be used in the movie. “In our early scouting, we went 800 metres down the diamond mine as part of our research,” remembers Lengyel. “It’s something you can also do as tourist and, of course, there’s safari around Johannesburg.”
The main square of the Eastern European city of Sokovia in the movie, where Loki's magical Sceptre is hidden, was actually filmed in North London at Hendon Police College. “It was here that we built most of the eastern European City as a backlot. It was a real challenge,” explains Lengyel. Other UK spots, which can be visited by the public, include Hampshire’s Hawley Wood, where winter battle scenes take place and tie into the streets of Sokovia. Meanwhile, other unlikely locations include the University of East Anglia's Sainsbury Centre. “The Norman Foster-designed Sainsbury Centre was used as the basis for the exterior of the new Avengers HQ,” reveals Lengyel, who filmed the interiors of the Avengers HQ at the Excel Centre in East London, “obviously all these things have been enhanced with CGI in post-production,” says Lengyel. A Captain America flashback to the 1940s took place at the Rivoli Ballroom near Lewisham, with its plush red velvet gold-framed walls, Austrian crystal chandeliers and oversized Chinese lanterns. “A Thor flashback to the world of Asgard took place at St Bartholomew's church in Smithfield,” reveals Lengyel. And last but not least, the Duke of Wellington's estate Stratfield Saye doubles for Hawkeye's American family home. “In the early part of the movie,after the first battle, The Avengers reassemble to talk about the crisis they have on their hands,” says Lengyel. “We spent some months there creating the exteriors of the farmhouse at Stratfield Saye. We didn’t actually go to America for this scene."
A small amount of shooting was also done in South East Asia. “We did some plate shots of the Chittagong Shipyard in Bangladesh,” reveals Lengyel. “The aerial shots of these derelict ships represent the secret munitions base of one of the bad guys. The Avengers fight Ultron in the interiors of this ship (which we actually filmed on location at the old Daily Mail Print Works, in London’s Southwark area, which we dressed with weapons and ammunitions). In the film, the ship is supposed to be on the coast in South Africa – the scenes when the Incredible Hulk breaks out of this interior ship location, comes through the jungle and ends up in Johannesburg. This one Bangladesh location was made up of three countries, but looks like one in the movie."
The Avengers: Age of Ultron is showing at UK cinemas now. See here for a full review of the movie.