Tag Archives: Vikings

Vikings filming in Northwestern Ontario

Bjorn Ironside has invaded Canada.  Cameras are officially set to start rolling on Season 4 of Vikings in Ireland this spring, but the Canadian co-production is getting a head start in northern Ontario.

History Canada has confirmed that Alexander Ludwig—who portrays Ragnar Lothbrok’s eldest son on the network’s Thursday night drama—is in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., working on preproduction for Season 4 prior to initial production starting on the Emerald Isle. History didn’t release any details as to the storyline surrounding Ludwig being in Ontario.

On Friday, the city’s mayor, Christian Provenzano, posted a picture via his Twitter feed, welcoming the Vancouver native to the area.


Last Thursday, Ludwig tweeted his location to followers and posted a picture on his Instagram account showing him arriving in the outpost.



Vikings airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on History.


The cinematic magic of making Vikings

The advances in visual effects in television has made it difficult to tell what’s real and what isn’t, especially on a program like Vikings. That’s where the folks at Mr. X and Take 5 come in. The production houses are charged with creating everything in History’s Thursday night drama, from Ragnar Lothbrok’s longboats to King Ecbert’s expansive compound to the soaring peaks surrounding Kattegat.

That work falls to Mr. X Inc. and Take 5 Productions, two studios specializing in visual effects and animation for television and feature film.

“We get scripts later in the process than the producers and the directors,” Dominic Remane, visual effects supervisor at Mr. X, says. “We’ll make a note of an establishing shot of Kattegat that has to start high and wide, or a fleet of 60 longboats leaving Kattegat for Wessex.” From directions in the script, Remane and his team of 60 know they’ll have to add in more of Ragnar’s ominous ships—only a handful of real longboats exist—and that the end of the real lake the boats are on needs to be deleted and elongated to look like a Scandinavian fjord.

Bill Halliday, visual effects producer at Take 5, says both companies see Vikings as a project with the hallmarks of a feature film look hemmed in by the constraints of a television show budget. And, as Halliday points out, Vikings regularly surpasses movies when it comes to the number of visual effects done in one episode.

“In the first episode of Season 3 there were over 100 visual effects, which by television standards is a huge amount,” Halliday explains. “In Episode 8, the invasion of Paris, there are over 300 visual effects which is remarkable. I worked on The Tudors and we did fewer effects in a season than we would on one episode of Vikings. A feature film runs around 200 visual effects.” It’s a stunning scope, Halliday explains, and one that—if everyone has done their jobs right—nobody notices.

A difficult aspect of the job with regard to Vikings is meeting the demand of show creator Michael Hirst, whose imagination pushes everyone to be creative. There have been times when they couldn’t deliver; Halliday notes a recent request to create a fully-digital animal to interact with a character couldn’t be created within the short time frame TV works in.

Perhaps the biggest jewel of Vikings’ Season 3 crown will be Ragnar’s invasion of Paris. It’s a story angle that’s been ramping up all season and cast member Clive Standen told me it will blow viewers’ minds. Remane worked closely with the show’s production designer, Mark Geraghty, to research the oldest castles in Europe to base Ragnar’s 850 AD attack on. They found it in Carcassonne, France, where surveying was done to select parts for which they could base Paris of the time period on.

“I’ve always wanted to be working in visual effects, but I never thought I’d be doing it to this level,” Remane admits. “I never thought I’d be going to Europe, France and Ireland, going to Norway and filming plates for the show.”

Vikings airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on History.


Interview: Director Ken Girotti steers Vikings ship

Ken Girotti has directed some of the most critically acclaimed—and entertaining—television shows in recent years. In the U.S., he’s worked on Denis Leary’s firefighter drama Rescue Me, Dick Wolf’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent and spy drama Covert Affairs.

In Canada, the homegrown man behind the lens has worked on Combat Hospital, Flashpoint, the Stargate franchise, ReGenesis, Copper, Bomb Girls, Orphan Black and Saving Hope.

Girotti’s work can currently be seen on History’s sweeping Vikings, tracking the ongoing adventures of Ragnar Lothbrok and his followers as they explore the ancient world, and includes an attack on Paris later this season. We spoke the veteran director about the challenges and rewards of working on a series like Vikings, which involves filming longboats on rough seas and choreographing intense battle scenes for the small screen.

Vikings is a really cinematic series that deserves to be on a feature film screen.
Ken Girotti: I have to agree with you. The scope and scale of the show looks pretty good up there.

Are you the type of director who can just watch you work afterwards and enjoy it, or are you picking things apart?
Oh no, I play director. It never stops with me. It’s either, ‘Wow, that worked out really well,’ or ‘Oh my god, how could they have done that?’ or a mixture of those things. That’s part of the deal when you’re in television.


When you get a script from Vikings creator Michael Hirst, what is the first thing that you do? Walk me through the process.
The first thing I do is sit back and have a good read and see how it all washes over me. Almost always with any script—whether it’s from Michael Hirst or anyone—you’ll have questions about what exactly some things mean. And sometimes you never ask those questions because you want them to remain questions. Then I take a second read and try to fine-tune the script and put it through a filter. Are things clear? I’m starting to circle a place where I see the story unfold in my mind in pictures and words. That’s when the real job of directing begins because I start to interpret what Michael has written for me and try to embellish it and move it forward.

Directing is such a collaborative process. You have your vision and you’re getting into someone else’s sandbox. Is that sometimes a challenge?
On something like Vikings it’s pretty easy because I share a sensibility with Michael. I feel like we have a commonality in the way that we approach life and truth, beauty and art and all of those things. I have a deep respect for his writing; he writes in such an evocative way that speaks to me personally. There are some things that I become completely obsessed with. One little line.

One of the things that I never really observed about Vikings before is the exploration into religion.
I think it’s very subversive. It’s never on the surface. There’s slashing with axes and stuff, but everything that they do has an effect on the next thing that they do. And that’s very existential, I think.

Filming those longboats must be a challenge.
They are the most difficult things to manage ever. They’re difficult and annoying and beautiful all at once. You think about moving a camera while moving an actor on dry land and camera goes this way and the actor goes that way in a nice little coordination of movement. Then you add an element where you can’t predict where anything is going to go and that’s water. It creates organizational anarchy. The marine guys are amazing and my first AD, Raymond Kirk, is truly an amazing first AD. They had to build docks for these boats. They hoist them in with cranes. It’s immense and the logistical challenges with regard to the boats is just huge.

The battle scenes are intricate work too. I’m thinking of that battle in Episode 1 of this season.
We were on that site for six days, I think. It was a pretty big sequence. What we tried to show there was sort of a storming the beaches at D-Day. There was something similar earlier in the series where Jarl Borg rolls up on Kattegat. This was quite a bit bigger and we tried to stay on the beach for as long as we could and we wanted to show how hard it was to get your feet out of the water as a Viking and fight against those Mercians.

I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be a Mercian and see these big, ugly, hairy guys with axes on boats rowing towards you. It must have been horrible.

Vikings airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on History.

(Image credit: G. Pimentel)


Interview: Vikings kills off major character

-SPOILER ALERT- Do not read until you have watched Thursday’s newest episode, “Scarred.”

And just like that, Siggy has sailed out of our lives. The former wife of Earl Heraldson, who had fallen from favour after Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) ascended to the role of Earl and then King, was plotting her next move in Kattegat when she died after diving into icy water to save Queen Aslaug’s two sons from drowning.

Siggy had been suspicious of Harbard (Kevin Durand) ever since he arrived in town. And though no one was sure if he had anything to do with the drowning deaths of two other boys, it sure seemed that way. Regardless, Siggy is no more and we got Jessalyn Gilsig—the Montreal-born actress who played her—on the phone to chat.

I really didn’t want to be talking to you.
Jessalyn Gilsig: Oh thank you for that.

Did you ask to leave the series or did Michael Hirst write you out? How did it come about?
I actually approached Michael. At the end of the second season I had some family things come up and they needed me in a way that being over in Ireland made it tough to take care of. I felt like I had to be there in a personal level and Michael was amazing, incredible. He has family too and understood. He was disappointed, which was incredibly flattering, but he respected my reasoning. We talked about how to do this while giving Siggy justice, so he came up with this exit for her, which I thought was beautiful and unexpected and poetic and unique.

Did you have any input into her death or was it all him?
Oh no, it was all him. We talked a little bit about what might have been and one of the things I talked about was that her whole intention upon waking every morning was to work her way back to that throne. I think that’s why Michael worked in that scene where Siggy is so frustrated with Ragnar and Aslaug’s actions that she works to take the throne back and that trajectory is cut off by the random event of her jumping in the water to save the children.

I would do anything for this show. The role gave me so much … if they want me to come back and work catering I would do that.

It was a very nice scene with her sitting on the throne again and looking over to the empty throne where Earl Haraldson had once sat. It felt very much like a full circle of sorts.
Thank you. Even for me, after three years of playing this character I would think during those scenes in the hall, ‘That’s my seat, I built this house,’ and I love that I got to go back. And you’re right, it did have that feeling of what’s ahead but also acknowledging Gabriel Byrne’s character.

Let’s talk about the scene leading up to the lake. Was that all you running through the forest?
That was all me! I love doing that kind of thing. Look, it’s such a cool job anyway, but some days they tell you, ‘OK, today you’re going to climb a mountain and dive into a frozen lake and save these children,’ and you think, ‘I could be entering numbers into a spreadsheet right now. I am a grown woman. This is my job??‘ I never, ever, ever complain. It is the best gig you could ever have and I love it. The best thing that you could tell me is that I can’t do something. It’s the best motivator for me.

Was the underwater scene filmed with you in a tank?
We shot that over a few days actually, and part of it was in a tank. Everything from the outside diving in was a tank and everything underwater was in an outside swimming pool in Ireland. It was pretty intense because they had to cover the pool so there was only one opening for light. When you were under you had to find you way back to that hole. That was kind of intense and took some practice.


I was grateful we had a day of rehearsal because the clothes and hair were really heavy when they were wet and we had to work out the angles with the dummies that represented the children and the kids themselves. That was the hardest part for me, putting myself in the scene without worrying about the child actors.

Was the water warm or cold?
Everything in Ireland is cold! [Laughs.] We’re Vikings, what are we going to do, complain?

Vikings has featured several visions, including Siggy seeing her daughter seconds before she went under water for the last time. Does this mean the door is open for Siggy to return as a vision?
That’s a good question. I can say on a personal level that I would do anything for this show. The role gave me so much … if they want me to come back and work catering I would do that. [Laughs.]

Was there a party for you once everyone found out Siggy was exiting the show?
On my actual last day there was a party with the cast and myself and my daughter, who is eight and is always with me, but I had already had one with the whole company. The thing is with the actors is that I’ll continue to see them because they come through L.A. and we’ll meet up. The people I’ll really miss is the crew because most of them are based in Ireland. I can’t say enough about those people. They are the most creative, committed people I have worked with in my life. They set the bar with the level of artistry on that show. I’ll miss them but I’ll go back. We have a life there.

Did you take anything from the set to remember the experience by?
They made me a beautiful necklace for Siggy that had some Viking symbols for fertility on it and that was made by the costume department for me. What I should have taken, and I’m upset I didn’t, was some of my hair extensions. I loved Siggy’s hair. It was so long and so ratty. I’ll miss that most of all.

Will you miss Siggy? Let Jessalyn know your thoughts in the comments below or via @tv_eh.

Vikings airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on History.


Review: A warrior’s fate met on Vikings

Maybe I should quit singing the praises of Vikings characters. It seems like every time I do something bad happens to them. Porunn, who I complimented as being one heck of a kick-ass shield maiden last week, had her head caved in by one of Burgred’s soldiers and is at the gates of Valhalla. And carrying Bjorn’s baby, no less. According to Ragnar, allowing her to fight while pregnant is a crime that no one can come back from.

Alas, “Warrior’s Fate” claimed the life of Torstein. Vikings is a violent show jammed with crunched skulls and lopped-off limbs, but Torstein’s death was awful to watch. Knowing he was a diminished member of the army, he sacrificed himself so that Ragnar would know the position of Burgred’s men. I hope he’s treated well in Valhalla.

When the episode wasn’t caught up in the heat of battle—Burgred’s army was defeated and the Prince saved from death by a plea from Kwenthrith—it was splitting time in Kattegat, the farming fields and Ecbert’s Roman bath. Harbard has made his presence known in a very short amount of time, first by winning over Helga with his tales of adventure and then by stopping Ivar’s crying with a gentle stroke of the infant’s head. Suffice it to say, those two girls are firmly under Harbard’s spell; the only one not convinced is Siggy, and that can be a dangerous spot to be in.

Meanwhile, the romance I’ve been dreading has finally come to full bloom. Ecbert and Lagertha—after making goo-goo eyes at one another—got full-on nekkid in the bath. Clearly Ecbert is thinking big picture—get Lagertha and Ragnar on side with sex and property—and they’ll be his scary little army of heathens to help him take over Mercia. He, of course, forgot one thing: these a violent folks with their own belief system. That was driven home when Ecbert and his nobles looked on in horror as Lagertha was doused in cow blood and then scattered it on their fields in a prayer to Frey for a bountiful harvest.

“I’d like to experiment between our cultures. Plowing, fertilizing and sowing seed are the very basis,” Ecbert said slyly at the beginning of the episode. But by the end of it his face seemed to reflect: “What the hell have I gotten myself into?”

Notes and quotes

  • “Shut your face.” Line of the night from Ragnar to Floki.
  • “You have the strength of a man but the will of a little girl.” Second-best line of the night from Ragnar to Bjorn.
  • “I forgive you.” Ragnar after headbutting Burgred. The man was on fire!
  • Congratulations to Vikings for winning Best International TV Drama at the Canadian Screen Awards.
  • I’m amazed by the visual effects done on this show by Toronto-based Mr. X. I can never tell what’s real and what isn’t.
  • That scene between Bjorn and Rollo was touching as hell.

Vikings airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on History.