How Peter Jackson Brought WWI to Life in “They Shall Not Grow Old”

We spoke with Mark Simone, a producer at SDFX Studios (StereoD) who worked on the film, about what it took to resurrect the men who gave their lives in that conflict.

They say you make every movie three times: once when you plan, once when you shoot, and once when you edit. In the case of Sir Peter Jackson’s recent World War I documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, most of the construction happened in that final stage — editing. Due respect should be paid to the brave cameramen who lugged cumbersome equipment to the front lines during the “Great War,” of course, but Jackson’s film has taken their efforts to new heights. With some nigh-miraculous work by various visual effects artists, primarily the Deluxe company StereoD, They Shall Not Grow Old transports the viewer back in time to the Western Front, bringing the soldiers to life like never before.


SDFX Studios (StereoD) specializes in 3D conversion, and their credits are impressive: everything from groundbreaking FX films (Avatar) to revisited classics (Titanic, Jurassic Park) to last year’s summer blockbusters (Ant-Man & the Wasp). Though  SDFX Studios (StereoD) had done some work with Weta Digital (Jackson’s special effects company) in the past, they were not expecting to be tapped for this project.

After all, “experience it in three dimensions” is not the first thought that comes to mind when someone says “World War I documentary.” Most documentaries about the “Great War,” as it was called, make heavy use of available footage, but varying frame rates, poor image quality, and the limited black-and-white palette constrain the amount of artistry that can go into them. You’d be hard pressed to be transported by them.

Jackson is quoted as saying, “[The soldiers] saw the war in color, they certainly didn’t see it in black and white. I wanted to reach through the fog of time and pull these men into the modern world, so they can regain their humanity once more.”

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