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Yesterday, the VFX supervisor on the film The Great Gatsby released a composite “before and after” reel, showing the sheer amount of special effects it took to re-create the lavish world of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beloved novel. The Bowery Boys previously dissected the trailer for architectural and historical accuracy last year, and today, we’re adding to the analysis of what’s real and what’s not.

Downtown Manhattan Waterfront: 

The Great Gatsby-Downtown Manhattan-Battery Park-VFX-Chris Godfrey-001

The Great Gatsby takes place in 1922 and the film opens with a view of downtown Manhattan. Battery Park City wasn’t built until 1985, so the shape of the waterfront and the inclusion of piers are roughly correct, but Battery Park is shown much more lush than it was. Here’s a vintage photograph circa 1929:

Skyscrapers of New York City-Aerial View of Battery Park-1929Source: NYPL

At this level of resolution, it’s hard to analyze the buildings specifically, but the scale and placement of the buildings along State Street (the eastern border of Battery Park) seem a little off. State Street also wasn’t as angular of a street then as it is now, as you can see from the curvilinear border of Battery Park in the vintage photo.

Woolworth Building and City Hall

Woolworth Buiding-City Hall-NYC-VFX-Chris Godfrey

The building featured in this shot is a clear homage to the Woolworth Building, and nearby City Hall. They’ve taken some creative liberties on the top of the building, from the color to the architecture of the spires, but it does capture one key thing about the Woolworth: the mass of the backside of the building was split into two, allowing light to enter down the middle.

City Hall-Woolworth Building-Google Earth View

City Hall Post Office and Courthouse

Woolworth Building-City Hall-Post Office-VFX-Chris Godfrey

The next shot that pans down from the top of the “Woolworth Building,” includes a building on the site of  the City Hall Post Office and Courthouse that was demolished in 1939. However, the building in the film looks more like a commercial edifice than the French-style building designed by Alfred B. Mullet. Fun fact: As the main post office for the city, the building had pneumatic tubes!

Times Square

Great Gatsby-Times Square-Ziegfeld Follies-Chris Godfrey

In the trailer, The Bowery Boys and others noted the typo on the Ziegfield Follies sign, which was corrected in the film. They also note another possible historical error: In 1922, the Follies performed at The New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, a few blocks away, but in 1921 they were  “the Globe Theater on West 46th Street (today’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre), quite close to this sign.” Whether the sign here was still there in 1922 still remains to be proven.

Image via The Bowery Boys

Manhattan Skyline

As the Bowery Boys pointed out, the skyscrapers seem to be a “composite view of various buildings of the age,” rather than an accurate placement. They report, “there are some vaguely Flatiron Building/Met Life Tower type structures, but they look like they’re on 42nd Street.  And why do I think I can see something that clearly looks like the New York Central Building (later the Helmsley Building) which wasn’t finished until 1929?”

Queensborough Bridge-Manhattan Skyline-Great Gatsby-VFX-Chris Godfrey

Mystery Skyscraper: Empire State Building?

Manhattan Skyline-Great Gatsby-VFX-Chris Godfrey

We could use some reader help on this one. We think this shot of Manhattan is oriented south, with a view of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, and the skyscrapers in the Financial District. The NY Life Building, with the gold pyramid, is on the left, implying that the large skyscraper in the background is the Chrysler Building and the one under construction in the foreground is the Chrysler Building. But, construction on the Chrysler Building didn’t start until 1928, and the Empire State wasn’t until 1929. And the Chrysler Building is actually east of the Empire State.

Or is it a different skyscraper all together?

Queensborough Bridge

Queensborough Bridge-Great Gatsby-VFX-Chris Godfrey

Based on the video, the scenes on the Queensborough Bridge and under the elevated trains were filmed in Sydney under the very recognizable Anzac Bridge.

Leonard Zakim Bridge-Boston-Great Gatsby-VFX-Chris Godfrey

Jay Gatsby House

Jay Gatsby House-Great Gatsby-VFX-Chris Godfrey

While we’re focusing mostly on New York City locations in this piece, it’s worth noting that the Jay Gatsby House in the book and film was inspired by this crazy feudal-style castle called Beacon Towers, built by Mrs. Ava Vanderbilt Belmont in Sands Point. Fitzgerald writes in The Great Gatsby, that the house was a “colossal affair by any standard–it was a factual imitation of a Hôtel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side.” Beacon Towers was bought in 1927 by William Randolph Hearst (who also built Hearst Castle in California) and demolished in 1945.

Beacon Towers-Long Island-Great Gatsby-Jay-MansionBeacon Towers (source: Gold Coast Mansions)

Get in touch with the author @untappedmich. All film stills sourced from The Great Gatsby VFX from Chris Godfrey on Vimeo.

7 Comments

  1. Bill says:

    Actually the colour of the woolworth building’s roof is made out of bronze and this material gets greener as it gets older so they were right about that.
    Very good article btw :)

  2. John says:

    Actually the bridge is not in Boston, it is the Anzac Bridge in Sydney Australia

  3. Ben says:

    I feel in the picture the skyscraper under instruction in the center is the Empire State Building and the one under construction on the far left is 500 Fifth Avenue. And the building with the construction worker is the Rockeffeler building. But it seems too close to be it.

  4. austin says:

    You really know your stuff… Maintain the good operate!

  5. Adam says:

    This is absolutely a great article!!!

  6. Alex Wallach says:

    Great post! The shot of the “mystery skyscraper” looks to me like it was taken looking south from the “Top of the Rock” observation deck atop the GE Building in Rockefeller Center. Of course, 30 Rock wasn’t built until 1933, but they already took some anachronistic liberties with the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. Compare it to the view in this photo: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/39/NYC_Top_of_the_Rock_Pano.jpg.

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