Heroes of Bronze: The Memory is the first CGI short film in a planned series showcasing ancient Greece in magnificent detail.
The first part of the series, which premiered on January 21, has garnered over 600,000 views on YouTube and has been widely praised by viewers for its historical authenticity, stunning visuals, and engrossing storytelling.
Greek Reporter spoke to Martin Klekner, the creator of Heroes of Bronze to learn more about the project.
The story of Heroes of Bronze
Heroes of Bonze: The Memory, which can be viewed on YouTube or on the official website, is set in the early fifth century BC and covers two of the most famous battles in the Greco-Persian Wars: Marathon in 490 BC and Platea in 479 BC. A series of short stories will also be available on the creator’s Patreon.
When asked why he chose to set his short film during this particular epoch of ancient Greek history, Klekner cited a childhood passion for the period.
“The love for ancient Greece was there ever since I was a child, I grew up reading ancient Greek myths and the story of Troy,” the short film’s director told Greek Reporter.
“However, the idea for this particular project came after I got my hands on The Long War series from Christian Cameron and the Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. I simply needed to see those hoplites in action, and if it meant doing it myself, then so be it,” he continued.
“When it comes to why I specifically chose the Greco-Persian wars period, it’s probably because I love the spirit of the time. The awakening of the Greek poleis, the hopeless fight against a more powerful opponent, the larger than life characters, the clash of cultures – all those topics excite me.”
Although modern audiences are more than two thousand years removed from the Greco-Persian Wars, Heroes of Bronze tells a very human story, centered on the experiences of an Athenian family during the war between the Greek city states and Persia.
In a runtime of just over six minutes, Klekner is able to expertly bring the central characters of Nikehoros, his wife Penelope, and their son Alkaios to life.
“From the onset, I knew I didn’t want to focus primarily on the big historical characters like Themistocles, Miltiades, Artaphernes and Aristagoras. They would be too tied up by what we know about them from Herodotos and other sources,” commented Klekner on his choice to focus on these three characters.
“I wanted to put fictional characters in the forefront. I wanted this slightly more ‘regular’ Athenian family to serve as an introduction to the world. Of course, Nikephoros is a landowner from Attika, part of the Hippeis class, so he and his family can not really be called entirely ‘regular’.
“Nevertheless, I created him as a link between Athens and Ionia – he travels the Aegean regularly, and knows a lot of people, Ionian, as well as some Medes and Persians. He is a perfect protagonist for the story I’m writing, able to move freely and introduce the world and its conflict.”
Klekner also spoke at length about the character of Penelope, who narrates the story. “It is a story of a mother that has to raise her son mostly in the absence of his father,” said the filmmaker.
“She is definitely not too happy about the way Nikephoros chooses to spend his time – always traveling, fighting, competing, and causing trouble. And yet, even she can recognize that when an enemy comes, threatening the very existence of her world, it is usually men like Nikephoros who stand up to defend it. And so, in the end, she wants to relay that idea to Alkaios.”
“From the historical sources, we have numerous accounts of mothers doing just that, and I wanted to capture this in my short film,” Klekner summarized.
The making of Heroes of Bronze
Making the short film took about four years of hard work, Klekner told Greek Reporter.
“The first year, which was 2019, I spent figuring out the workflows, and whether I can actually achieve all that I wanted to achieve on my computer. In the next two years, I worked on the models, the buildings, armor, weapons etc. basically building the whole world,” Klekner said.
“Finally, in 2022, I was lucky enough to be able to work on the Heroes of Bronze short film almost full-time. I finalized the previsualization of the film, and proceeded to animating everything, and polishing the look of the shots. I went through numerous versions for each scene, trying to attain the best result possible.”
“At the end of 2022, I felt like I needed to get back to my normal working life, so I decided to set a release date for myself,” the filmmaker continued. “Those last few months were definitely the most difficult, I battled overall exhaustion while trying to make all the shots look great in the limited time I had. Finally, though, I was able to release the final version in January 2023.”
The sheer amount of historical detail which brings the ancient past to life is one of the short film’s most immediately apparent strengths. Creating an exciting cinematic experience that was also historically authentic was one of Klekner’s priorities whilst making Heroes of Bronze.
“I have started with reading probably all the fiction there is on the topic; but then, I transitioned to non-fiction titles, such as Lords of the Sea by John R. Hale, The Rise of Athens by Anthony Everitt, Persian Fire by Tom Holland and The Life of Greece by Will Durant,” explained Klekner when asked how he conducted research for the short film.
“There were many more, of course,” he continued. “Reading sources like these, listening to podcasts on the topic (The Ancients, Hardcore History), reading magazines like Ancient Warfare… yeah, I pretty much submerged myself into information on the topic, studying everything I could that was connected to the shots I wanted to create for my short film.”
Beyond the history itself, other depictions of ancient Greece also inspired Klekner when he was making Heroes of Bronze.
“Of course, I grew up watching Gladiator by Ridley Scott, and yes, even 300, which, despite its many faults, was a very cool movie to watch,” said the filmmaker.
“The more I learned about ancient Greece, though, the more I realized how much cooler the actual reality was, and the more I gravitated to more grounded and historical depictions,” he added.
Klekner also highlighted two historical illustrators as having had an important influence on the aesthetics of the project. “First, the great Angus McBride and his historical paintings of hoplites. Second, Joan Francesc Oliveras, who conducts rigorous research and recreates ancient people of all sorts on his Instagram,” said Klekner.
“The response has been amazing and humbling. I enjoyed a lot of positive feedback both from the lay audience and the historians,” the filmmaker said when asked about the CGI short’s reception.
“There are of course many things I didn’t get quite right in the short film – I have my hoplites use too much of an underhand grip, I let them jump from one moving ship to another, I use too much blue color and have cavalry charge at Marathon. Still, I believe that even people who recognized these ‘mistakes’ (or ‘artistic choices’ as I like to call them) were able to enjoy the film.”
Klekner also believes that CGI films could prove to be an excellent medium for bringing history to the screen, given the large costs typically associated with producing live-action films in the historical epic and sword and sandals genres.
“It could definitely be a good way out of the current situation, where big-budget movies set in the ancient world are not really made anymore,” Klekner said. “It still costs enormous sums of money, but not as much as a blockbuster Hollywood movie, full of expensive actors.”
Future plans for Heroes of Bronze
The Memory is merely the first part of a planned series of films, short stories, and novels in the Heroes of Bronze project.
“While spending three years researching the ancient world and creating numerous digital characters for my short film, I naturally started to think about their backstories,” Klekner said.
“I started to write these little story snippets, that I then published on my Instagram profile @mklekner. I had so much fun doing it, and I couldn’t stop thinking about a grander story that I could tell with all these characters.”
“Gradually, I made a storyline for it, and while I was finishing the short film, I was also able to finish the first book in the series, and work on some other, shorter stories as well. Currently, I am in the process of illustrating these.”
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