Apparently, no one thought it suspicious when a small group of men took a ferry out to Liberty Island and took pictures of the Statue of Liberty while discussing their plans to blow it up. If anyone noticed the team from The Man in the High Castle — senior VFX supervisor Lawson Deming, production designer Drew Boughton, cinematographer Gonzalo Amat, director Dan Percival, and executive producer Richard Heus — they were probably distracted by the pouring rain, which cleared the site of lingering tourists and anyone else who might have confused a VFX chat for a planned terrorist attack.
"Certainly the NSA or whoever has files on us knew about it, because we had lots of emails back and forth saying, 'When we fire missiles at it, what's it going to look like?'" Deming recalls with a laugh.
Lady Liberty meets her end in the Season 3 finale of Amazon's alternate history show, during a historical cleansing ceremony by the Nazis called Jahr Null (Year Zero) in which they erase the iconography of America's history and assert their dominance. They want to destroy the Statue of Liberty, but they want to do so with as much pomp and circumstance as possible — it's propaganda, after all — and that means making it look like it's fairly easy to topple over the symbol of American freedom. (Spoiler alert: It's not.)
The Statue of Liberty has been destroyed in film before, including Planet of the Apes, Deep Impact, and Cloverfield, and it typically takes a cataclysmic level of force to bring Lady Liberty down. In The Man in the High Castle, though, the Nazis want to make the destruction an expression of their military might. Fighter pilot missiles coincide with a fireworks display, to be witnessed by cheering crowds and movie cameras.
"The Nazis were big on showmanship," Deming says. "They made publicity out of everything, from the rallies they had in Germany to their propaganda films, and so we thought that if they were going to bring down the Statue of Liberty, they're going to do it in the most showbiz way possible. But they're also pragmatic. So we have the air show, the planes that fly in, the streams of colored smoke, the barges with spotlights, and the planes fire missiles at the base of the statue."
Of course, that's not what takes down the statue. The destruction actually takes place due to a controlled demolition — a preset ring of explosives at the base. The explosives blow up the pedestal, causing the statue to slide down the rubble so the torch hand can sink below the surface of New York Harbor.
"That was a big deal to figure out how to do that, because everyone wanted the statue to fall into the water," Deming says. "And I talked to some other VFX guys who had done this before, and they said, 'You can't get the statue in the water. It's too far away.'"
Liberty Island, as it turns out, has a wider radius that the Statue of Liberty is tall, even at its most narrow point. Plus, the statue itself is made of metal, so it couldn't crumble like a stone statue. This meant Deming had to figure out how to get the pedestal to collapse and almost surf down to the rubble in the right direction to tip and fall over, so that the arm that holds the torch — the highest point on the statue — could crack off the pier and tumble into the water.
The eyebrow-raising trip to Liberty Island and all the effort that went into planning the destructive GCI sequence was worth it, though, because the demolition had to adhere to the laws of physics and geography. "The strength of the show," Deming says, "is dependent on being able to believe, 'Oh my goodness, this could have actually happened.' This is not just a flight of fancy."