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The UK entrepreneur who made Willy Wonka’s chocolate lake

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First off, and with apologies for any illusions shattered, RB has to tell you that the lake was not in fact made of chocolate. “It was mostly water,” says Vickers Labs MD Julian Driver. “With some thickening agent and food grade chocolate pigment thrown in.”

But when the film’s producers first approached Vickers about the project, they asked for 1,000,000 litres of glycerine. “We told them that wasn’t a very good idea,” says Driver. “And offered to come up with an alternative. Our solution cost a few hundred thousand pounds. Glycerine would have set them back six to seven times that.”

The scenes featuring the lake were shot at Pinewood studios. Vickers had to set up a dedicated chemical company by the stage, which ran 12 hours a day for 12 weeks pumping out the “liquid chocolate”.

“The shoot was supposed to last 6 weeks,” says Driver. “Of course it overran. It was very labour intensive. We were having to do all kinds of clever things to stop the stuff going off.”

The prototype stage was also slightly fraught. “In retrospect we should have just given them two options and said, ‘Choose’. They wouldn’t have minded,” says Driver. “But we just asked them what they wanted and the supervisors got quite precious about it: too much pink, not enough blue…”

The film crew presented the Vickers Labs with a dustbin full of brown emulsion paint. “It was a colour that just couldn’t be achieved – unless you use emulsion paint,” says Driver. “Of course, there was no way they’re going to shove Augustus Gloop into a lake of emulsion paint, so in a way it was a triumph of science over art."

Driver wasn’t worried about competition from another chemical company: it was far worse. They were competing with CGI! “Luckily Tim Burton didn’t really want to use a computer generated lake,” says Driver. “Apparently it’s hard to make liquid look real with graphics.”

For those of us that knew and loved the 1971 version, starring Gene Wilder. Why not just copy their recipe?

“Ha ha!” says Driver. “The only brief we were given was this: The lake has to look like real chocolate. Not like the piss in the last film.”

Want to re-live those wondrous Willy Wonka moments?

Here’s the Vickers lake in all it’s glory

Picture Source

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