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behind the scenes minority report
cinematography and design
The complex drama and action Spielberg conceived for Minority Report demanded a number of large scale believable sets and intimate synergy between all departments - from lighting to design to visual effects to the massive special effects and stunt sequences. Using both practical locations and soundstages at three major studios, Alex McDowell's art department created preliminary sketches and storyboards that, once approved, gave way to Ron Frankel's animatics from Pixel Liberation Front, a company which helped Spielberg and McDowell create 3D, moving storyboards to pre-visualise virtually every scene in the film, saving the production potentially millions of dollars in tests.
Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who has worked on every Spielberg film since 1993's multiple-Oscar-winning Schindler's List, points out that the large scale sets and visual effects required all departments to work closely together.
"More than any other production I've been involved with, I would say this is the movie where all the departments collaborated the most," he says. "We incorporated our own ideas to the sets in terms of lighting and how the camera is going to move. There are sequences where the camera moves through an entire house and that has to be designed to fulfil that kind of demand. So, to maintain coherence of the images and continuity of the lighting and visual style, we had to become involved in building the sets and working with wardrobe months in advance."
Spielberg saw Minority Report as a noir film from the beginning. "I said to Janusz I wanted to make the ugliest, dirtiest movie I have ever made," Spielberg remembers. "I want this movie to be dark and grainy, and to be really cold. This isn't a warm adventure the way A.I. was. This is, rather, the rough and tumble, gritty world of film noir."
Consequently, Kaminski and Spielberg worked to create a visual world that would mirror Anderton's dark, emotional and psychological journey.
"We wanted to create a world that feels realistic, kind of seedy, and full of shadows," Kaminski describes. "We wanted it to be a dangerous world."
To achieve this affect, Kaminski designed the lighting to allow for such elements as darker shadows and grainy skies, and used a bleach by-pass process in developing the film to desaturate the colours and create a grittier world.
"Normally, when you develop the print, the film goes through a process in which the emulsion gets bleached out," Kaminski explains. In skipping this process, "the highlights become much more severe in terms of not seeing any details. The blue skies get eliminated; the shadows become really dark; and the grain structure gets altered, making it grittier. The movie takes place in the future, but we wanted to create a world that feels realistic but also dangerous. Lighting the movie with heavy contrast and not allowing the viewers to see any details in the shadows, automatically creates a sense of danger."
The main set pieces broke down into several sections - Anderton's apartment, where we are first introduced to a device called the Mag-Lev, a network of magnetic "roads" for advanced magnetic cars running both horizontally and vertically throughout the city; Pre-Crime headquarters and the area called the Temple, where the Pre-Cogs are kept; and the Hall of Containment, the state-of-the-art suspension chamber where murderers are stacked end to end in pneumatic tubes. For both the Mag-Lev track and the cars, a synthesis between practical effects, real cars and functional models, and visual effects elements was essential.
Additional set pieces involve a car factory and tenement where elaborate stunt sequences would play out, Mall City, the Cyber Parlor, and finally, the private garden of Iris Hineman, which contains some very unusual flora.
Production designer Alex McDowell, whose previous work includes Fight Club and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, began his research as early as 1998. After participating in the Think Tank, he set to work creating and designing the plausible future reality in which Minority Report would unfold. "Steven was very clear about what worked and what didn't work for him," says McDowell. "It tended always to veer away from a traditional, classical sci-fi vision. Anything that tended too much to the fantastic he steered us away from. It's an interesting challenge to try and really make a world that's as believable and real as possible."
Scott Frank found McDowell and his team a constant source of inspiration throughout the development of the script and the various tweaks necessitated during production.
"They had a whole Bible of the technology for me to work from," he describes, "what the computers were going to look like, what the visuals were going to look like. So, I really wrote from that. More than anything else, they inspired me and came up with a lot of stuff that I then used to help tell the story. They really started thinking, if we were going to make this real, how would it work? How could we do this?"
Spielberg conceived a visual vocabulary that would communicate a believable future some fifty years from now, focusing on Washington, D.C.
"We will still have the Washington Monument, the Rotunda of the Senate and the Capitol Building," Spielberg comments. "There will still be a White House. There are great swatches of the District of Columbia that are not going to change in the next hundreds of year. But around that city are going to be the vestiges of the future architecture and technology, so I thought it was really nice to always return to a city that has the icon of the Washington Monument, or the Lincoln or Jefferson Memorials. It's a touchstone to reality, and I think every time you see Washington D.C. it reminds you that this is happening in our world, in a real world just a little bit ahead of our time."
"The film has been a great experience because of the range of sets and environments we've needed to create to satisfy the story," continues McDowell. "Our future architecture is very diverse. At one extreme we've got the very traditional federal office building of Max von Sydow's character and on the other, we've got Pre-Crime headquarters that, in the tradition of Frank Gehry, has been liberated from the square."
Working with Spielberg, McDowell extrapolated that Washington, D.C. has evolved into three layers - the D.C. of monuments that does not change; an upscale, "bedroom community" across the Potomac where Anderton lives that has developed vertically; and the old part of the city that has not kept up with the technological advances afforded to the rich. "There's a dark, decaying city which is where our tenement hotel, the alley chase and a significant part of the movie takes place," he says.
The transportation in D.C. has been supplemented with a Mag-Lev (Magnetic Levitation) system based on magnetics. "Mag-lev, three dimensional system was based on a combination of taxi cabs and elevators, in the way that they are beginning to be released from their trappings and made free. It can take you wherever you want to go on command." Adds Bonnie Curtis, "The Mag-Lev can go horizontally, vertically; it can spin; it can turn; and you sit in the middle and never spill your coffee."
"The most futuristic thing about the movie, and maybe the most science fiction-y thing, is the look of the Mag-Lev systems," Spielberg comments.
Spielberg and McDowell turned to Lexus and car designer Harald Belker, a visionary of multiple futures who worked on vehicles for Batman and Robin, Armageddon and numerous other films, to create the vehicles for Minority Report.
Pre-Crime headquarters was conceived as a building installed within the last ten years, and designed to be a statement about Pre-Crime. "Steven liked the idea that Pre-Crime is a transparent organisation," says McDowell. "It had nothing to hide. There was no hidden secret, and at the same time it's hiding the biggest secret of all, suspended above, in the egg. We conceived of the egg as this pebble dropping into a pond, and very early on came up with a spiral design that incorporated this expanding ripple that, at the same time, in the three-dimensional design expanded into a series of spirals."
Very different from the egg containing the three Pre-Cogs is the monument dedicated to them outside the building. "The Pre-Cogs are unknown to the public completely," says McDowell. "They've become these very idealised, almost godlike figures, because they're saving people from murder on a daily basis. Pre-Crime has encouraged this attitude. So, we wanted to come up with a Washington Federal-type sculpture that reflected the idea of the power of the three Pre-Cogs and at the same time had a kind of religious overtone. We had our own sculptors developing this and I think they have achieved something that's very close to a piece of art in the real world."
One of Spielberg's most imaginative set pieces was to take place in a tenement hotel. Spielberg consulted with cinematographer Kaminski, McDowell and visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar on how to accomplish one long take that follows robotic spiders from room to room until they locate who they've been programmed to identify as Anderton.
"Very early on, I showed Steven a foam core model of the tenement hotel" says McDowell. "Like most models, it didn't have a roof on it, and within a few minutes, he said 'Wouldn't it be great if we could do this in one overhead shot?' So the crane now follows the action, follows the spiders and reveals piece by piece the action leading up to the spiders discovering Anderton. It was a tremendous challenge for the art department and the grip department but we were aided tremendously by Pixel Liberation Front's animatics. Essentially, they converted the design into a 3D computer storyboard, so we were able to perfect the crane move before anything was ever shot."
PLF created animatics not only for how the shot would appear on film, but also how the cranes, cameras, lighting and actors would move to accomplish the scene. "I wanted to do it all in one shot, looking straight down overhead, and I didn't know if that shot was possible," Spielberg comments. "So, I designed the shot with the computer guys on their software. They even showed me how to get the shot by actually putting the crane into the set, so on screen you have a pre-visualisation of what the shot was going to look like."
stunts and action
The action Spielberg planned for Minority Report encompassed ambitious stunts that harkened back to the director's work on the landmark Indiana Jones films. "For this film, we've gone further with people flying than has been ever put on film before," says stunt co-ordinator Brian Smrz (Mission: Impossible 2).
Tom Cruise, as he has so often, largely eschewed the use of a stunt double - sometimes to the dismay of his director, who remembers his first encounter with Cruise's stunt work. "I first visited him on the set of Mission: Impossible 2," Spielberg recalls, "where Tom was doing ninety-foot falls on a wire descender rig … without a pad underneath. And I went over to [M:I 2 director] John Woo, and asked, 'How can you let him do this?' John looked at me and said, 'I can't stop him.'
"So I made a deal with Tom," Spielberg continues. "I said, 'You have to let me determine what stunts you can do, and you have to take no for an answer.' But most of the stunts he did himself."
Throughout the film, Anderton is chased by Pre-Crime cops who believe he is going to commit murder. Because they can track his every move, eluding and outrunning them requires courage and ingenuity. One of such sequences played out in a tenement alley that involves not only horizontal movement, but a vertical chase that has Anderton struggling to escape from cops in hover packs. "We've all seen flying in movies," says special effects supervisor Michael Lantieri. "Flying always has a feel like you're hanging from something. In this case, we wanted the hover pack to actually be flying and let the passenger go along for the ride. It goes up, down, drags on the ground, flies inside the tenement building, crashes through the ceiling. It just goes on and on. It's Steven taking it to the Raiders level of action, where you think you're just about to come up for air and there's more above you."
Stunt coordinator Smrz worked closely with McDowell in creating a rig that would allow multiple bodies to be flying in the air in ways that hadn't been seen before. On Hennessy Street, on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, the art department and construction crew began work creating a 400 ft.-long, fifty foot-high alley set, complete with real bricks and mortar, to match the physical location in Downtown L.A. "Simultaneously, the grips were building an exoskeleton outer structure thirty feet above our set that was the most incredible flying stunt rig I've ever seen," McDowell says. "For the time it was standing, we had the tallest building in Burbank."
This truss system enabled Smrz to hang pick points from which the stuntmen and actors could fly. "I had 200 cable shivs in the air and a mile and a half of cable that had to be strung just to perform these stunts at various spots in the alley," Smrz describes. "Just to give you an idea of what was going on behind the scenes, it takes two or three people to make one person travel through the air and we had six people in the air at all times. Of course, one of those guys was Tom Cruise. But because we have a history with him, Tom fit into the mix very easily. They're the same group of guys from Tom's last two films so he trusts us and was comfortable on the wires from beginning to end.
"We've created something visually different than what audiences have seen before," Smrz adds. "Some directors would have used visual effects, but Steven felt it was better to make it as real as possible. The irony is that there's going to be a lot of visual effects work just to remove our cables from the shots!"
This sequence exemplifies the combination of physicality and animation that has gone into building the ambitious action in Minority Report. "I think it's something that makes Steven's films work so well," says Curtis. "We use a lot of real locations with actors doing stunts. Yes, ILM will have to remove wires, enhance buildings and create the skies and ceilings where cables and rigging were before. But having the physicality of the real world - real actors, real clothes, real hover packs - and adding Michael Lantieri's real fire and dust to the mix puts something on the screen that can't be replicated with CGI."
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