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G.I. JOE: RETALIATION

About the Production
With a storyline that travels from the deserts of Islamabad, skyscrapers in Tokyo, the mountain peaks of the Himalayas, a sub-terranean prison in Germany to the streets of D.C., the filmmakers had the extraordinary task of finding a location that could accommodate most of the various elements needed. Unlike many films of this size and scope who rely on CGI-based technology to create their visual worlds, the filmmakers wanted to utilize practical locations as much as possible to stay in-line with the effort and mandate to make the film more reality-based and grounded.
 
After a meticulous search of various locations with the knowledge that certain key exteriors could be captured with a reduced unit outside of the main unit, the producers found most of the elements needed in New Orleans, Louisiana.

"We realized that we couldn't do this in all the actual places in the script and looked at a reduced second unit approach and try to base the movie in one place," explains Executive Producer Herb Gains.  "After touring the various potential locations with Lorenzo and Jon, we all agreed on New Orleans and it worked extremely well for us."  

Taking advantage of some of the southern aesthetics, the attractions of New Orleans and the surrounding areas, the filmmakers decided to make a few alterations to the script.  Once such adjustment was setting the final sequence of the film at Fort Sumter, a bunker just outside of New Orleans where the first shot of the Civil War was fired.  "With some clever screenwriting and without any real loss in terms of storytelling, we found the right location in Louisiana that could serve us well and offer some historical value to elevate the final act of the film," explains Gains.

The 72-day shoot began outside of Baton Rouge in a massive man-made sandpit that served as the deserts of Pakistan.  With the summer heat and humidity reaching well above 100 degrees and virtually no-shade for shelter, the experience brought the cast and crew together in an invaluable way.   "Starting off the movie in the sand pit put everyone into a war mentality right off the bat, we were under siege," recounts di Bonventura.  "The temperature and humidity were extreme and it made a common misery and there's a certain amount of fun that comes from that.  We survived the desert together and that bonded the group in a really interesting way."

For director Jon M. Chu, it was a great way to jump into the fire.  "It was the most intense heat I've ever experienced and we were all just getting to know each other.  On top of that, it's my first action movie and we were starting with an extensive sequence with huge explosions…it definitely felt like our own boot camp of sorts."

The unforgiving weather was particularly challenging for the cast, who were outfitted in their full military gear and weaponry and had to trudge up and down the massive sand hills repeatedly over a week and a half.  Recalls Johnson, "You're in the sand and it's hot, sweaty and muggy and it's easy to get tired and pissed off, but at the end of the day we were all in it together for the betterment of the team and, ultimately, the movie."

One of the challenges of filming outside of production-heavy cities like Los Angeles, Vancouver, Sydney or London is the lack of infrastructure needed to support a film of this scope.  A huge component to making this film a reality in New Orleans was the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility, which was utilized as the film's makeshift production facility and housed most of the grandiose sets.    The dismantling of the Space Shuttle program allowed the facility to open its doors for the first time to a film production and allowed the creative team to create the various environments and large-scale sets needed for the project.  

In addition to the extraordinary amount of acreage available, the massive warehouses offered 250-foot ceiling height built to accommodate assembly of the massive pieces of the Space Shuttle and their fuel boosters.  This gave the creative team the ability to construct multiple sets of significant size simultaneously.  Throughout production sets were in a constant state of transformation; either being assembled, used or being struck in preparation for the next round of construction.   "One of the many things that NASA gave us was space and the ability to expand and contract," explains Executive Producer Herb Gains.  "There were times we had two units filming here simultaneously, sets going up and coming down and probably had up to 700 employees working here at once. Never once did we trip over each other, there was that much space."

Producers surrounded the director with an accomplished group of behind-the-scenes talent to support his vision that included cinematographer Stephen Windon, who had recently lensed one of 2011's biggest films, THE FAST & THE FURIOUS 5, costume designer Louise Mingenbach, production designer Andrew Menzies, stunt coordinator Steve Ritzi, fight coordinator Thomas Dupont and second unit director George Ruge.  "One of Jon's greatest strengths is that he has a very strong ego, but doesn't have to deny other people's ideas. As a result, he is a great collaborator and has brought out the best in everybody," says di Bonaventura.  "He's taken their best ideas and combined with his own and that's resulted in the best that we could have hoped for."

When it came to the visual look and scope of the film, the filmmakers enlisted the innovative input of production designer Andrew Menzies, who had served as art director on such films as MUNICH and SYRIANA.  Menzies was excited about taking the film out of the CGI world into the real world and how that would translate to the overall look of the film.  "When I read the script I got very excited about the possibility of bringing some real grit to it similar to other military films like BLACK HAWK DOWN," recalls Menzies.  

Upon hearing Menzies initial ideas about the look, tone and textures of the film, Chu trusted that Menzies was just the designer to bring the far-reaching worlds of G.I. JOE into the real world.  "From the beginning we knew we wanted the movie to have real texture to it, to have a lot of layers and thickness to it and we knew that Andrew had the ability to make his sets feel lived-in and not fake."

Having massive spaces to work with gave Menzies and his team the ability to create the various worlds of G.I. JOE with unprecedented restriction. "I was on the first scouts of NASA with Lorenzo and Jon and Herb and I think it was a done deal once we saw the size of the VAB.  It was such a unique environment for a film to shoot. It was almost too big, but it was too juicy a morsel to pass up," laughs Menzies.

"Andrew did a phenomenal job. It was a big challenge and he just killed it," says di Bonaventura.  "We have an extraordinary number of looks in the film and they are all incredibly rich.  We jump all over the map and visual diversity offers a real 'wow' factor."

Whether it be the sub-terranean prison, the modern urban Zen sophistication of the Tokyo skyscraper dojo or the rustic monastery on a Himalayan mountaintop, Menzies was put to the task of creating each space to fit within the framework of one film.  One of the most engaging sets for the designer was the Arashikage set where Snake Eyes and Jinx train with the Blind Master.  The dojo is a perfect combination of modern and rustic incorporating both organic and industrial materials into the contradiction of a Zen dojo on top of a Tokyo skyscraper.

This environment exemplified the idea of two-worlds colliding.  "When you put a dojo on the top of the tallest skyscraper in Tokyo, it speaks to the fusion of our movie, which is the old and the very new, the modern and the ancient," explains di Bonaventura.

In his design, Menzies had to keep the action sequences in mind and how the set would affect the stunt sequence and vice-versa.  "Obviously, I wanted the sets to look as beautiful as possible but had to always keep in mind the stunts and performances," recalls Menzies.  "I was very cognizant of this in the approach to the look of the sets and the dojo is a classic example of that."

Beyond the mere functionality of the sets, Jon M. Chu appreciated how the realism of the sets inspired the actors. "The sets gave the actors a lot of room to play it more real.  From the monastery in the Himalayan Mountains, the visitor's center, the prison and the new 'pit', he designed a collage of worlds for us."

"Andrew knocked this one out of the park.  Every set you walk onto you can't believe how cool it looks and it really energizes the cast and crew.  It's a perfect example of what production design can really mean to a movie," says Howsam.

Working closely with Menzies to create a thread line through the entire look of the film was Costume Designer Louise Mingenbach, who approached the film with the objective to build upon what worked from the first installment and bring in new looks when needed.  "Having the first film as a reference was a great tool," she explains.  "We looked at what we wanted to continue with and what we might want to change and that gave us a great leg up."

Making the film more reality-based meant making some changes to the design of the character's costumes and overall looks while not straying too far from the mythology. Walking the thin line between the real world and the G.I. JOE world was taken into great consideration.  "I think one of the challenges with this type of movie is how these characters would exist in the real world because if it's not done properly, it just doesn't look good and people won't buy into it," says Erik Howsam.  "Louise did a tremendous job bringing the looks of these great characters into more of the real world."

For the G.I. JOE team, Mingenbach made a departure from the one-size-fits-all universal uniform of the first installment to crafting a look that catered to each character's specific set of skills.  Each of the core G.I. JOE team members has their own signature combat chest-plate that provided a little insight into their fighting style.  For Dwayne Johnson, putting on Roadblock's G.I. JOE uniform helped him get into the mindset.  "The vest I wear was specifically made just for Roadblock, it was outfitted for my brass knuckles that can click on or off as needed.  The vest probably weighs around 30 pounds and I feel like I'm ready to go to war when I put it on."

For the visually iconic Snake Eyes ninja character, Mingenbach and filmmakers decided to adjust his look to read as more of a suit than something intrinsic to his body.  "We went with the notion that Snake Eyes suits up everyday; that it's an armor that he puts on," explains Mingenbach.

For the Snake Eyes costume, Mingenbach spent 2 months researching and developing seemingly endless illustrations and revisions. Taking into consideration that most superhero suits tend to be somewhat cumbersome and restrictive for the actors who wear them, the team settled on a look for Snake Eyes that offered more fluidity and comfort.  "We had to find the balance between what Ray could live with and comfortably move in and what looked good. You have to work with the actor and be open to his or her feedback, so we changed some pieces of armor, added some softer elements and more rubberized pieces along the sides so he could actually move. There was a lot of R and D to find the right fit."

"This one is more geared for battle as if Snake Eyes had it made himself," says Ray Park.  "It's more durable and flexible. It looks more like a real man inside this battle armor.  I love it."

For Jinx, the ninja warrior and Snake Eyes protege, Mingenbach didn't stray from the trademark red found in the original comic book series but was able to incorporate some more fashion-forward ideas with the character. "Jinx was so fun because there was a way to bring in some more fashionable elements. Asian fashion is asymmetrical and sculptural, so we had the opportunity to include as many bits of that as we could."

For Storm Shadow and his iconic white costume, the filmmakers found no reason to alter something that was pitch perfect already.  "We only made slight alterations to Storm Shadow, but his costume was really almost perfect already."

To create as much realism as possible in the military realm, the filmmakers brought in celebrated military technical consultant Harry Humphries, who is a former Navy Seal and extremely familiar with the world of film and how it works.  "We brought Harry on because we wanted our military guys as close to reality as they could possibly be," explains di Bonaventura.  "Harry and his team of Navy Seals bring an instant credibility to being a soldier and it has a huge affect on the end result."

In addition to serving as a consultant to the filmmakers as a temperature gauge of authenticity during filming, Humphries worked with the actors individually in prep in the handling of weaponry, technical aspects of tactical procedure and a lesson on all things military.  He firmly believes that the details are not lost on audiences today.  "Today's audiences are sophisticated and there is a large percentage that knows what proper weapon handling is and what it looks like," argues Humphries.  "So there are certain key issues that you've got to instill in the actor to make them look as if they're comfortable with the weapons they're using and how to move as a unit."   

Prior to and during filming Humphries worked with each of the G.I. JOE cast members on the basics of military technique as well as each of their character's skill sets.  They were then brought together to learn how to work as a unit, a technique often overlooked in feature films.  "All the actors were given the same base exposure to skill sets and were then pulled together to merge as a team to master the team operational element."

"We do want to pay tribute to the men and women in service and to make it feel real.  And I think hopefully, we've walked that line really well with this movie," says Erik Howsam.    

Having Humphries' team of active Navy Seals serving as G.I. JOE team members in the film had a significant impact on the cast and crew during filming.  "There's a certain amount of awe we experience being around the Seals and having them around gives it significance," says di Bonaventura.  "You look at these guys as people and what they are willing to sacrifice and we all come away with such an admiration and gratitude to be working with the Seals."

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