Cracking Hardbacks: Building the New York Library
Oblivion began production in March 2012 at the massive Celtic Studios in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. More than two-thirds of shooting would occur on this Southern back lot, as at any given time the production was operating on five of the seven stages built on this 23-acre studio. On Stage 4, Kosinski and his crew of approximately 350 began re-creating the New York Public Library. This set was an uncanny re-creation of the actual library that resides on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, only with a postapocalyptic feel, and the build filled the enormous 30,800-square-foot space.
Even though it was the first week of photography, Cruise and the stunt team, led by stunt coordinator ROBERT ALONZO, literally dove in full force. From the two-story-high space, Cruise -- wearing Jack's light gray enviro suit and with a rifle in hand -- repelled 54 feet into the dark cavernous chasm that represented the destroyed underground remnants of the New York Public Library. When Jack's cable is cut, he crashes through a table. For Cruise, that meant slamming into one of the five breakaway tables that were on hand.
As if that wasn't enough, the script called for explosions to erupt and for Jack to be dragged across the floor when an alien trap clamps down around his leg. Burned out periodicals, books and ash lay scattered all over the ground. Take after take, three of Oscar winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda's cameras filmed the action as Cruise and Alonzo perfected their stunt choreography. A flying chainsaw rig camera traveled 18 mph above the set on wires as it followed the action.
Alonzo explains that this is par for the course for a film of Oblivion's scope and size: "This type of shooting and this type of schedule presents a number of challenges. This production, as far as the action is concerned, has been loaded up front. It's been stunt after stunt, which is normal for a Tom Cruise movie. Tom is one of our own; he is a stuntman, no doubt about it... and a good stuntman at that."
Producer Clark elaborates: "It's important for people to understand that Tom does all of his own stunts, and in a movie like this, you have the low-tech stunts like running and jumping and getting punched in the face. Then you have the high-tech stunts of flying and riding motorcycles. Again, Tom is a trained pilot, trained motorcycle rider and a trained car driver. He can do them all. This movie has many different components. It is an action-adventure, and at the heart of that is putting Tom in multiple set pieces that are both thrilling and dangerous."
Even the most seasoned stunt people have their limitations. Visual effects producer Steve Gaub explains his role in helping to build sequences that the able crew just couldn't duplicate outside of the virtual world: "What is not humanly possible in stunts, we create in VFX. There are some great sequences where Jack has to do some amazing aerobatics and aero-maneuvers. We shot pieces of that in Iceland, and we put it together in the virtual world to bring it to the screen."
The New York Public Library set is massive and stunning, and production designer Darren Gilford and his art department team did not spare any attention to detail. Twelve enormous three-tiered chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and approximately 150 handmade wooden light bulbs are mounted in each chandelier. It is a playroom for an action sequence, and Miranda had many curious challenges utilizing the space for the sequence.
Kosinski and Miranda made the choice to showcase the intensity of performances and sets such as the library by shooting the film with the recently released Sony F65 digital camera. This camera shoots in 4K resolution that offers breathtaking depth and clarity in order for the film to be projected on an IMAX screen. The look is four times the resolution of an HD image, and the F65's flexibility made it a perfect fit for the production. Shares Miranda: "We worked at a low light level, and the F65 is great for getting us exposure at these low lights."
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