Soulless Killers and Sleep Pods: Props on the Set
Wildfactory and key designer Daniel Simon, in conjunction with prop master DOUG HARLOCKER, designed the mechanical drones, which are as equally intricate as the Bubbleship. The soulless killers of anything that stands in their path, the drones are ridding the Earth of any remaining alien scavengers. Perilously for Jack, the repairman has to constantly be on the lookout that they don't kill him as well. Says Harlocker: "We decided early on that when the drone is stripped down with its hood up, it should read the way a car does when it is stripped down. When all of the body panels are off the drone, it looks like a raw machine. It has a real Terminator, scary, demonist look to it."
Gilford elaborates that the drones were made with advanced prototype manufacturing by Harlocker, working from designs that Simon began. He says: "A lot of the things that we designed in our art department actually started in the computer, and the geometry and the files that we used went straight to a machine where they cut those 3D parts by creating molds. This let us build incredibly intricate, beautiful automotive-looking props."
The New York Public Library scene is the first sequence in which we are introduced to the drones. In sum, three drones were made from scratch: two white, fully clad ones with their outer shell, and one -- stripped down, without cladding -- upon which Jack works in the Skytower. All of the drones were equipped with animatronics so that they could spin, move and light up by remote control.
Over the course of production, Harlocker worked closely with illustrators who came up with different concepts of items that appear in the script. After Kosinski approved a drawing, the prop department scaled it out and made a 2D model out of cardboard. From that point, a 3D model was made. This prop-building process -- one that continued throughout filming -- usually took a few months to design a specific look for production.
Not only did Harlocker supervise the builds on big-ticket item props such as the Bubbleship (see Skytower section), Moto Bike (see Iceland section) and drones, he also managed the creation of the sleep pods, with their myriad hydraulics and moving parts. In the sleep-pod body alone, more than 30 foam pieces make up the inner shell. The Oblivion props department also designed Jack's and the aliens' weaponry, and it constructed such hero props as Jack's plasma torch, flare and smoke bombs, as well as Vika's medical kit and healant sprayer.
The research that the props department had to do to make things appear as if they could exist in the near future was exhaustive. Even creating perfect packaging for bottled water and food was a challenge. The pod-prop design includes graphics, paint and electronics, right down to the LED detailing. Even the iconic spent shell with a potted flower that Jack gives to Vika prompted a specific request from Kosinski. The director opted to use a plant he had seen on the ground in Iceland during an early location scout.
Harlocker had a rubber room on site at Celtic Studios where he and his team molded all of the weapons, and they made lightweight rubber duplicate versions of props that could be used by the stunt team. These came in handy as some of the hero prop rifles weighed up to 35 pounds. Says Harlocker: "The real guns we had to make lightweight and real, but all of them had 800 lumen flashlights, the strongest and smallest flashlight you could find to put in the front of a gun that lit the entire set. The whole scene is lit primarily by a shaft of light coming down the sinkhole opening and then lit by Jack's gun. It became a festival of changing flashlights and batteries every 10 minutes because they had a strong flashlight but a short burn time."
From fabric and leather to rubber, plastic and steel, the props department used various materials and worked closely with the art and wardrobe departments to make sure all props integrated into the look and feel of the film.
Lightwave designed the scanning lasers projected by the drones. A full-color laser projector was used, and in addition to the standard red, green and blue projection, it also projected yellow. This technology is new, and Oblivion is one of the first film sets in the world to use it. Safety was key when working with these lasers, as even from 50 feet away they could possibly ignite a fire if they focused on a point for too long. These intense beams of light were rigged onto a hydroscope (meant for a camera) so that they could be controlled and easily moved. Two Lightwave programming technicians were on set at all times to make sure that safety was first and that the color, size and strength of the lasers were at the specifications that the filmmakers wanted.
Typically, laser effects may be done in postproduction with computer graphics, but Kosinski liked the idea of the drones coming to life and creating havoc on the Oblivion . Utilization on a film production is relatively new ground for this technology, and 90 percent of the business that Lightwave does in the field is for concerts and stadium shows. As any pattern and color could be achieved with the lasers and changes made easily, Kosinski was pleased with the results.
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