Coming Home: Raven Rock and the Radiation Zone
Early in the shooting schedule, Oblivion headed to New Orleans for a couple of weeks to shoot scenes that included human survivors -- led by Beech and Sykes -- who are hiding out in an area known as Raven Rock. Says Kosinski: "Raven Rock and Earth are the complete opposite aesthetic from what we see in the Skytower."
The company shot at the six-acre Market Street Power Plant, located along the Mississippi River, which has the distinction of being the oldest power plant in New Orleans. It was built in 1885 and shut down almost 40 years ago. This power plant's look could not have been built. The volume, the space, the rust, the detail -- everything was unique and became the perfect place for human survivors on an Earth that has been attacked. Freeman: "Raven Rock is an underground sanctuary that the survivors have used for many years, built up the best they can to be their fortress."
As there was a good deal of existing dilapidated steel and an entirely open roof, the building was checked for safety before anyone was allowed to go in and work. All cast and crew had to wear hard hats when entering the building. The only access is from the street, which was a challenge getting materials into their correct location. One evening, seven inches of overnight rain flooded the set, and the crew had to wait out the storm and pump out the set before filming resumed. This was just a minor setback, however; the storm didn't stop the constant fireballs and explosions.
Also featured inside the Raven Rock set was the archive room set where the survivors stashed pieces of art and beloved books that told the history of their people, and the place where their children were schooled. To give the illusion that the books in the archive room were very old, they were aged in a cement mixer to look as if they were remnants of the last war on Earth. Additionally, there were works of art such as the "Liberty Bell," as well as those of Claude Monet and Andrew Wyeth. Of note, rights for the use of Wyeth's painting "Christina's World" in a motion picture had never been granted before Oblivion.
One of the prize possessions that Jack finds in the New York Public Library is a book titled "Lays of Ancient Rome." Says Harlocker: "It turns out that this is a beautiful five-by-six-inch leather-bound book that came in many incarnations. We bought five or six different editions from England, and we found one that we liked and we were only going to make one of those books. Joe decided that it should be actually on fire after the drone attack, so we had to go and manufacture it and make five duplicate copies to set on fire."
For decades, the human survivors and alien scavengers have kept clear of the radiation zone, an area believed to be so deadly that no one could approach it without immediately dying. Jack learns, like so many other things, this is hardly the case. For four days, production shot on the radiation zone set in St. Francisville, approximately an hour outside of Baton Rouge and 15 miles from Angola prison.
Production assistants on the set asked the team to tread as little as possible on the sandy surface, and as they walked, the on-set props department brushed a broom to clear their tracks. Several tents were set up to take cover, and for the actors who were wearing leather, as soon as "cut" was yelled, they rushed into a cooling tent where they were iced down and given fluids.
These man-made sand dunes were fully exposed in the hot sun, and there was nowhere to take cover as Cruise shot one of the biggest fight sequences in the film. Crewmembers were unrecognizable in hats and face coverings to protect them from the cruel rays. Cruise takes us through one of the hottest shooting days: "I've never felt such extreme heat in my life. Your body would heat up like that, and then you have to bring your body temperature down. Of course the whole time, I was thinking, 'Ten hours to get this, and how many minutes to cool the body down?'"
When shooting exteriors at both the quarry and the sandpit, the ground in Louisiana had to match what might be similarly found in Iceland. This meant creating pools of "lava," as well as water that bubbled up to the surface, plus smoke and debris.
A few sets in the Baton Rouge region that were used for action sequences are actually huge quarries filled with sand and rock. They were littered with smoke, debris and wreckage of the Odyssey set. The rain and wind helped these sets take a natural shape, as they were exposed to the elements during building and filming. These sets would be extended with background visuals shot in Iceland.
The SFX department was busy filming day in and day out. If it wasn't the Bubbleship gimbal or drones consuming the craftspeople's time, it was the many explosions and gunfire. Mortar and propane, along with titanium used for sparks, created powerful, though contained, fireballs. Different-sized cans of propane were used, depending on how brilliant the effect needed to be, while the mortars were filled with balsa wood, cork and dirt. Some of the sequential explosions, such as those on the Odyssey crash site set, used 15 circuits that were triggered in sequence. Speeds were set, timed and rehearsed for the effect requested to come off very safely.
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