Diamonds in the Rough
The approach to the game wasn't the only thing that was different. From the ballparks, to the towns and cities, to the cars and buses, to the uniforms and clothes, every facet of the production had to reflect a time gone by.
One important aspect of Brooklyn Dodgers baseball that was long gone was the beloved home of the team, Ebbets Field. In fact, all of the old major league ballparks have, over the years, been upgraded or completely torn down and replaced by new stadiums. Helgeland corroborates, "Even Fenway and Wrigley Field have been modernized, so we would have had to do too much to sell them as being in the period. We were also shooting during baseball season, so that made it unfeasible."
Executive producer Jason Clark and location manager Eric Hooge scoured the South, where they had learned a number of those old ballparks still exist. They found three that were able to be used in the production: Engel Stadium in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Luther Williams Field in Macon, Georgia; and Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, which is America's oldest existing ballpark. Perhaps most interestingly, Jackie Robinson had played on all three fields, which was inspiring to the filmmakers, cast and crew. Boseman says, "Whenever I came up to bat, I always grabbed a little bit of dirt and rubbed it in my hands as a way to pay homage to him."
Engel Stadium was selected to serve as Ebbets Field, which turned out to be mutually beneficial to the production and the stadium. Hooge says, "They were considering tearing it down because it was in such disrepair. We had to make some modifications, but at the same time, we revitalized it so it can be used again."
Production designer Richard Hoover pored over numerous images of Ebbets Field, studying it from every angle. In his research, he was also lucky enough to discover digital copies of the original drawings of the stadium online. He states, "We wanted to be as accurate as possible and also to do justice to the memory of one of the original baseball palaces in this country."
Using the photos and drawings as a reference, Hoover's team resurfaced the diamond and the outfield; built an entire section of bleachers set at an exact angle to the baselines; and plastered 1940s-era ads on the walls, among other elements. They even created an exact replica of the Ebbets Field scoreboard.
Nevertheless, certain components could not be achieved materially, so, Hoover worked closely with visual effects supervisor Jamie Dixon to recapture Brooklyn, circa 1947. Helgeland says, "The two of them figured out a way to marry the practical sets to the computer extension in a way that is seamless."
The crew constructed an enormous green screen wall by placing telephone poles at 10-foot intervals, which were then sunk 10 feet into the ground to fortify the massive structure. Once secure, they attached sheets of plywood and painted the entire wall green. Measuring approximately 1200 feet long and 40 feet high, the green screen wrapped around the entire back of the stadium and extended down each side, allowing the VFX team and design teams to establish the Brooklyn skyline of 60-plus years ago, the crowded second deck of Ebbets Field, and whatever else was required for each scene.
The vast green screen also enabled the filmmakers to repurpose Engel Stadium for the Dodgers' away games: using VFX to turn the stadium into the home fields of the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cincinnati Reds.
Luther Williams Field was used for segments involving the Dodgers' and the Montreal Royals' training camps. Notably, Rickwood Field was the actual site of a game between the Kansas City Monarchs and the Birmingham Black Barons, during Robinson's time in the Negro League. Helgeland and his cast were thrilled to re-imagine moments from that game in the very place it had happened.
Baseball action in "42" was captured by both the first and second units, but the goal for both was the same: bring the audience directly into the game. Helgeland notes, "The DP, Don Burgess, and I decided we weren't going to do a lot of sweeping shots of the stadium. We wanted it to feel like you were there -- sliding into base, seeing if the runner is safe or out, anticipating a pitch in the batter's box, or standing on the pitcher's mound."
Burgess says he and Helgeland and the design teams also established a specific color palette "to bring the audience along on the journey with Jackie Robinson from a visual standpoint. We broke it down by year, from '45 to '47, and I used different gel filters in the lights to create a certain atmosphere for each year. And all the departments made sure the tone remained consistent in the sets and costumes."
Hoover adds, "We talked about keeping a somewhat desaturated color scheme until we entered the major league stadiums, where everything is heightened, or in the Dodgers' locker room, which features a strong red wainscoting. We also incorporated the theme of darkness and light, like when Jackie is coming out of the tunnel at Ebbets and going towards something new."
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