Effects & Locations
Visual effects supervisor Shermis especially relished one challenge presented
by the opening scene of the film, during which a hostage wired with explosives
steps out of the safe range. For this, director Sena wanted to use some of the
innovative camera techniques pioneered in Silver's groundbreaking smash
"The Matrix." "During that scene, police cars are exploding, guys
are flying through the air, and it had to be timed so that when we got to camera
number 125, this guy had to be flying in the frame. I'd never seen a more
difficult shot to set up. It was just all the layers and passes. One layer for
the explosion, one layer for the car being thrown through the air, one layer for
the people who were supposed to be next to the car. That was a separate pass so
that nobody got hurt. So it was just layers upon layers. To get one 30-second
shot took days."
The shot involved using the multi-cam system, a specially designed rig
created by Bill Gill which is able to hold 135 still cameras.
This one shot took roughly three months of planning. Shermis started with an
extensive computer graphic pre-visualization. The area was mapped out very
specifically to about a half-inch so they knew exactly where to place the
cameras and the components were exactly where they needed to be. The timing was
literally scheduled to the millisecond and the special effects and stunt teams
had to make sure everything happened exactly as planned.
Although a certain amount of this sequence was rendered using CGI, over 85%
of the shot was done physically. The only elements to be computer-generated were
those that would be safety hazards, such as the flying ball bearings and
shattering glass at close proximity to the cast and crew.
Stunt coordinator Bradley utilized an amazing rig in order to achieve the
spectacular flips and turns required by the shot. The rig utilizes a cable
system, which is attached to harnesses worn by the stunt men and which literally
hoists them into the air and flips them. It enables them to perform moves that
haven't been seen before.
"Every sequence presented its own challenge," says Sena. "And
we would use a different technique for each. One had to be very formal and
locked off; another might have been a complicated dolly move; and yet another
needed to be hand-held to give a rough and imperfect feel."
When it came to creating the overall look of the film, Sena wanted to give
Gabriel's world a high sheen of glamour, while not being afraid of color.
"We were constantly mixing gels and the color palette is pretty
strong," Sena explains. "Each location had a color palette assigned to
it and the practical lighting dictated the light we would use on the actors. For
instance, if there was a green lantern, the light on the faces would be green
instead of trying to create perfect flesh tones. It looks glossy and sexy, which
is the right look for this picture."
An example of this approach is a scene in which the mercenaries are preparing
for a heist on the bank. Originally, the scene was set in a warehouse. "I
had this vision of it being in an old, decrepit theater downtown," says
production designer Mann. "I felt it was the perfect setting for the
grandeur and theatricality of John Travolta's character. We scouted and found
a place downtown that hadn't been shot to death in every music video in the
universe. I was very happy with the result; it was visually a lot more
interesting and really set up the character well."
Finding an appropriate setting to express the characters is a very important
element of production design. To this end, Jeff Mann chose a house in
Chatsworth, designed by the architect responsible for the Transamerica building
in downtown Los Angeles, to serve as Gabriel's compound. The house was
originally built for Robert Young in 1951; lat
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