THE LONE RANGER
The Art Department: Rebuilding the West
The film's talented production designers Jess Gonchor ("Moneyball," "True Grit") and Mark "Crash" McCreery ("Rango," "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl") enjoyed a large staff -- composed of six art
directors, 11 set designers, two illustrators, a scenic artist, several storyboard artists, two graphic designers,
two model makers, a research coordinator, an art department production assistant, and 274 members of the
construction team -- but sometimes McCreery just liked to do things on his own. He hand-carved the Native
American petroglyphs that adorn the wooden frame around Old Tonto's diorama in the Wild West Exhibition
tent, for example, and personally painted symbols on the walls of a 200-foot-long train tunnel built in Creede,
"Crash is a total maverick," says Jerry Bruckheimer, "with a limitless imagination and tons of energy. We've been
lucky enough to work with Crash as a creature designer on several films, and it really was time for him to take a
step up and show the full range of his abilities."
Production design challenges on "The Lone Ranger" included
designing several massive sets on which the drama, comedy,
and adventure of the film could play out. There were 12 full-
size structures comprising the fictional town of Colby built in
Rio Puerco, nearly all with four walls, including a train station,
livery stable, saloon, rooming house, bank, sheriff's office, and
various shops, with five miles of railroad track surrounding
the town built especially for the film.
Built adjacent to the Colby set in Rio Puerco was the set for
another town, Promontory Summit, the historic site where the Union Pacific and Central Pacific trains met
head-to-head after completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Promontory Summit, as built for the film, has
a very different feeling from the decidedly more ramshackle Colby; it is more solidly built with brick and wood,
indicating greater prosperity and a longer history.
The wilder side of Crash McCreery really got a workout with his designs for "Hell on Wheels," a movable tent
town inspired by numerous pop-up towns that actually existed in the 19th century, which follows the workers
building the Transcontinental Railroad. The tent town's highlight is the lavish interior of its largest establishment,
Red's Traveling Entertainments.
The colorful and wonderfully bizarre Hell
on Wheels set was prefabricated in the art
department warehouse in Albuquerque
for five weeks and then, over the course of
another six weeks, assembled in the rolling
hills of Lamy, New Mexico. The end result
is a fantastical cornucopia that's akin to a
traveling carnival on Wild West steroids and populated by a splendid and weird combination of snake charmers,
human oddities, fire eaters, tea merchants, intestinal complaint medics, makeshift dentists, religious fanatics,
and railroad workers. All this debauchery is set against a backdrop of lavish tents, stages, and booths anchored
by the imposing exterior of Red's Traveling Entertainments.
"Hell on Wheels was kind of the embodiment of every spectacle and every fantasy about the Old West," says
McCreery. "No matter what you wanted and what your desire was, you could find it here. And Cheryl Carasik's
set dressing was spectacular, filling the street from one end to the other with every item imaginable."
The set for the expansive interior of Red's was actually built and
shot months earlier on an Albuquerque Studios soundstage.
The ramshackle walls of Red's riotous saloon are festooned
with authentic period postcards, advertisements and bottles of
liquor, along with a sign displaying "Red's House Rules."
A mere stone's throw from Hell on Wheels was the much more
sober Reid Farm set, a classic slice of Americana with its wood
and stone farmhouse and large wooden barn, abutted by
stables and animal pens. "It's one of the most realistic sets that
we've built," notes McCreery, "and it looks as if it were there for
a long time. But it was built in just a few weeks, and we had to burn it down overnight!"
Another of the production designers' most impressive sets was the Sleeping Man Mine, constructed in Creede,
Colorado. The set was designed to blend in with the historic town's actual 19th-century silver-mine buildings,
but with elaborate new structures. These included a 200-foot-long train tunnel with a 40-foot-tall faux rock front,
a mile of railroad track, elevated tracks and trestles for ore carts, plus mining shacks that, although newly built,
looked aged enough to fall apart at any moment.
Supplying the characters with a formidable arsenal and a huge number of accouterments was prop master Kris
Peck and his associate, armorer Harry Lu. From the Lone Ranger's famous pearl-handled pistols loaded with
silver bullets to Red Harrington's ivory leg and Latham Cole's
pocket watch, these relatively small objects all played crucial
parts in the story. Peck also wanted to make certain that key
"hero" props were properly aged, consistent with Verbinski's
approach to the film's entire rustic design scheme. "The history
is in the prop when you look at it," notes Peck. "Gore told me up
front that there would be four or five props that we're going to
see 80 feet across the screen, and the Lone Ranger's badge and
silver bullet are two of those. They had to look as if they were
made by hand, and not in a prop house."
Curiously enough, Tonto's main prop is probably the beaded
leather bag in which he keeps various totems and, even more important, seed for the crow that adorns his
headdress. He carries no firearms, just two knives, one of which is fashioned -- ironically enough -- from a railroad
spike, as if Tonto is turning his enemy's tool against him. But very possibly, Peck's most remarkable prop -- certainly
the most original -- is Red Harrington's ivory prosthetic leg, which includes some hidden firepower. "Red is the living
definition of how to turn a minus into a plus," says Helena Bonham Carter, who portrays the colorful character.
"Put a gun in your prosthetic leg and protect your girls. She's empowered by her loss, not disabled by it."
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