Gotta Go to Work: Production Design and Locations
Fortunately for those involved, R.I.P.D. was filmed throughout the same Boston streets in which the story is set. For the first half of the filming schedule, the production would traverse the city from the gritty streets of East Boston's waterfront to the Charlestown to the tony Newbury Street in the Back Bay. It next decamped to several sound stages to film interior scenes during New England's notoriously cold and snowy winters.
The historic and modern architecture of Boston offered Hammond a multitude of options for the location-driven film sets, which would be a perfect complement to the sets he conceived and erected. Armed with ample research, the production designer was able to define the dual worlds, the unimaginable creatures and the other fantastical components of Hay & Manfredi's screenplay.
"Boston is the perfect city for R.I.P.D.," cites Hammond. "It's a city where you can believe somebody would be hiding out for 300 years. You have a building that was built in 1980 right next to one that was built in 1785. It feels like there is a dense layering of nooks and crannies of almost forgotten space, especially downtown. Boston worked very well; it's a major metropolitan back lot."
The dichotomy of historic and new Boston was evident at every turn and presented Hammond with a landscape that echoed the timeless theme of the film. The streets of the Financial District would serve as hosts for both the main and the secondary action unit, led by the film's 2nd unit director/supervising stunt coordinator, the late DAVID R. ELLIS (47 Ronin, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World). He led the charge to film the exterior portions of R.I.P.D.'s biggest set piece: the rupturing portal that formerly served to separate our two worlds.
Producer Fottrell discusses the tricky work: "We had two units filming simultaneously, sometimes blocks apart from each other. One was shooting intricately choreographed driving action while the other had principal cast and stunt players garbed in gray motion-capture suits as they raced through the streets amidst explosions and spectral gunfire. It was an ambitious undertaking, especially with the scale of the live-action, visual-effects driven scenes. We had some challenges but were able to pull off some great work."
The shell of a 19th-century tugboat factory in East Boston would provide the space and gritty texture for Hammond and his art department to create the setting for the meth-lab bust where Nick meets his demise. Hammond's crew had to build up extra platforms on the upper levels, all the way to the structure's roof.
Next, the special effects department augmented the setting with strategically placed pyrotechnics, fire bars, hundreds of squibs and gunfire. This was amidst an intricate network of wirework required to suspend stunt players mid-air; while some met the same dire fate as Nick, others were blown into the air by explosions. Dozens of Boston-area law enforcement officers were recruited to portray the background actors and ensure the takedown of a known drug lab was executed properly and accurately.
It was important to the filmmakers that the meth-lab scene establishes the proper physical surroundings, key to transitioning Nick from the material world to the afterlife. Explains Hammond: "We wanted the audience to experience this sequence through Ryan's character as he dies, comes to and enters an amazing world of suspended animation. From there, he's on his journey to the afterlife that we've created."
Soundstages located 10 miles south of Boston housed multiple sets for the production including all aspects of the heavenly R.I.P.D. headquarters, Nick and Julia's Charlestown home, Nawicki's cluttered apartment, the setting for the film's opening sequence, as well as Hayes' house.
As much as visual effects create the backdrop to R.I.P.D.'s alternate world, to create a balanced backdrop for the supernatural action-adventure, the filmmakers wanted to infuse just as much live action into the mix. One of the more complicated film sets to be practically carried out was the explosive rift of Hayes' house set. Hammond would partner with special effects supervisor MARK HAWKER (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) to once again pull off eye-popping effects. The house, built on a hydraulic gimbal, was rigged to violently shake and eventually split in two. From the floorboards and the walls to the upper level and the rooftop, Hayes' home was split into separate halves.
For Bridges, Reynolds, Bacon and Miller -- all present during filming on the set -- shooting the scene was a welcome change to the green-screen work often needed for visual effects shots. "It was fun to shoot that sequence practically because a lot of times it's taken care of digitally," says Bacon, who had plaster and dust blasting around him as the structure split in two.
When it came time for more hands-on action and stunts, the cast members -- with the help of an amazing stunt team led by supervising stunt coordinator Ellis and stunt coordinators COREY EUBANKS and MIKE GUNTHER -- were able to do their part. Naturally, Bridges and Reynolds did some stunt work, but Bacon, Szostak and Miller were also able to slip into respective harnesses for planned wirework.
As intricate as the Hayes set was, however, it was dwarfed in scale, design and preparation time in comparison to the R.I.P.D. Boston Bureau department set, which turned out to be Hammond's biggest challenge. The production designer previously collaborated with Schwentke on the movies Red and Flightplan -- as well as the FOX series Lie to Me -- so their fluid dialogue was a great asset when it came to the massive set.
Even in the earliest drafts of the scripts, Hammond was heartened to learn that there was ample potential for him to make his visual mark in each of the story's two worlds. "One of the things that informed the design of the spaces is how Robert purposely deals with the unexpected moments," says Hammond. "Throughout the film, the audience, and even the characters, think they know what's coming -- only to have it flipped on them. The material never takes itself too seriously in dealing with those big life issues and we did the same thing with the sets. While there may be gigantic, Industrial Revolution-sized spaces with huge, imposing gears, there's still an element of fun and joy to them."
The supernatural headquarters of Boston's R.I.P.D., arguably the film's biggest set piece, essentially floats in the heavens above. It is comprised of different practically built sections, including the walkway through the spectral library, the holding area/bull pen, the evidence room, Proctor's office and the interstellar hallways that connect them all.
Hammond's crew created an industrial bureaucratic foundation, with an embellished version of the police vernacular that covered eons of time. The R.I.P.D. predates any and all technology, so the designer maintained a true predigital world. "The idea is that the R.I.P.D. is part of an insular celestial machinery," he shares. "We wanted to take that idea literally and incorporate massive gears and chains into the design. We also wanted to do a whole analog police department, which was the other component we were balancing in the R.I.P.D. They are a police force so we looked at lots of renderings through time -- focusing on the late 19th-century police stations all the way up to now."
Members of the R.I.P.D. do not need to sleep, eat or drink or enjoy the creature comforts afforded their human counterparts. Efficiently dispatching Deados to the other side is their sole purpose, so their work environment needed to reflect that fact. The wide-open, multilevel bull pen set with the adjoining evidence room was the largest, and most impressive, of the movie sets and covered a staggering 14,000 square feet.
When it came to the R.I.P.D. squad room, it was up to Primetime Emmy Award-winning set decorator KATHY LUCAS (HBO's John Adams) to elevate the notion of police iconography and augment Hammond's design with intricate details. All the detritus of a hardworking investigator -- including thousands of pages of files and paperwork layered among utilitarian steel-tanker desks -- as well as phones, office supplies, hats, coats and coffee cups could be found. Hammond laughs that he and Lucas did draw the line on donuts...even though the stereotypical treat did make the cut for a brief moment.
Considering that they filmed on the set for several weeks, the remarkable attention to the smallest detail was not lost on cast or crew. "The production design is off the charts, and the attention to detail, too," commends Reynolds. "You can open any one of those desks, and you'll find something unique to whomever the character is that's been cast around that desk. I casually picked up a book on Roy's desk, and it was his version of porn. It was a whole book of old-fashioned pictures of ankles. It was incredible."
Another location would host cast and crew for several weeks and elicit similar awe at the design and accompanying effects needed to complete the vignette. The sprawling harbor-side location at the Quincy shipyard, just south of the city, would serve as home to the rooftop set where the final showdown between the R.I.P.D. and the Deados play out.
An elevated rooftop surrounded by a massive 360-degree green screen would allow for the eventual melding of the live-action and CGI elements. Stunt and background actors garbed in the gray motion-capture suits and hats spent exhaustive days on set mapping their body movements for their VFX-enhanced characters. Working with cinematographer Alwin Kuchler and VFX supervisor MICHAEL J. WASSEL (Fast Five), Schwentke and Hammond took great care to ensure there was a seamless transition between the digital environment and the constructed set that had specific anchor points to which the eye could be drawn.
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