About the Production
To portray the world of Elysium, it was necessary to draw two very distinct and different worlds -- with two locations and two styles of shooting. "Contrast was a huge part of making this film, because we wanted to show Earth and Elysium back to back," says Blomkamp. "So, to maintain that very distinct, black-and-white partition between the two places, we thought about every single element of the filmmaking process being separate."
Production Designer Philip Ivey's main goal in designing the film was to play upon the contrast been the haves on Elysium and the have-nots on Earth. "The idea is that all of the money is on Elysium," says Ivey. "But even though Earth has to feel gritty and real to the audience, so do the clean surfaces on Elysium. We have robots trimming the hedges; everything is heavily manicured. It is all made from the finest materials."
The film was primarily shot in two locations: Mexico City, which doubles for Los Angeles in 2154, and Vancouver, which doubles for Elysium. "Neill's aesthetic sensibility is about making things real, and that comes through both in the locations and the action," says Kinberg. One of the other aspects of District 9 that captured audiences and critics was that at times, the film felt real -- dramatic scenes, mockumentary footage, and real news video were all part of the same story. Kinberg says that Blomkamp brings the same sensibility to Elysium. "The sun is real, the smoke is real, the smell is real. The chaos, struggle, and danger of the city informs and infects the movie. Physical action feels gritty and real."
Filming in Mexico -- especially in some of the poorest parts of the country -- the irony was not lost on the cast or crew. "As we were filming, I couldn't help but feel that we are living in our own private Elysium -- our own version of this story," says William Fichtner. "The fact that the people of Elysium want to keep their perfect place for themselves, well, that's not unlike our circumstances today."
Another way that Fichtner's character is shown as living in literally a different world from the residents of Earth is in his vehicle -- represented by one of the world's most exclusive brands. "We approached Bugatti to see what they would come up with if they were designing a shuttle between Earth and Elysium," says Cameron Waldbauer, the film's Special Effects Coordinator. "In two days, they turned around a bunch of illustrations -- Neill picked one that he really liked, we 3D modeled it, and then we made it, out of foam and fiberglass." The shuttle even has the Bugatti badge.
For the design of Elysium, the filmmakers went in the opposite direction. Even though the rich of Elysium can afford the best of everything, "Money doesn't necessarily buy taste," Ivey notes. "You have your faux Tuscan mansions, your Malibu modern, the ultramodern houses. And out the windows, thanks to the visual effects, you see the other side of the Torus and spacecraft flying through."
For certain set concepts on Elysium, the filmmakers called upon the legendary futurist designer Syd Mead (Blade Runner, Tron, Aliens). "It was an honor to have met him and worked with him," says Ivey. "He did a number of concept illustrations of the torus for us very early on. Later, as the project progressed, Syd's main contributions were in the overall geometry of the control room and the briefing room. Those are two of my favorite sets in the film."
The stunts were overseen by Mike Mitchell, the film's stunt coordinator. "For me, the process began by jumping around in Neill's office, moving his couches and grabbing glasses and pretending they're props," he says. "From that moment, Neill and I started clicking."
For Mitchell, working with Matt Damon was working with a natural. "He has an exceptional ability to remember movement," says Mitchell. "He speaks our language. I'm sure he's been greatly tuned by his work on the Bourne films -- but it's crazy. You can show him six or seven moves in a fight, and then you'll go to lunch, come back and he'll say, 'OK, that was a left, a slip, a right, and that elbow?' I'd look at Shaun Beaton, Matt's stunt double, and go 'OK.' We don't remember, but he does."
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