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The Gamemakers: Designing Catching Fire
As the ambitious scope of Catching Fire became clear, Francis Lawrence surrounded himself with his own crack creative team of "gamemakers." He was well aware that nothing less than fearless creativity could bring all the new elements of Panem - the Victors' Tour that speeds by train through the simmering districts, a lavish Presidential party in the heart of the Capitol, and of course the Amazonian Jungle-like Arena specially built to create impossible odds for Katniss - to life.

"We're excited to show audience much more detail inside District 12, including the Victor's Village, to give our first glimpses on the Victors' Tour of Districts 11, 4 and 8, to expand the portrait of the sparkling Capitol - and bring them into a very, very impressive new arena," says the director.

Lawrence's team would be headed by director of photography Jo Willems, returning production designer Phil Messina and costume designer Trish Summerville - each of whom took chances to take the design to the next level.

Messina says he knew he was in for a brand new experience. "I knew coming in that everything was going to be upped from the last and that was the real hook for me," he explains. "It's not simply that Lawrence wanted to make everything bigger for the sake of it. It was more about responding to the fact that the story is expanding, the stakes are growing. Everything we did was in service to that, which was quite exciting for me."

He especially enjoyed his consultations with Lawrence. "Francis is extremely visual and he approaches things much like I do - we both like to talk in pictures. So it was very fun to riff off the images that we were throwing at each other and it was a great collaboration - especially given the challenges."

The film begins a few months after 74th Hunger Games, with Katniss and Peeta now living in Victor's Village - part of their prize for emerging as survivors. Even so, by comparison to the Capitol, Messina notes their surroundings are modest. "Their new world is elegant but still fairly simple. I guess, in the context of District 12, if you have food and heat it's extravagant, but there's still a real contrast with President Snow's house. Katniss' house is sort a mini version of Snow's palace, with a lot of same esthetic, so you also get the sense that she is not really as comfortable there as she was in her old, much smaller house."

But Katniss is also about to go out on the road again, on her Victors' Tour with Peeta, which will take them for the first time into some of the other districts, which she finds are as hard-scrabble in their own ways as hers. As she travels, Lawrence and Messina wanted Katniss to see subtle but mounting signs that the people are stirring and President Snow's storm troopers are amassing to respond. "We show in little bits and pieces what Katniss is gleaning - that there's a kind of grassroots rebellion that is just starting in different places," explains Messina. "It's in things like the line of graffiti we painted: 'the odds are never in your favor.'"

The design quickly transitions to oh-so-fashionable and lavish as Katniss and Peeta head back to the Capitol in preparation for the Quarter Quell Games. One of Messina's favorite scenes in the Capitol is the party at President Snow's mansion, where Katniss and Peeta announce their engagement, riveting the nation back to their love story.

The production utilized an elegant 1920s mansion in Atlanta -- Swan House - as their base for Snow's realm. "It made real sense that Snow would live in this sort of elegant house with a park-like feeling right in the middle of the Capitol. The architecture feels very real, which allows the people of the Capitol to bring the outrageousness to it," Messina comments.

The Capitol also boasts new apartments and a sparkling, high-tech training center for the tributes, which was recreated utilizing the massive, space-age atrium inside the Atlanta Marriot Marquis, designed by architect John Portman. "These are like the All Star Games of the Hunger Games, so everything had to be brand new," Messina explains.

But the biggest design task of all would be the Games themselves, which had Messina diving into Plutarch Heavensbee's over-grown jungle motif - featuring such elements as devastating lightning, poison fog, attacking monkeys, eerie jabber jays and a particularly perilous, water-bound Cornucopia. When Messina and his team scouted rain forest locations in Hawaii, the inspiration for the Cornucopia came. "When we were scouting in Hawaii, we saw a lot of lava rocks and lava formations, and Francis and I came upon the idea that it should sit on a rock island that would feel harsh and foreboding."

As part of Plutarch's brilliantly twisted design, that entire island had to operate as a dastardly clock and also made to spin - with numerous actors hanging on for dear life. "It was all about getting the right forces to act on the actor's bodies and to get the light spinning at the right speed," says Messina. "But it was also very important to find a design safe enough to put our cast on. We used a system that's similar to the Ferris wheel, just a friction drive wheel on the outside of a big ring."

Special effects coordinator Steve Cremin notes that the Cornucopia design also pushed his team to invent new ways of working with water and generating waves. "It's extremely challenging to manage a million and a half gallons of water quickly, to be able to drain it, fill it and create waves in it. But we felt it could be done - and it was done," he says.

Despite the logistical difficulties, Messina says he had one main objective: "The idea was always to be with Katniss as she discovers all these things about Panem and about herself that she never knew - and knowing there's still a lot more to discover."

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