Locations and Sets
"Divergent has spread its wings all over Chicago," laughs Fisher. "We go from
wheel to the Wrigley Building to Lake Michigan and we take a pretty massive
group with us. We
have armies of Dauntless soldiers, we have a Dauntless Pit that's gigantic, a
full sound stage.
The Governor came to thank us for all the jobs that we were bringing to the
state. Our scale is
"Again, our main thing is we didn't want an artificial world," reiterates
Fisher. "We wanted
a world that felt real, but a little bit heightened. The whole idea of dystopian
gave you permission
to heighten the action and the whole universe that we inhabited because it
wasn't exactly today.
The high school situation still felt like today. The rebellion against your
parents felt like today.
The issues were today, but they were put in a slightly Grimm's Fairytale-type
"How do you make the logic of a five faction world credible? That takes
really a great
production designer, and a really great costume designer," comments Wick. "The
an opportunity, but it was also really tricky because you'd need every detail to
make it feel true. A
huge part of these kinds of movies is it takes really talented people to make
people believe the
world. If you believe the world, you can have a lot of fun going through it."
"The production designer, especially on a movie like this where you're
creating a new
world, is the most essential position, and Andy Nicholson's the guy that we
hired first," states
Burger. "He had just come off doing Gravity for Alfonso Cuaron. He is incredibly
we first met (seven months before cameras rolled), Andy immediately understood
the idea of
using Chicago as our location, even though the movie is set in the future and
how that could be
interesting. How we could take these real locations and give them a twist."
"Neil is a stylist and loved Andy right away. We knew that the production
Divergent had to have done construction, because we were going to have to build
village and the Pit. We wanted somebody who would have originality. Very early
on, Neil and
Andy went to Chicago to scout and came back with a book of pictures of Chicago,
things we have never seen in a movie. Stuff that actually exists and is now
actually in the movie.
From the University of Chicago Library, to underground warehouses that have been
forty years, to the trains. They showed us right away and made us feel the style
of the movie, and
was pretty irresistible candy."
Nicholson comments, "I was struck by the script because it was set in one
place, and had
a vision of the future which was not super clearly defined. There was a lot of
space to create a
world that was different. Also there was a lot of optimism in the story. It was
the chance to be
non-dystopic with dystopia-a chance to be more aspirational."
"I got very excited about coming to Chicago for the first time because I
how compact so many things in the book were," adds Nicholson. "I arrived at the
ten minutes after walking out of my front door. Chicago became a very
human-scale city for me.
You get the architecture and your location very easily. The El Train and the
river help to lock you
in. They're great features. Every bridge is the same design across the river,
and they all open.
That's an amazing aspect. There were loads of things that were utterly charming
about the city
that I wanted to show. Our exterior school location is one of the most
photographed areas of
Chicago, and you can see a whole history of Chicago architecture down the river
from the Wrigley
building to the Marina Towers. We kept finding amazing locations that were very
Chicago for me.
There are a lot of huge military complex buildings that naturally incorporated
into what we were
doing with Dauntless."
Nicholson oversaw the design and building of all the set elements, including
large scale sets: Abnegation Village and the Dauntless Pit. Abnegation was
constructed in an
urban environment in one of the busiest cities in the country, in full view of
the Sears Tower,
formally known now as the Willis Tower.
"Abnegation was the most public of upwards of 45 locations that were chosen
film," says location manager James R. McAllister. "During the process, we
probably scouted 100
or more locations as concepts developed. There was a balance that had to be
between the Dauntless world, the HUB (played by The Sears Tower), and the
neighborhood, and how that all interplayed geographically. Chicago gives both
new and old
looks, you go from the top to the bottom with Erudite being so slick and clean
and new, to the
older, industrial Dauntless look."
"I wanted most of the locations to be tucked into downtown Chicago because I
that was the real production value of being around those skyscrapers," says
Burger. "One of the
first times I visited Chicago when I was preparing for the movie, I went up in
the Sears Tower and
I looked down just to the south and saw this patch of green and I said that's
Executive producer John J. Kelly remembers, "In October of 2012, Neil and I
went to the
very top of the roof on the Sears Tower. They let us out there with security
guards and it was the
most amazing experience. We stood on the 113th floor. The antennas are above us
feet high. There was no wind down below, but 40 mile an hour winds on top. We're
the city and Neil sees this little piece of ground, maybe a mile away and he
goes 'that's where
we'll build Abnegation.' I'm thinking if we can get it. If we can afford it.
That's a prime piece of
land in downtown Chicago."
McAllister adds, "The fact that it is a vacant property right on the edge of
the big attraction to Neil. We had looked at some other vacant land, six to
eight blocks away, but
it gave a different perspective to the city. With the location he wanted, the
city is right there and it
really fills the frame. As far as securing the location, I've worked with the
property before for
location support on other films, but we've never used it as a primary location.
The tricky thing
was the fact that it became a temporary construction site for several months. We
with the neighborhood and the Alderman from the city to make sure that everybody
comfortable with and aware of what we were doing. They've been just as excited
can sit and watch the daily progress as it becomes this small city. Any time you
see a set go up
from the inception to the final product, it's always impressive to see."
The empty lot at Harrison and Wells soon became a hotbed of activity. "We
structures that are actually 20 feet high. They're like real condos," describes
Kelly. "We are
surrounded by huge buildings and we've built this humble Abnegation village in
the shadow of
one of the world's tallest buildings. It's a wonderful backdrop for a set."
Nicholson adds, "The site was for sale and the two landowners were willing to
let us build
our town on it. Incredible because I can't think of another movie where
someone's had the
chance to build something of that scale, in that location where you've got a
building within a quarter of a mile. After you've spent a long time looking at
it on computer
models, to finally see it on the site is great. The sight lines are there. We've
been judged for
ages because there's no real way to hide something that's at the bottom of the
Everyone's going see it, and everybody has. You can practically watch
construction on Twitter."
Construction coordinator Anthony Syracuse remembers, "My department was there
several months. To show up there every day and have the Sears Tower as a
backdrop, my guys
were thrilled. It's very rare that we get to spend such a long time in a
specific location. We broke
ground there on April 1st and our last day was August 10th. We knew the weather
was going to be
a problem, so we started pre-fabricating everything in a warehouse, and then
house to the build site individually. We ended up bringing in hundreds of trucks
of gravel to make
it a level work site, we used the entire 200 feet by 200 feet-plus lot. We were
able to work there
through the entire rainy months of April and May by taking those precautions."
"I wanted it to look like it had been there for years and years, and I wanted
into the city," says Burger. "People driving by thought there were some new
houses going up.
Could we buy one of those? There was a lot of that going on because they were so
designed and made."
The interiors of the Abnegation houses were built on stage. "Abnegation was
natural and unpainted materials," comments Nicholson. "The wood flooring in the
Prior house is
a real wood floor and the concrete look of the walls were given texture. The
Prior house worked
really well because it was such a work of detail."
"We had a lot of great Chicago artisans, who normally were building more
and they all got the most excited about contributing to the storytelling. On
stage one day, we saw
this band of construction people in the Prior house, all excited. They were all
beaming at the
wood floor. It was made up of a jigsaw puzzle of little various-sized pieces of
leftover wood, and
they were all fit perfectly together. It was an exquisite floor. What was so
great was they
understood the logic of this world, that there are no new materials. They
understood and that the
lock of Tris' hair would be cut and fall to that floor, and it would be seen on
camera. I love that
they were helping us tell the story," comments Wick.
"I had about eight guys working on it, with about 240 years of combined
experience. No one's ever done a floor like that and these guys had a good time
with it. We got
reclaimed lumber in various sizes, old window sashes, doorframes; just random
material so it
would look like it was recycled from a landfill. We cut them all into different
sized small blocks,
and we basically made a butcher-block floor. You'd never want to put a price on
that ever again
because of the volume of labor," laughs Syracuse. "But it was spectacular."
The actors felt very Zen working in the space. "The Abnegation house is very
a Japanese Tea House," says Ansel Elgort. "It's very simple, but beautiful and
very functional. In
the Prior family house, there's nothing that we don't need. Even the walls are
bare. There is no
art on the wall, but it's still beautiful because of its simplicity."
In addition to the interior of the Abnegation house, dozens of other sets
ranging from the
huge Dauntless Pit to the shrinking tiny room, were built on various stages at
Studios, which served as home base to the massive production in Chicago.
Divergent is the first
major Hollywood movie to film at the studio, which opened in May of 2011. When
fully built out at
1.5 million feet, Cinespace is expected to rank as the largest soundstages
outside of Hollywood in
the United States.
Burger says, "The pit is the center of life at Dauntless, which is in this
Chicago. Andy liked the idea of doing it like it was a real place... we made it
look like we found
this incredible marble quarry that was then converted into this Dauntless
initial designs were wonderful for me, because it was what I had in my head. To
somebody who is exactly on the same page is fantastic. We had to do everything
with a sense of
economy in mind, but we still wanted it to look intense and impressive."
The size of a basketball arena, the pit has limestone inspired white walls
that reach over
30 feet high to the rafters of the soundstage. "Design-wise, the pit was a great
Nicholson. "My construction coordinator Anthony has been a Godsend on this
movie. He's done
a great job of employing a lot of people from a city that has had a limited film
volume sets are also difficult challenges technically for the craftsmen, who've
done an amazing
job. My head painter Adrian Valdes and head plasterer Jason Soles especially are
craftsmen and have really pulled off some demanding finishes and fantastic
successfully. I know that I've pushed them all, but without them I couldn't have
done it. This set
you have to be able to see it from six feet away and from a hundred feet away.
are very different skills. Plus you have a whole series of spaces that really
have to work together
for many different scenes so the corridors need very specific structures. It's
very important for an
audience to know where a character's come from or going to. The upper pit
instance, have got quite dramatic angles on them, they go to a specific space
and tie in with the
dorm set that we built in another part of town."
The pit set took up almost the entire North Plant at Cinespace, a former
"Between Abnegation and the Pit, this is probably the biggest build that they've
ever done in
Chicago," says Syracuse. "We hired a huge local team and many of them told us
seen a set this big. They were proud of it. Cinespace was one of the few places
in the country
where we could build a set that big. Construction on the pit set alone lasted
about twelve weeks,
mostly through the winter, which was great because the weather was freezing
outside and we
couldn't work on any of the outside locations. We had everybody working on that
Pit through the
"We used 30 or 40 truckloads of materials: plaster, steel I-beams, and 1700
Structo-Lite and around 500 bags of other concrete like items," shares Syracuse.
"We built a
superstructure to support the upper deck and brought in five sea containers just
to support the
second floor. There are metal bridges and staircases. We had construction
painters and plasterers all collaborating. You have so many good craftsmen from
are carpenters. There's an amazing dynamic between my paint supervisor and my
who've worked together for 25 plus years."
"When I read it, I thought of the Dauntless caverns as a dark place with very
Wet. Cold. I couldn't understand what drew the Dauntless to this place. Why were
living in this pit? It felt like a very inhospitable place to live. Are they
doing it just because they're
really tough?" asks Theo James. "Then Neil told me he chose to use white marble
in the pit, to
create a sense of warmth and, although it's cool and underground. You want to
buy into this
world, so walking into a set like this is great, because you're right here."
"The work everyone's putting into this movie is really great," agrees Elgort.
Dauntless Pit looks like an ancient, Roman or Spartan war training rink. It's
crazy and amazing. I
can't imagine how they made the stone. All the rocks are carved. It's
spectacular. There are not
many opportunities to be able to make a piece of art and have so many people
care about it, so
we're all excited."
Miles Teller adds, "The sets on this movie are pretty incredible. Divergent
is the first
movie that I've done to where the sets are big enough where you feel like you
can actually live in
them. Like when you're a kid and you walk through the Indiana Jones Show. It's
very big and
"For an actor, when you're in this Dauntless pit and you see people walking
their jobs, it's very believable. It feels industrial real. Many of the
Dauntless locations are not very
glamorous. The buildings that we're shooting in most of the time are
They are not nice, they're cold, so that feels very real to me," laughs Teller.
"The whole Dauntless environment was tricky because in real life, Dauntless
was cut up
into several locations," explains Nicholson. "We really worked out how to piece
that together so
that it meshed, and wasn't too jarring or too monotonous. Going from the dorm to
the dining hall
to a tunnel, there had to be enough to make it interesting and show the vastness
of it, so it didn't'
seem like we were always in the same place, which we weren't."
The Dauntless sparring and training areas where initiates learned to fight
knives was also located at Cinespace in the South Plant, but other Dauntless
sets were spread
around the Chicago area, mostly in old, previously industrial buildings. The
basement of the
historic Defender Building served as the Dauntless dining hall, and Four's
dressed in a recording studio space on Kildare Avenue. The Midland Building,
Cinespace, housed the bottom of the hole, tunnels, stairs, server room, and
Jeanine's office. The
basement of the City Building held the transfer dorm, tunnels, clothing store,
tattoo parlor, and
infirmary; while outside, filmmakers built 70 feet of train tracks. The
Building was home to the rooftop entrance to Dauntless and the shooting range.
"Neil preferred to get the real texture of a real location as much as
possible. Because of
the position of Chicago in the Industrial Revolution, we had many big old brick
factories to choose
from," says McAllister. "But also because of the forward motion of the city,
there are also new
and glossy structures. You can get both."
"For the dining hall set, we settled on the Defender Building because the
basement had a
fantastic ceiling light and it was in a really interesting room that had two
Nicholson. "The space was enough to contain 200 people without being enormous
cramming them in too much. But it was really all about that ceiling and the
fantastic top light,
which was very reminiscent of what we were going for in the Dauntless pit. There
were areas you
could come out of complete darkness, and every time we went to scout the
building because of
the way we had to get in, it was like coming out of the cave and into this light
area. That was
what inspired us, but it turned out to be a logistical nightmare."
"The location was pretty spectacular. The Defender Building is a former
from just after the turn of the century, it had an indoor swimming pool with a
track, but had long
since been abandoned. The building, while structurally sound, has been empty for
years. As a result, the weather elements get into it. Water gets in through the
skylight, so we
had to do some repairs. But then as we were prepping, we discovered that water
was getting in
from other areas of the building and it didn't get any better. Everybody was in
be okay as long as it doesn't rain. Of course the week that we shot that
location, Chicago had
probably the worst rainstorm in three years. It became an around-the-clock job
water out to make it filmable. Anybody who has ever had to deal with water
knows, it's never41
ending," laughs McAllister. "That was a big challenge but everybody agreed that
the look of that
location was worth the effort because it looks spectacular in the film."
"The dining hall was one of my favorite locations with loads of tables and a
of extras," states Ben Lloyd-Hughes. "The space used to have an old swimming
pool and it still
had a balcony around the top, where all the faction leaders stood and looked
over us. Mekhi
used to talk to us from up there. We also got to film a crowd surfing bit where
Tris, Christina and I
get picked up on people's shoulders. That was a lot of fun to do."
Another popular location from the book is Four's Apartment. "My set dresser
Kuljian interviewed some fans of the book very early on and they were all about
apartment," laughs Nicholson. "We had to get something that was special. It had
comfortable and romantic, but not out of context with the rest of Dauntless.
Four would have a
place that was uniquely his own, since he is from other Dauntless. I wanted to
semi-industrial with natural light. We found a fantastic mezzanine over a
recording studio, which
had a hundred-foot window down one side."
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