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Locations and Sets
"Divergent has spread its wings all over Chicago," laughs Fisher. "We go from the Ferris 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 pretty big."

"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 environment."

"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 factions were 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 talented. When 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 designer for Divergent had to have done construction, because we were going to have to build Abnegation 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, showing us 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 closed for 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 couldn't believe how compact so many things in the book were," adds Nicholson. "I arrived at the Sears Tower 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 two very 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 for the 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 worked out between the Dauntless world, the HUB (played by The Sears Tower), and the Abnegation 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 thought 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 where Abnegation should be."

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 about 300 feet high. There was no wind down below, but 40 mile an hour winds on top. We're looking at 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 downtown, was 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 worked closely with the neighborhood and the Alderman from the city to make sure that everybody was comfortable with and aware of what we were doing. They've been just as excited because they 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 built 16 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 fifteen-hundred foot 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 Sears Tower. Everyone's going see it, and everybody has. You can practically watch construction on Twitter."

Construction coordinator Anthony Syracuse remembers, "My department was there for 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 shipping each 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 it integrated 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 beautifully designed and made."

The interiors of the Abnegation houses were built on stage. "Abnegation was all about 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 routine stuff, 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 carpentry 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 almost like 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 Cinespace Film 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 cavern under 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 headquarters. Andy's initial designs were wonderful for me, because it was what I had in my head. To work with 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 challenge," says 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 background. Large 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 fantastic craftsmen and have really pulled off some demanding finishes and fantastic interiors really 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. Creating those 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 corridors, for 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 steel factory. "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 they'd never 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 snowy months."

"We used 30 or 40 truckloads of materials: plaster, steel I-beams, and 1700 bags of 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 welders, laborers, painters and plasterers all collaborating. You have so many good craftsmen from Chicago that are carpenters. There's an amazing dynamic between my paint supervisor and my plasterer, who've worked together for 25 plus years."

"When I read it, I thought of the Dauntless caverns as a dark place with very dark stone. Wet. Cold. I couldn't understand what drew the Dauntless to this place. Why were they really 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. "The 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 awesome."

"For an actor, when you're in this Dauntless pit and you see people walking around doing 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 legitimately abandoned. 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 and throw 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 Apartment was dressed in a recording studio space on Kildare Avenue. The Midland Building, located near 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 neighboring Pershing 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 levels," explains Nicholson. "The space was enough to contain 200 people without being enormous and without 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 athletic club 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 probably 15 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 agreement, we'll 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 getting enough 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 huge amount 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 Anne Kuljian interviewed some fans of the book very early on and they were all about Four's apartment," laughs Nicholson. "We had to get something that was special. It had to be 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 have something 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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