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The Design
When Will Stronghold arrives at Sky High, he quickly discovers a world that is half typical suburban high school, half utterly incredible super hero training camp. For the filmmakers of SKY HIGH, creating this world with a blend of smarts, humor and imagination was key to getting the movie to take flight. Working with Mike Mitchell on the film's overall look was a team that includes director of photography Shelly Johnson, production designer Bruce Robert Hill and costume designer Michael Wilkinson.

Shelly Johnson was inspired by Sky High's soaring platform location (in reality, the school's exterior is played by the more earthbound Cal State University, Northridge, with its modern, curvilinear architecture), which let him play with light in fun ways. "Basically, we based the lighting on what pilots say about how the light looks when they're in an airplane,” explains Johnson. "We used techniques to really sharpen our shadows and make the sunlight very, very white and always reflecting off the walls and bouncing off the floors to light the characters. Throughout the film, we also exaggerated a lot of the angles to give the whole visual journey a lot of bang.”

Johnson also worked with the filmmakers on developing a palette of eye-popping comic book-style colors. "We used very saturated colors that are a joy to work with,” he notes. "Michael Wilkinson even created the costumes with a pearlescent shine to them so that they would reflect light in interesting ways and visually pop on camera.” Working closely with Johnson was also Bruce Hill, who was faced with the unusual challenge of building a typical 21st-century high school—with lots of sci-fi twists. "We wanted it to be familiar but also dynamic with touches that take you into a fantasy world,” he says. "You get a certain amount of poetic license when the school you're creating is floating in the sky above the earth.”

The filmmakers built the interiors of Sky High on four cavernous stages at Barwick Studios in Glendale. Stage 5 at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank was also used for additional classrooms, offices and hallways. The piece de resistance for Hill was creating Sky High's gymnasium, where three of the film's most entertaining and complicated sequences take place: the Power Placement test, the Save the Citizen simulation and the Homecoming Dance. "Each of these major events involves both visual effects and physical effects as well as stunts, so the gym set had to be very flexible and user-friendly,” explains Hill. "The stunt team needed to have their truss grid in the ceiling of the gym, and the camera needed to be able to shoot 360 degrees in the space and not see the truss. So we incorporated the grid into our design by basket-weaving some fabric into the actual truss work. That provided us with a scenic element in the ceiling and a place to rig the stunts.”

Hill based his designs for Sky High on a typical high school. "For example, the detention center that negates your powers is a very minimal white void, but it has a huge vent at the top,” he explains. "The vent is the kind you've seen everywhere in schools, but here it's completely oversized, giving it a different feel. Elsewhere you have other common elements, like the standard clocks on the wall, mixed with stuff that's very unlike what you would find at a normal school. There's always that funny juxtaposition of the everyday and the incredible.”

Outside of Sky High's environs, Hill's favorite set was that of the Stronghold household— and its underground super hero realms—which were also built at Barwick Studios. "I love the Stronghold house because it's so different,” Hill comments. "It's very warm and inviting, based on a real house in South Pasadena. But then, underneath the house is this whole other world. That's where we created the parents' secret s

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