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PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN AT WORLD'S END

The Maelstrom
For the climactic "Maelstrom” sequence of AT WORLD'S END—the massive, apocalyptic battle between the pirate and British East India Trading Company armadas that takes place in a supernaturally induced storm of monumental proportions—the filmmakers had to find a facility in which they could build full-sized replicas of both the Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman from the decks up, as well as various other set pieces. The only such structure anywhere near Los Angeles (or perhaps anywhere else, for that matter) was Building #703 of the enigmatically named "Site 9.”

This elephantine 600-foot-long, 300-foot-wide and 70-foot-tall hangar in the desert community of Palmdale, California—58 miles north of The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank—was built by Rockwell International in 1983 for the assembly of 100 B-1 bombers, and had, over the past few years, been used as a shooting stage for a number of films, including Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal.”

"This is one of the most elaborate and ambitious action sequences I've ever seen conceived for a film,” notes Rick Heinrichs, "and it requires coordination of several departments, including ours, visual effects and special physical effects. If it's even 85% of what we hope for, it will be off the charts.” Adds executive producer Mike Stenson, "You walked inside of that hangar, and it was like Area 51.”

Inside of "Site 9,” Rick Heinrichs worked in synergistic conjunction with another Academy Award® winner, special effects supervisor John Frazier ("Spider-Man 2”), to construct the Pearl and the Dutchman, decks up, mounted on massive, highly sophisticated motion bases, surrounded by gigantic blue-screen backings. "John Frazier is the best special physical effects supervisor there is,” says Stenson. "Nobody else could have pulled off the physical elements of the special effects that we do in this movie.”

Frazier and his team designed and built the motion bases for the two key prop ships, as well as another rig for both the scene in which the Hai Peng goes off the edge of the world, and the "Green Flash” sequence, in which the Black Pearl passes between worlds by turning completely upside down in the ocean. "What we decided to do on AT WORLD'S END that has never been done before on any motion picture,” notes Frazier, "was to put a tower at each end of the two ships which allowed us to heave them up 15 feet. And by doing that, we were able to get the actual realistic movement of a ship in the ocean. Normally, we pivot it in the center, but ships don't do that. In this case, we pivoted the ships on each end to bring the bow up and down, and then we had two hydraulic rams on the either side of the ships that allowed them to roll.”

The construction of the full-sized Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman on Frazier's motion bases was a huge collaboration between several departments. "We built the motion bases in three months, but in stages. Greg Callas' construction department built the ships on top of our truss. Then we built the towers on each end of the ships which make them move up and down. We then designed a computerized system to operate them from sort of a mission control. We had 150 special effects welders on the project, and we were working 24/7. They never stopped. The day guys would cut the pieces and lay it out, and the equally talented night guys would weld it all together. All 150 people who worked on this project gave us 150 percent. It's a long, long process to tune these motion bases with the computer, and requires a lot of patience. It's like watching paint dry, but our computer team had the necessary patience, and were terrific at their work. They didn't turn the system on until every bar was synched up, and every graph was there.

"The hydraulics team also stepped up to the plate,” continues Frazier. "There are over 2,000 feet of h

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