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The Scene Of The Crime
"Ocean's Thirteen” returns to the milieu gamblers know best: Las Vegas. "First of all, we wanted to return to the setting of ‘Ocean's Eleven,'” Weintraub states. "Vegas has cachet; it's the entertainment capital of the world and a pretty incredible place.”

While some exterior scenes were filmed on location in Las Vegas, the logistics of finding a new casino and then taking it over for the length of the production compelled the filmmakers to shoot the bulk of the film in the controlled environment of soundstages on the Warner Bros. lot.

Soderbergh attests, "To film everything on practical locations in Vegas would have taken twice as long and, in order to get the shots that I wanted, I needed to completely control the environment. When you added it all up, it made sense to build it.”

The director's longtime collaborator, production designer Philip Messina, came onboard to orchestrate the transformation of a cavernous soundstage into a lavish Las Vegas hotel and casino. "I told Phil I wanted it to be beautiful but in a slightly mad way,” says the director. "The whole idea is that Willy Bank has designed an entire casino to his own crazy specifications.”

"I thought, ‘This may be the only time I'll ever get to design and build something of this scale, so I'm going for it,'” Messina grins. The motif for The Bank hotel and casino was Messina's original concept. "The aesthetic of the hotel was a quasi-Asian theme. It had to be bold because Vegas is all about spectacle, and we needed to create that. I find Vegas to be visually overwhelming, but there is also a freedom of style in the city that is exciting from a design perspective.”

The designer relates, "One of the first major rules we broke was having a multilevel gaming floor. Everyone said, ‘They don't do that in Vegas,' and I said, ‘That's exactly why I want to do it.' Most casinos are all about real estate, they go on for miles. We didn't have that opportunity, so I decided that going up vertically would multiply our footprint.”

The multi-level casino set was constructed on Stage 16, one of the largest soundstages in Los Angeles. The sheer size of the soundstage made it perfect for the large set; however, much of its floor is taken up by a gigantic water tank, which presented a challenge to Messina and his team. "Because it was a hollow floor and because our set was so big and the weight on it was going to be huge, it had to be structurally engineered,” Messina explains. "There were a lot of things we had to do to the stage before we even began to build.”

One of the larger set pieces is the casino elevator, weighing in at 37,000 pounds with one car that worked on each level of the casino. Messina's crew had to dig down into the stage's foundation and put special footings in to hold it. It turned out to be one of the most complicated pieces on the set.

Lighting the casino was also a massive undertaking. All the lighting was built into the set, so that once the director, the cast and the extras were in the room, no additional lights were employed. Messina incorporated light fixtures into all of the gaming tables, which, he offers, "worked well, especially to cast light on people around the tables. We knew the fixtures hanging from the ceiling would create enough broad ambient light, so it was a matter of injecting specific areas of light so you didn't just have that big flat light.”

Soderbergh and Messina also utilized several large and distinctive chandeliers in lighting the sets. Hanging over the craps tables is a 9,000-pound fixture made of handblown Austrian glass which arrived at the studio in ten packing crates. Each strand of glass was numbered and it took a five-person team an entire week to install it, hanging each strand individually. Supports had to be added to the stage roof to hold the weight.

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