About the Production
"Hard Rain" is one of the most extraordinary technical achievements in film history
"Hard Rain" is one of the most extraordinary technical
achievements in film history. To reproduce the flood that ravages
the town of Huntingburg, the producers built a replica of Huntingburg
in a huge aircraft hangar in Palmdale, California.
This enormous facility, once used to build B-1 bombers, was converted
into a set with 50 wooden buildings replicating downtown Huntingburg,
placed in a tank two football fields long, one football field
wide and five feet deep. When filled to its five-foot working
depth, the tank held nearly five million gallons of water! Behind
the tank was a backdrop 72-feet high and some 2,000-feet long
-- the largest backing ever made -- designed to merge visually
with the back edge of the tank and thus provide the illusion of
vast spaces and a distant horizon.
Producer Mark Gordon says, "We knew the only way to do this
picture was in a controlled situation, because water in its natural
environment is completely uncontrollable. Using this facility
kept costs from skyrocketing and limited the amount of location
work needed in Huntingburg."
Production designer Michael Riva commented, "We measured
the entire town, and basically built it from scratch on stage.
Not all of it, because our stage wasn't quite that large, but
we built almost 600-feet of it. I think it's the largest indoor
set every built," adds Riva. To create the illusion of an
even larger area, the set designers used "forced perspective."
Buildings were carefully arranged for each camera shot, with those
in the background positioned closer together. The effect is to
fool the camera and the eye. Says Riva, "We managed to compress
about four city blocks onto our stage."
The five-foot depth of water in the tank was carefully chosen
to balance realism and safety -- the water was just deep enough
that actors could flounder and struggle convincingly, but shallow
enough for them to know that there was safe footing below for
them to stand. The tank remained filled for the entire duration
of shooting at Palmdale, requiring a host of special measures
to provide safety and realism. Everything in the tank had to be
waterproof, and everything, including electrical gear, had to
be able to operate safely in a constantly wet environment. Special
bridges and platforms were built for cameras and equipment, to
avoid the delays and problems of working from boats. Buildings
and other set features were mounted on wire mesh to hold them
in place and prevent them from floating.
Although the tank had a fixed depth of five feet, the film called
for constantly rising floodwaters, which gradually submerge the
town to an ultimate depth of sixteen feet. To create this effect,
filming was divided into several stages. At the end of each stage,
every structure on the set was hoisted into the air. The lower
portions of the structures were cut away before they were lowered
back into the pool, so that they would appear to sit deeper in
the water. Thus, in the course of the single night's dramatic
events, we see the floodwaters rising relentlessly in the streets
of Huntingburg; first knee-deep, then lapping at windows, then
rising to the second-floor level and beyond.
Continual rain added to the realistic atmosphere of a disastrous
Midwestern flood and made for additional challenges for the film's
"Rain is difficult to film realistically," explains
effects coordinator John Frazier, using the familiar example of
televised football games played in rain. "On the field, it
doesn't ever appear t
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