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WATCHMEN

Building The World of "Watchmen"
Filming was accomplished at several locations around Vancouver, Canada, and a number of sets were constructed on four stages at CMPP Studios (Canadian Motion Picture Park). In addition, a new backlot was built from the ground up on what once was a vast lumber yard on the outskirts of town. There, McDowell and his team built from scratch the New York City that Watchmen fans will recognize—from the Gunga Diner to Rorschach's alley to The Comedian's high-rise apartment.

"In ‘Watchmen,' there are many subplots and threads layered within the imagery,” observes McDowell. "It's very, very dense. As a production designer, one of the tasks is to set up an environment that the audience can enter and become completely immersed in, and then your work becomes part of the storytelling process.”

Production utilized mostly local crew, under department heads from both sides of the border. Everyone was provided with a binder of source materials that included extensive clippings and interviews with the creators, and the graphic novel itself, which was referenced daily. "Putting together a crew is just as important as casting the picture,” says Gains. "We often had activity on four stages every day for weeks, different units shooting and Zack going back and forth. It wasn't just a job; there was passion. We all knew we were working on something magical.”

Under McDowell's direction, the crew compressed the entire city as represented in the graphic novel into three intersecting streets. The relatively upscale Brownstone Street incorporated Dan Dreiberg's apartment and also that of the first Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, while Blake Street housed The Comedian's high-rise apartment building. Blake Street was eventually converted to Riot Street, where the Owl Ship lands during a scene depicting the Keene Riots. The central hub street, intersecting both Riot and Brownstone and representing the seedier part of town, was called Porno Street. An off-shoot, called Fight Alley, became the site of a major fight sequence between Dan and Laurie and the Knot Top gang.

Also built at an intersection on the backlot was the Newsstand, a key element from the graphic novel containing the overlapping stories presented in the Tales of the Black Freighter novel-within-a-novel chapters. Snyder shot those sequences specifically for a planned feature on the future DVD.

"One of the things that was great about working with Zack,” says McDowell, "is that he was as fanatically interested in finding the Easter eggs in the graphic novel and pulling them into the film. On some films, you make a decision that you've gone deep enough; let's just shoot the thing. But Zack shares my same obsessive interest in the fine detail, so it was great fun to do.”

In the middle of the New York environments, McDowell's team situated the Saigon bar, where Edward Blake has a run-in with a former Vietnamese mistress, with a full exterior and an interior shooting space with a depth of 40 feet. "We created a little piece of Vietnam right in the middle, with Brownstone Street on one side and decrepit New York on the other side,” McDowell notes.

One of the production designer's favorite sets to create was President Nixon's bunker at NORAD, which was inspired in part by the War Room in Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove.” A member of the crew added an extra layer of serendipity to the sequences shot on this set. Director of photography Larry Fong remembers discussing how the moving, changing maps in the War Room might have been done. "My hunch was projection, others thought it was painted graphics with light bulbs, and then the gaffer said, ‘Oh, I know how they did that. That was rear projection.' I had to ask him: ‘How do you know that?' And he answered, ‘Because I was there. I was doing the rear projection.' It was crazy. What were the chances? There<

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