MISSION TO MARS
The Mission's Mars
One of the biggest sets ever built for a motion picture, the surface of Mars, was constructed at the Fraser Sand Dunes, just south of Vancouver. The 55-acre Martian landscape was sculpted from sand dunes and coated with thousands of square yards of 'shotcrete,' a sprayable form of concrete. Fire hoses were used to paint the two million square-foot-terrain, spraying 1 00 gallons of environmentally- friendly Mars Red latex paint per minute. A total of 120,000 gallons of paint were used on the Martian surface.
While the second unit did film certain landscape elements in Jordan and the Canary Islands, Ed Verreaux points out a major difference between the Earth and Mars: "Any place in the world, no matter how barren the desert is, there is always green. There is always something growing."
The number one challenge for Executive Producer Sam Mercer was the Mars exterior set. He says, "What should Mars look like and how do we deal with things like the sky, which looks a little like a smoggy, Los Angeles sunset? And where could we find a shooting space so expansive?"
Weighing all the possibilities, including trying to find stage space large enough to accommodate the productions' requirements (it doesn't yet exist - a sound stage would have needed to be 1,000 by 1,000 square feet and 70 feet
high), the answer ended up being at the Fraser Sand Dunes near Vancouver. But, as Mercer explains, "On Mars, the space looks endless. The Valle Marineris is the length of the United States. But the Sand Dunes were four times bigger than other locations we were considering, and the view to the river had no tree line and there was our endless horizon."
Ed Verreaux equates his design work at the Fraser Dunes as "getting to play in the world's biggest sand box. We brought in huge earth-moving equipment and we sculpted our own terrain." And thus they built the surface of Mars.
"We all agreed we wanted a realistic-looking Mars," says Academy Award-nominated cinematographer
Stephen Burum ("Hoffa"), who worked closely with Verreaux to map Mars. With the assistance of a computer program which charts the path of the sun by date and location, Burum says, "Ed was able to orient the hills so we would always have optimum light. It gave us a lot more texture and feeling of the great outdoors and we were able to utilize the whole shooting day and always have somewhere where the light was good. And it was great that we could have the bulldozers push up all those hills in exactly the right configuration, and we knew what the configuration needed to be because we had the sun path charted."
Technical advisor Matt Golombek, who chose the landing site for the Mars Pathfinder, says the Martian set was Spectacular. It's the kind of site that scientists would die for. It has hills, rocks, valleys and topography to really study. And yet, when you do site selection for a Mars mission, the most important thing is safety. Without certain knowledge of the surface, you would tend to go to a fairly f18t and perhaps somewhat boring location. But a scientist would be delirious to land his mission in a little box canyon, with rocks all 8round, as n the film. But the engineers would never let that happen," he laughs.
The filmmakers worked closely with NASA scientists so that the Martian landscape and weather systems were depicted as accurately as science currently understands. On Mars, dust storms can last for up to six months. To effectively create a Martian dust
storm on Earth, Elmendorf and his special effects team built 10 V8, 350-horsepower wind machines which blew pink silica dust over the sand dunes.
Also built for the terrain of Mars was the wondrous four-man Martian Rover, designed by Verreaux and Tim Flattery, who a
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