On the Set of 'The Dark Knight' - FX & Production Design

Batman on the Batpod from 'The Dark Knight'

During our June set visit, my fellow members of the press and I spoke to a number of people affiliated with the production in a variety of roles. In Part 1 of my report, we discussed costuming and the new Batsuit. This time around, I’ll relate elements of our conversations with Nathan Crowley, the Production Designer, and Chris Corbould, Special Effects Supervisor.

Crowley came to The Dark Knight off the backs of two previous efforts with director Christopher Nolan: Batman Begins, and The Prestige. Along with set decorator Julie Ochipinti, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Art Direction for The Prestige. Other nominations for his work on those two earlier films came from the Art Director’s Guild and BAFTA. You’ve also seen Crowley’s work as a Set Designer or Art Director in such places as Mystery Men, Braveheart, Mission: Impossible II, and in the pilot episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

One of the first points that Crowley makes about Batman in the new film is that “he’s rebuilding.” Fans will recall that Batman Begins showed the destruction of Wayne Manor and quite a bit of carnage in downtown Gotham and the region called “The Narrows”. As Gotham digs itself out and Wayne Manor is being rebuilt, Crowley indicates, “[Batman] has to make it work.”

Part of that includes the temporary relocation of some operations downtown. Readers may recall that Bruce Wayne operated out of the Wayne Foundation for a period of time in the ‘70s (Mego even made a playset of the building). Expect to see echoes of that in the film. Of course, that raises questions, like this one that Crowley posits: “How do you hide The Tumbler [Batmobile]?”

In terms of his design philosophy, Crowley says, “I believe in stylization.” He also swears by the advantage of shooting in a place like downtown Chicago. The old Post Office that contains the GCPD and bank sets is a prime example of this. In the trailer, you see Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon ascend stairs into a building while surrounded by media. We actually watched that scene being filmed, and Crowley is dead on; there’s a certain gravity that you experience with a “real” building.

Crowley continues, “[There’s a] bigger scale with real architecture . . . sets can’t compete with ]the real].”

As far as the rest of the city, Crowley allows that a good deal of the first film went into establishing The Narrows and Downtown. “We are seeing more of Gotham [in this picture],” he says.

When asked about the logistics of switching between set locations in Chicago, England, and Hong Kong, Crowley admits, “It’s always a developing process . . . it’s a big jigsaw puzzle.” As was made public a few months ago, the production moved to Hong Kong at the end of the shoot to film a large-scale sequence. Outside elements of Gotham are largely seen in Chicago, while much of the Batcave set was reportedly in London.

Speaking to the characters a bit, Crowley agreed with Lindy Hemming’s punk assessment of the Joker: “[He’s] like Johnny Rotten.” For the most part, Crowley noted that working out new things for a sequel is mostly “about finding exciting imagery.”

Excitement is one of the things that Chris Corbould is responsible for. And this Special Effects Supervisor should know from excitement; one brief glance at his list of credits in various special effects roles will reassure you. In addition to Batman Begins, Corbould’s done a staggering number of Bond films (beginning with A View to a Kill and running up to Quantum of Solace), as well as the two Tomb Raider pictures, The Mummy, and Superman II III, and Supergirl. He won a Visual Effects Society Award for Casino Royale, and has been nominated for four BAFTAs, and two Saturns (one each for Batman Begins).

The first thing that Corbould addressed was the new vehicle, the Batpod. “It does a variety of things,” he says. “In the movie, it comes out of [Lucius] Fox’s Applied Sciences.” In reality, the idea and design for the Batpod came from director Christopher Nolan and Production Designer Nathan Crowley.

When pressed about the features of the Batpod, Corbould noted that it “could do 90 to 100 miles per hour.” It also jumps, and for the purposes of the film, comes equipped with gunnery (including a larger cannon) and a grapping line. As for the Batmobile, Corbould explains that it’s essentially “the same”, but upgraded. The production had four Batmobiles and six Batpods for their use.

He also happily related that “the action figure guys” from Mattel had earlier visited the set and “study objects” for the film’s tie-in merchandise. Corbould seemed impressed with their enthusiasm, stating, “[Their] most important thing is to get the look of it” done correctly.

We got to see elements of design in action as we watched two sequences being filmed. One was the aforementioned entrance of Gordon into the Gotham City bank. The other we watched from a remote monitor as Batman and Gordon had a conversation inside the vault. Walking the set later, it was interesting to see how the preexisting P.O. boxes from the old Post Office location had been converted into “safety deposit boxes” for the bank. These items appear on screen for mere seconds in backgrounds and at a distance, but their establishment as “real” items goes a long way toward setting the tone of the film.

Next time, I’ll look at our group’s discussions with director Christopher Nolan and producers Charles “Chuck” Rovin and Emma Thomas (who also happens to be Nolan’s wife).

Related Content:

  • Part One: Costumes  

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