Dark Knight Rises: Locations
The film’s prologue was shot entirely with IMAX cameras, which were utilized throughout the production, including on all of the major action scenes. “I love working with the IMAX cameras,” states Nolan, “because it adds scale and broadens the tableau of the image. We learned a lot with our use of the cameras on ‘The Dark Knight,’ so we were able to refine our techniques to give us better exposure and so forth. There was a lot of technical innovation, which enabled us to take it to the next level.”
Cinematographer Pfister affirms, “IMAX is a very immersive format in both picture and sound because of the way the image is filling your vision and how the sound hits you from all around the theatre. We spent about six months working with Panavision and IMAX to retool the viewfinder on the cameras and craft new lenses, which allowed us to shoot in very low-light conditions. With those advancements, we were able to do things we couldn’t do on the previous film.”
Filming in low light was especially important for “The Dark Knight Rises” because a number of crucial scenes take place underground, including those in the Batcave.
With Wayne Manor—and therefore the original Batcave—destroyed in the first film, Bruce Wayne had temporarily moved his base of operations to the Bat-Bunker. However, the mansion was rebuilt with the inclusion of a new Batcave, which reflects design elements of both earlier sets.
Nathan Crowley, who teamed with fellow production designer Kevin Kavanaugh on this film, explains, “Chris and I pondered how to mix the Batcave and the Bat-Bunker, which is incredibly geometric and modern and everything is cleanly recessed into the walls. It occurred to us that we could carry over the same idea by flooding the Batcave so everything is hidden underwater. When you enter, it’s just a cave, but you press a button and up come these perfect cubes that hold different objects, from the Batsuit to a super computer.”
Nolan observes, “It’s a terrific combination of the tactile reality of the Batcave and the functionality of the Bat-Bunker.”
The Bat-Bunker was again erected at Cardington. However, the new Batcave set, complete with working waterfalls, was constructed on Stage 30 of Sony Studios in Culver City, California. The soundstage was ideal because it contains a water tank that can hold more than 720,000 gallons of water.
Currents of water were also a main feature of Bane’s base of operations, found in the sewer system beneath Gotham City. The set was constructed at Cardington, where the cavernous space allowed the production to build tunnels leading to a concrete and corrugated steel structure, several stories high. In lighting the set, Pfister says, “I suggested we use heavily overexposed lights to turn it into something that feels like an arena. So we have these really bright points of light that go to stark white and help to establish the harshness of the environment.”
Cardington also housed an even more imposing multi-leveled set: a hellish prison, which, apart from being beneath the ground, is a far cry from Bane’s lair. The prison is a rough-hewn labyrinth of stone cells in a vast abyss. The barred doors of the cells are unlocked because there is only one escape: an impossibly high vertical shaft leading to the surface. There were actually two shafts constructed at Cardington, the taller being 120 feet high.
Exteriors above the prison were filmed in Jodhpur, India, where the forbidding landscape added to the desolation.
In sharp contrast to the remote location, the exterior of palatial Wayne Manor was an existing mansion found in Nottingham, England. Although Bruce fulfilled his promise to rebuild the house “brick for brick,” the interior was designed to be more sterile, a house rather than a home.
In the first two movies, Chicago had doubled as Gotham City, but for the conclusion of the trilogy, three separate cities stood in for Gotham: Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and New York. In a few sequences, the action overlapped locations, beginning in one city and seamlessly transitioning to another. Pfister says, “It was extremely challenging in terms of continuity. We were shooting in different cities, in different seasons, at different times of day, so it required an enormous amount of planning to match the lighting and make sure everything made sense. It all had to be mapped out very carefully with Chris and the location managers to figure out precisely when we were going to shoot on what streets.”
In Pittsburgh, more than 11,000 extras flocked to Heinz Field for the scene in which Bane kicks off his revolution with an explosive show of force. The home of the city’s beloved Steelers football team became the gridiron of the Gotham Rogues, who sported the black and gold colors of the stadium’s real-life resident team. Executive producer Thomas Tull is also a co-owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, so he was proud to see them represented, even fictionally, in the film.
A number of Pittsburgh Steelers stars were drafted to “play” for the Gotham Rogues. On the opposing side, the current Mayor of Pittsburgh, Luke Ravenstahl, joined in the game, playing the kicker for the Rapid City Monuments.
Emma Thomas notes, “When you’ve been working on a movie for a few months, you might start to think you’re the center of the universe. Then you bring in the Steelers with the Pittsburgh fans, and you see a whole new level of stardom. It was thrilling to have them there that day.”
“We had a great time in Pittsburgh,” Nolan adds. “Everyone was extraordinarily welcoming to us, especially considering we were shutting down entire sections of the city for weeks at a time. That really helped us to achieve a lot of shots that would have been virtually impossible to do anywhere else.”
The production took advantage of the fact that the turf of the stadium was scheduled to be replaced for the approaching football season. Corbould’s special effects department strategically placed explosives that were detonated along the field. A platform was built on top of the existing surface to give a player on the Gotham Rogues a running lane and to give the illusion that the players chasing behind him were falling into the growing chasm. The collapsing field and resulting crater were rendered digitally by Paul Franklin’s visual effects team.
In Los Angeles, a number of notable sites were used for interior sets, including the L.A. Convention Center, which was turned into the Applied Science Division of Wayne Enterprises; historic Union Station, which became a makeshift courtroom; and a building on South Spring Street, which was transformed into the trading floor of the stock exchange.
The exterior of the stock exchange was appropriately located in the financial hub of Wall Street in New York City. Over two weekends, the production closed down the entire financial district to shoot two of the film’s climactic confrontations, involving main cast, stunt teams, and several thousand extras. There were ultimately 600 stunt people engaged in the action, so in order to teach everyone the carefully choreographed moves, Struthers had them all broken down into groups and then sub-divided into smaller units.
“Filming on a location like Wall Street is always going to be logistically complex, particularly with the sheer number of people we had,” Nolan says. “We had tremendous cooperation from the city, and everything went very smoothly, which is a testament to everyone involved. I’ve been very lucky to have found excellent people to work with on these films, in all departments. I know I can rely on them to offer valuable input and always give me their best, and that makes my job much easier.”
The final weeks of principal photography were spent in New York City, where locations included the Trump Tower, which served as the exterior of Wayne Enterprises, and the Queensboro Bridge, the upper span of which was closed for two days for filming, including a shot of Batman overlooking the city he was willing to sacrifice everything to protect.
Nolan states, “Gotham has always drawn a lot from New York. It’s a heightened version of it, but that was always the inspiration, hence the name Gotham. So I felt that we should get more of New York into this film, specifically because ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is very much about Gotham…more than the previous two films have been.”
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