Cast: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw, Judy Greer, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Robinson
Director: Brad Bird
Genre: Mystery, Sci-Fi
Synopsis: From Disney comes two-time Oscar® winner Brad Bird's 'Tomorrowland," a riveting mystery adventure starring Academy Award® winner George Clooney. Bound by a shared destiny, former boy-genius Frank (Clooney), jaded by disillusionment, and Casey (Britt Robertson), a bright, optimistic teen bursting with scientific curiosity, embark on a danger-filled mission to unearth the secrets of an enigmatic place somewhere in time and space known only as 'Tomorrowland." What they must do there changes the world"and them"forever.
Featuring a screenplay by 'Lost" writer and co-creator Damon Lindelof and Brad Bird, from a story by Lindelof & Bird & Jeff Jensen, 'Tomorrowland" promises to take audiences on a thrill ride of nonstop adventures through new dimensions that have only been dreamed of.
The film also stars Hugh Laurie as brilliant scientist David Nix, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw, Judy Greer, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Robinson.
Release Date: May 21st, 2015
Tomorrowland was created by Walt Disney as a section of Disneyland in 1955. It was a time when Americans imagined an optimistic future. Over the years since, the public's view of the future grew dark. Comments the film's director, Brad Bird, 'Any time that there is an empty canvas, there are two ways to look at it; one is emptiness and the other one is wide open to possibility. And that's how I like to look at the future"wide open to possibility. It is a view that has fallen out of favour in terms of looking at the future."
This shift in thinking also intrigued writer/producer Damon Lindelof, so when he began to synthesize the story for 'Tomorrowland," he looked for what Tomorrowland meant and how it could be represented in a storyline. 'I really wanted to recapture that earlier optimism," comments Damon Lindelof.
The story of 'Tomorrowland" started with a box labeled '1952," supposedly discovered by accident in the Disney Studios archive. The mystery box contained all sorts of fascinating models and blueprints, photographs and letters related to the inception of Tomorrowland and the 1964 World's Fair. Damon Lindelof was excited by the find and recalls, 'I began to imagine that the contents of the box were a guide to a secret story that nobody knew. But if so, what would that story be? And the most obvious answer to me was that there really was a place called Tomorrowland that was not a theme park but existed somewhere in the real world."
Damon Lindelof began to develop the story by researching the history of Disney and its originator, which led to research on the company's involvement in the 1964 World's Fair. 'Walt Disney was a futurist in that real mid-century modernist sense," says Damon Lindelof. 'He was very optimistic. He believed that technology held the key to building a better world. He also believed in technology as a means of creating great entertainment. For the 1964 World's Fair, the Walt Disney Company created three rides, the It's a Small World ride being the one we remember most. Though quaint by today's standards, back in 1964, Carousel of Progress and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln were revolutionary in how they used robotics and ride technology to create a thematically rich experience."
Damon Lindelof adds, 'And there was also an underlying radical optimism. This was 1964, the world had just flirted with thermonuclear catastrophe as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the song -It's a Small World' was written in response to a world that had walked right up to the brink of nuclear war but had pulled back and was now pining to recognize that we don't have to destroy ourselves. The lyrics"'It's a world of hopes and a world of fears""touched on that anxiety. Given how it just seems so cute and sentimental today, I found it fascinating that the ride was encoded with that real-world angst. There was a radical political message in there and a very idealistic one too."
The success of the World's Fair allowed Disney to raise funds for his next great project, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or Epcot. Disney's vision was for a model city that would be an ongoing experiment in urban development and organization; it was to be a real Tomorrowland where technology wed urban planning to create an optimal living environment. Walt Disney died, however, before Epcot could be built, and the Disney Company decided it did not want to run a city without his input. The model community concept was modified to become a large 'permanent World's Fair" instead, with two small residential districts for employees and their immediate family members. The park still exists today in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
'Walt Disney was constantly innovating," says director Brad Bird in admiration. 'He was never afraid to be the first to do something. He was among the very first in animation to introduce sound and colour. -Fantasia' had stereophonic sound fifteen years before anyone else did. When he started working on Disneyland everyone thought he was insane. Disney was forever jumping out of planes and then improvising a parachute on the way down. He was excited about things like space travel; all you have to do is look at those specials he did with Ward Kimball in the late fifties to see that Walt was really excited about the idea of progress. He had a massive curiosity and Tomorrowland, the World's Fair, Epcot, they all represent that."
Brad Bird adds, 'One of Disney's quotes was, -I don't make movies to make money; I make money to make movies.' Was he a perfect guy? No. But when you look at how much he accomplished in his lifetime it's just staggering. So I view him as an innovator. He had a very proactive and positive view of the future. I like to think that this film is something that he would enjoy."
When Damon Lindelof's research was complete, he approached Jeff Jensen to help further develop the story. 'When I was doing -Lost,'" says Damon Lindelof, 'Jeff Jensen was working as a journalist for Entertainment Weekly. He had this amazingly imaginative brain. He would watch -Lost' every week and come up with these crazy theories that were so inventive that I often found myself wishing that I had been smart enough to make the show about what Jeff thought the show was about. So he was exactly the guy I needed to help me cook up a fictional story that connected all the items I found in the box."
''Tomorrowland' is a quintessential Disney movie," says executive producer Jeff Jensen, who is credited with story by with Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof. ' It is steeped in the values of Walt Disney: you're going to see some amazing special effects and very innovative storytelling. And we've tried to remain true to the spirit embodied in places like Tomorrowland and Epcot"places Walt imagined would constantly develop new ideas for the future. Walt and his work was constantly changing, constantly evolving because in his mind the future was never fixed; the future is a project that is never done."
Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen wrote a detailed story draft, then Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof went out for lunch and, according to Damon Lindelof, 'It turned out that Brad knew quite a bit about Walt Disney and the hook was in. Brad and I started writing together from that point on."
It is true that writer/director Brad Bird is no stranger to the world of Disney and it isn't just from working on his previous films. When he was 11, Bird developed an interest in animation and visited the Disney Studios. Over the course of three years he finished a 15-minute animated film that came to the attention of Disney Animation, who offered to assign a mentor"the famous Master Animator Milt Kahl"to the then 14 year old. Brad Bird stayed with a family friend in Los Angeles to take advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime offer.
Commenting on the story for 'Tomorrowland," Brad Bird says, 'It's a very untraditional story and the protagonists are atypical. It's a chance to do to work on a grand scale but do something that hopefully will be very surprising. It embodies both aspects of the future"the scary and the wondrous"both of which are somewhat unknowable, so it's an interesting ride."
The Promise Of Tomorrowland
In the movie, the premise that the futuristic city of Tomorrowland could actually exist pays homage to Walt Disney's vision for both Disneyland's Tomorrowland and Disney World's Epcot, where ever-evolving technologies are showcased along with ideas to make the world a better place for all. But many believe"although it is generally thought to be myth"that Walt Disney was part of a secret band of thinkers and optimists and that Tomorrowland might actually exist in another dimension as a direct result of the forward-thinking, futuristic ideas that the group developed.
As the story goes, genius French structural engineer Gustave Eiffel, who designed and built the famous Eiffel Tower, built himself a private apartment in it where he would later conduct meteorological observations and perform various scientific experiments. Legend has it that on one fateful autumn evening in 1889, Eiffel quietly gathered together three of his most illustrious peers"the American Thomas Edison, Frenchman Jules Verne and Serbian Nikola Tesla"in the apartment to discuss the future.
That night the four men are believed by many to have formed a highly secretive organization, code-named Plus Ultra, that would shape the next century and beyond. 'These great thinkers hatched a plan to build a city of the future," screenwriter Damon Lindelof suggests, 'that couldn't be controlled by government or corporate interests; it would be the world's greatest ongoing utopian science fair. But two World Wars set them back, and it was only in the 1960s, after Walt Disney joined the organisation, that this secret world of technological innovation was built but hidden from the -real world.'"
Called Tomorrowland in reference to the section of Disneyland that Walt Disney had built a decade earlier as a celebration of technology, this alternate Tomorrowland developed technologies that Plus Ultra slowly introduced into the world. 'They had cell phones in the 1930s," surmises Damon Lindelof, 'space travel twenty years before that, and advanced rocketry a full sixty years before we did. They built this amazing city in the 1960s and it's been up and running ever since."
Tomorrowland is indicative of the can-do, Right-Stuff spirit of the Space-Race fifties and sixties, when 'there was this feeling that the future was something that could be built," says executive producer Jeff Jensen, 'that we could make things better, technologically, politically, and socially; we could make a better world. -Plus ultra' is Latin for -further beyond'; it was the mantra of Spanish explorers. Gustave Eiffel and his colleagues thought of themselves as explorers, not of new lands but of human potential. Walt Disney was a perfect fit for the organization, and was recruited because he embodied this idea that the future is this thing that we're constantly striving toward. But things changed and today the future is much more nebulous, more uncertain. We're cynical about progress; we're skeptical that things can get better. We think of the future as something that's going to happen to us, not something that we are making. Of course, not everything about the past is great, it was all much more complex and political than we know, and not all of it should carry forward. But can we recover something of that idealistic midcentury futurism? Is any of it relevant to today's world?"
'Something has been lost," director Brad Bird believes. 'Pessimism has become the only acceptable way to view the future, and I disagree with that. I think there's something self-fulfilling about it. If that's what everybody collectively believes then that's what will come to be. It engenders passivity: if everybody feels like there's no point then they don't do the myriad of things that could bring us a great future. When I was a kid, even though there were many negative things going on, as there always is and will be, it was acceptable to view the future in a positive light, that life was going to be better, that racism would cease, inequality would be mitigated, and so on. Now there's this sort of giant cosmic shrug and I hate that. I just don't think that we're on the planet to do that. We have the power to be responsible and go in the other direction."
'Tomorrowland. That word is so evocative of all the themes that we've been talking about here," concludes executive producer Jeff Jensen. 'It's evocative of the future. It's evocative of the notion of progress. It is evocative of the idea of a culture working together collaboratively"not necessarily without disagreement, but creatively to build the future that we want. We're putting that word out there and asking people to respond to it."
Onboard For The Ride: Talent Joins 'Tomorrowland"
Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof had only one man in mind to play the disillusioned inventor Frank Walker: George Clooney. 'From very early on we described Frank as George Clooney-esque," recalls Damon Lindelof, 'and whenever we would talk about actors for Frank, the thinking was: who's like George Clooney? We crossed our fingers and did our best job of writing it, infusing Frank with a curmudgeonly humour and a heroic quality, all of which we think George Clooney embodies. And then we sent it off into the universe."
When approached, George Clooney was intrigued by the project and signed on"much to the delight of Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof.
George Clooney describes his character Frank as 'a disenchanted grump who was a bit of a dreamer as a young boy, a smart little scientist kid. Young Frank goes to a place that he thinks is the greatest in the universe and he believes the world is going to be much better off because of it. He finds out that those things were untrue and becomes probably the most cynical person one could be. He isolates himself on his family farm and plans to spend the rest of his life there but is forced to deal with his past because of situations that happen in the film."
In the movie, Frank Walker has an unwelcomed intrusion in the form of Casey Newton, played by Britt Robertson. Explaining the relationship between the two George Clooney says, 'Casey Newton forces Frank Walker to do everything he doesn't want to do and she's great at it. She's just constantly nudging him. Frank Walker is grumpy and angry, and it takes him a long time to trust anybody and certainly he's not going to trust this young woman who storms her way into his life. But eventually they find their way."
For the role of brilliant scientist David Nix, Hugh Laurie was approached for what the producers called the actor's 'astonishing intelligence; a little bit of danger undercut by a lot of fun." Hugh Laurie himself recalls being 'completely struck by the first conversation I had with Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof about the morbid defeatism that has gripped the world. There are benefits beyond number to modern life, but they don't seem to bring us a feeling of satisfaction, triumph or accomplishment. Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof laid out this extraordinary vision of a future that ran completely counter to all popular ideas about how the world is going, and I was completely taken with it."
Describing the difference between his character David Nix and Frank Walker (Clooney), Laurie offers, 'Frank Walker's idea was to create things that are fun, that make people's lives better because they bring pleasure and joy, and express hope. David Nix is only interested in the more utilitarian platform of research; life for him is an endless scientific quest because he believes that man was put on this Earth to accumulate and develop knowledge."
Frank Walker's view of David Nix is of a cold-hearted bureaucrat who merely looks for the most efficient way of doing something without ever taking account of the joy of discovery, adventure, and exploration. Yet the two men cannot help but begrudgingly admire each other, because 'beneath all of that there's a sneaking regard for each other because they are intellectual equals in a world that doesn't necessarily understand or welcome visionaries. There is a kinship between the two," informs Hugh Laurie.
'David Nix is not necessarily a malicious man," adds Hugh Laurie, 'It's not to say that he has no sympathy for his fellow man, but his sympathy isn't enough to override his pragmatism. It's hard not to agree with him; he has a point about our human tendencies and weaknesses and appetites that can't simply be wished away. He's a practical, clear- thinking, brilliant scientist."
The differences between the two men are indicative, says director Brad Bird, of the reality that great minds do not always think alike, that our human imperfections can derail the best of intentions. Despite the utopian ideals of Plus Ultra, its founders fought and disagreed"we are told Eiffel and Edison were often at odds"as did its later members, represented by David Nix and Frank. 'Inherent in the notion of Plus Ultra is the idea that brilliant minds wouldn't necessarily get along," says Bird. 'That's just wishful thinking. In fact, great minds would probably really annoy each other. Some of them would get along, but a lot of them wouldn't."
Once shooting started, the two actors gelled as all had anticipated. George Clooney, says Hugh Laurie, 'was everything you hope George Clooney will be plus about ten percent. He's extremely funny and kind, very bright and very hard working, and considerate of everybody around. Everything you've heard people say about him is true; it's sort of maddening actually. He has an elegance about him that only enriches what he brings. He's like an old friend. He engenders in an audience that wonderful feeling of comfort and affection. You know that this is a man of taste and intelligence and good humour, and that time in his company is going to be well spent. He's an absolute gentleman and it was a wonderful privilege to work with him and get a front row seat as it were."
Not to be outdone, George Clooney comments about Hugh Laurie, 'Hugh Laurie's got a very dry sense of humour and I've always really appreciated it. It was really fun to get to know him and spend time with him. It's a real pleasure to be around somebody who does things because he wants to do them not because he has to. He-s a fun guy but it's also fun to have him there because he wants to be there."
Laughing, George Clooney adds, 'He's a first-rate, high-caliber man first of all and then a terrific actor, too, so there's no downside to him except"I don't want to say this aloud"he's got a little kleptomania issue and it's going to have to be addressed because I caught him coming out of my room with some of my belongings and I'd like them back."
The producers knew there would not be a shortage of actors wanting to work with George Clooney and Hugh Laurie, but the part of Casey would still be difficult to cast because whoever took on Casey's role would need to do a great deal of the heavy lifting. She would need a tremendous amount of confidence and bravery and stamina. Many young actors vied for the role but in the end it went to Britt Robertson. 'I've never come across a young actress with such enthusiasm and dedication," raves producer Jeffrey Chernov. 'She is a trooper. She had to jump in freezing water, get on a wire, be pulled, stretched, yanked, tugged, dipped and dunked, but Britt Robertson couldn't get enough of it."
Her auditions were all the more remarkable, too, because she had to perform them having read only a few scenes from the script. 'When I first heard about this project, the script was completely on lockdown," recalls Britt Robertson. 'No one, not even any agents or managers, had read it. It was not until maybe six months into the auditioning process that I was finally able to read the whole script. I obviously had a few scenes for auditions but they were completely out of context; I had no idea what any of it meant. When I finally got to read the script, I was so shocked by the fact that it was so different than anything else I had ever read. It has everything"action, adventure, friendships, family drama"and it's all tied together so perfectly. You don't read unique material very often anymore. It has been very cool to be a part of this super project."
Of her character Casey Newton, the daughter of a NASA engineer who is about to be laid off now that the space program has been all but shut down, Britt Robertson says, 'She's this really smart chick who has always wanted to be an astronaut. It's her passion and what she and her father have bonded over. Casey Newton has this drive to do big things and change the world; she wants the world to be a place that's full of hope and inspiration, but she doesn't know how to make it so."
As is typical in the industry, casting of the children's parts presented its own challenges. 'Young Frank was a little hard because we needed someone that looked like George Clooney and who could handle the physicality of the part because we wanted to do so much of it in camera," says Chernov. 'When we found Thomas it was like we struck gold."
Commenting on his young costar, Hugh Laurie says, 'Thomas Robinson gave Young Frank every possible ounce of energy and optimism and idealism that the part needed. For him the world is a huge adventure to be grasped and every day was a chance to discover something more, do something more, try something new. He was fearless and completely charming."
Describing Young Frank, Thomas Robinson says, 'The movie starts off with a flashback and I'm playing young Frank Walker in 1964. Young Frank invents things, like a jet pack, and experiments by making things out of old vacuum cleaners, paint canisters and other stuff. He's pretty amazing but his dad doesn't approve of his inventions."
The filmmakers also struck gold with young Raffey Cassidy, who plays Athena. 'Raffey Cassidy is proof that people can make a difference," says executive producer John Walker. 'Cynicism and sarcasm are fashionable; honesty, optimism and love are a little out of fashion. So it was nice to see this young girl supplying such positivity. When you watch Raffey Cassidy's audition tape, at the end of every take she would give a little thumbs-up. She's just a spark plug of a kid. She is the embodiment of the film."
Executive producer Jeff Jensen calls Athena the 'great hero of Tomorrowland." 'She believes in the mission of Tomorrowland, and right now it has a problem that can only be solved by new people and new ideas. Athena senses that Casey is the kind of spirit that it needs," says Jeff Jensen.
In the film, Athena gives Casey a pin that jumpstarts her quest for Tomorrowland. 'Athena had been looking for a recruit," says young Raffey Cassidy about the character she plays, 'and she is really hoping that Casey was the right person to choose because that was Athena's last pin. Casey has courage and determination and hope, and that is what Tomorrowland needs."
Explaining the 'family dynamic" between Athena, Frank and Casey, George Clooney offers, 'The problem is that the youngest one, Athena, is the parent and Casey and Frank are like the two fighting kids. Athena is the one driving and she's telling the kids to shut up. Frank is a big kid who didn't really ever grow up and sort of stopped evolving at around 11 years old, so we are fighting all the time. It is like a family but it's all turned upside down because the real parent is the youngest kid."
Once the children were hired, says producer Jeffrey Chernov, 'I didn't count on that if you take an eleven-year-old and start them on a movie in the summer and don't finish the movie until mid-winter, chances are they going to grow, and that includes their teeth. When Raffey Cassidy showed up in Vancouver to start work, she gave me a big smile and was missing teeth. And then Thomas started losing his teeth one by one. So the kids spent a lot of time having to get 'flippers" [fake, removable teeth] made. You just never know what's going to happen."
Keegan-Michael Key and Kathryn Hahn play the Gernsbacks"very odd characters who own a memorabilia emporium. Gernsback (his name an homage to the publisher of Amazing Stories, the magazine launched in 1926 that created the sci-fi genre) cuts a strange silhouette. 'I'm like a Jamaican Grizzly Adams," says Keegan-Michael Key. 'I've got a paunch, a vest that has eyeballs all over it, and an eyeball belt buckle holding up my acid-washed mom jeans. And I'm wearing Birkenstocks with patterned socks. I'm a strange fellow to say the least."
Odder still is wife Ursula, a Star Trek fan with Vulcan-esque eyebrows and cat-eye glasses to match. 'Our mission is to retrieve those pins and find out how they're being disseminated," explains Kathryn Hahn. 'We are part of a mandate to keep Tomorrowland hidden. When someone comes in with a pin we are not allowed to let that person leave until we find out where or how they have gotten their pin"and then we have to destroy the messenger. So maybe not as much Southern charm as on the surface."
Rounding out the talented cast is Tim McGraw, who plays Casey's father. Describing his character, Tim McGraw says, 'Ed Newton is a guy who has an idealistic view of NASA and the space program, so he is disappointed when the program shuts down and he is laid off. But he isn't the only one who is disappointed. His daughter, Casey, who is a lot like him with her quick, scientific mind, shares that feeling too. While Ed is trying to figure out what the future holds for him and his family, Casey is out there working to make sure the future she envisions happens. Ed finds himself not only trying to guide his daughter to keep her safe but reining in her wild curiosity as well."
There And Back: The Making Of 'Tomorrowland"
Tasked with dreaming up Tomorrowland, production designer Scott Chambliss set right to work. 'In the script itself there was no Tomorrowland written in," says Scott Chambliss. 'That meant that a huge amount of our prep time was spent working with Brad Bird and Damon Lindelof developing not simply the look of Tomorrowland but what Tomorrowland meant. Creating a unique utopian civilization is a very complicated, daunting task. But therein lay the potential pleasure of actually creating something that was special in ways that an audience might not anticipate."
What was determined early on is that the Tomorrowland of 1964, when Frank sees it for the first time, and the Tomorrowland of 1984, the year of Casey's pin-induced vision, were both still 'a very balanced society," says Scott Chambliss. 'Plus Ultra felt a responsibility to their environment, not just to make it beautiful but to nurture it; that notion being that man is equal part pioneer and shepherd of the planet. So the city evolves gradually out of nature and then recedes back into nature as you leave. It's a broad gestural statement."
Nevertheless, a city built by visionaries with advanced technologies had to look like one, and finding such a place was not an easy task. The question was whether or not the whole of Tomorrowland would have to be built from scratch, an expensive and time-consuming proposition. But then in a series of wonderful coincidences, Tom Peitzman, the special effects producer and the film's co-producer, stumbled upon a car commercial early on in production. The location looked so futuristic that he recorded the ad on his phone and brought it to director Brad Bird. The location turned out to be the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain, and was designed by Santiago Calatrava who was already serving as an inspiration for Chambliss.
The discovery also served to satisfy Bird's preference for physical locations over virtual sets. A scouting party was sent out and Valencia became the bones of Tomorrowland"almost literally. 'Santiago Calatrava's architecture is just phenomenal and inventive and exciting," says producer Jeffrey Chernov. 'It's very skeletal, like you're looking at the vertebrae of a dinosaur or prehistoric fish. You walk into that place and you never want to leave. That's the vibe we wanted for Tomorrowland."
On shooting at the City of Arts and Sciences, George Clooney comments, 'Valencia is not a city I'd been to before and I'd been all around Spain, which is an incredibly beautiful country, but it was really fun to go there and work and spend time. The architect's imagination represents that great optimistic version of life where you just go, -I want to build that' and somebody builds it. It's pretty amazing."
However, not all of Tomorrowland could be worked into the City of Arts and Sciences, in particular the monorail, the huge energy sphere and the massive monitor, collectively referred to as the Bridgeway Plaza set. Although it seemed likely that a small set would be built and extended with CGI, it was ultimately determined that a set heavily dependent on green screen was not the solution. 'On these large visual effects films," says Tom Peitzman, 'you need to find a balance between practical and CGI. Too much of the time people rely too heavily on computer-generated imagery, and it looks like CGI. I always approach it a little more old school; I like to challenge the director to do as much as he possibly can in camera so he has something to look at, touch and light. I would rather have ten percent of the frame practical than one hundred percent of the frame digital; even if it is only a small portion, it's something to hinge the CGI on, and then you can achieve a more natural, seamless look."
In the end, the Bridgeway Plaza took six months to build and was about half the size of a football field. The set was so enormous that no sound stage existed that could house it, and considerable height was also required for the intended aerial work above the set and for the cranes big enough to hold the lights required to illuminate everything. Adding to the complexity was the fact that the set had to serve different time periods over the course of the script: 1964, when young Frank first visits; 1984, the period of the intended roll-out campaign broadcast in Casey's pin-induced vision; and 2014, when the remainder of the story takes place. This required six-week intervals between shoots to allow the production design crew to redress and alter the set for each time period.
At first, having the set outdoors that did not seem to be an issue as the production would be shooting at the height of a Vancouver summer, but when George Clooney was secured he was still shooting 'Monuments Men," which delayed the start of 'Tomorrowland" by five months and pushed the shooting of Clooney's Bridgeway Plaza sequences into late November and early December, the precarious rainy winter season in Vancouver. Producer Jeffrey Chernov at first did not believe this would be an issue 'because the construction crews up here are accustomed to the weather; they've built a lot of lean-tos and different tarp systems to keep sets dry. We just had to figure out a way to cover it, to make it bulletproof no matter the weather. They came back with a couple of ideas that were going to cost over a million bucks and were not guaranteed to work, so I said, -Alright, we'll just have to be lucky.'"
As if in keeping with the film's optimism"or perhaps the production had a guardian angel watching over it"the weather cooperated with a nearly unprecedented dry spell. 'We built plenty of cover so we could just run for it if the weather wasn't on our side, but we never had to. Apparently it was the driest six winter weeks that Vancouver had experienced since 1952"the interesting thing about that was that the original title of our movie was -1952.' Everybody thought we were crazy to try it, and I agreed with them. It was a huge relief when we wrapped." Small miracles aside, perhaps the most impressive part of the Bridgeway Plaza set, was the fully functional monorail. 'Once it was completely built and the lights and glass were put in it," says special effects coordinator Mike Vezina, 'it came out at about 35,000 pounds. So then we had the challenge of how to motivate 35,000 pounds of set down a track that was elevated sixteen feet in the air, carrying all our principal cast, and needing to stop at exactly the same position time and again."
The special effects team came up with hydraulic winches that they could shut down very quickly in an emergency, and with which they could apply the brakes whenever they wanted so they could bring the monorail to a very specific mark to stop, open the door automatically, and then have the cast walk out. The team used a huge, 500-horsepower hydraulic pump and heavy wire rope to pull the monorail back and forth on the two winches, so as one would wind up the other one would unwind, allowing them to follow it back and forth. Mike Vezina adds, 'For positioning we used laser beams that told us within one thousandth of an inch if the monorail was going past its mark so we could then shut it down. Fortunately we didn't have to use any of the safety mechanisms because it worked perfectly the whole time."
Mike Vezina's other big challenge was the Eiffel Tower set, which had to split open down the middle to reveal The Spectacle rocket ship. 'We had to build a replica of the whole top section of the Eiffel Tower," says Mike Vezina, 'and then we put everything on a metal base we designed and built on rollers. We had a ramp that we could pull apart and shake it and do all the other things that needed to be done. The set weighed somewhere around 100,000 pounds, so underneath we had an airbag system to float the set. That allowed us to move or shake it with smaller ramps. We also had a track system to pull it all apart smoothly and repeatedly because, of course, when shooting a film you never do something just once."
The sets definitely impressed Hugh Laurie, who refers to them as 'absolutely magnificent." He adds, 'It's daunting to actually think this has all been built so that I can stand here and say my speech. I'm looking at essentially the equivalent of Cairo being built behind me. The scale of it is spectacular and I'm sure every designer must thrill to the possibilities of futurist design because they're not really tied to anything"they can they can let themselves run free, and they do."
In the story, an Internet search leads Casey to Houston, Texas, and the bizarre memorabilia emporium called Blast From the Past, which was completely built from the ground up on a soundstage. 'Blast from the Past is an amalgam of the sci-fi comic book stores that director Brad Bird and I remember from our youth," says production designer Scott Chambliss. 'Different cities, different stores, but the same feeling you had as a kid where you just wanted to spend a good chunk of your week in that store, poring through everything. Set decorator Lin MacDonald spent months curating the collection; there are thousands of pieces, both purchased and manufactured by the production, and many originals, including some that Brad brought from his own collection."
Adds an enthusiastic Keegan-Michael Key, whose character Hugo Gernsback owns the shop with his wife Ursula, 'We have classic sci-fi posters, the original Luke Skywalker action figure from 1970, and stuff from -Space 1999' with Martin Landau. And then just shelves and shelves of comic books. The whole place is my dream come true. They basically built a store and set it in the middle of a sound stage. It's incredible."
The Walker home was a set that also needed the production design team's special touch"but in the reverse of what one would think. 'Frank's home hasn't seen any love for a long time," says production designer Scott Chambliss, 'and is reflective of Frank himself who hasn't felt any love for a long time either. We stopped just short of making the place looks like the home of one scary guy, but he is in a dark period in his life: the house is rigged out of paranoia. He's also trying to recreate some of what he experienced in Tomorrowland but now it's as much about his fear as about his previous sense of joyous invention and exploration."
A challenge for Scott Chambliss was recreating the 1964 World's Fair for 'Tomorrowland," but filmmakers were lucky to find that one of the iconic pieces, the Unisphere, was actually still standing in Flushing Meadows, New York, just outside of the USTA National Tennis Center. The huge globe's fountains are still in place as well as the gardens. The filmmakers dispatched a photographer to New York to take photos so that they could use the real images as a composite element in the scenes.
While these sets provided a great sense of achievement for the filmmakers, only one set provided the kind of awe that the film itself encapsulated: the real-life NASA launch pad at Cape Canaveral. Brad Bird offers, 'To many of us on the film, NASA and the mission of NASA is close to our hearts and so being there and able to film some of the film there was a treat. Our shoot timed with the launch of the Maven Probe to Mars, so we actually got to watch from the pad that launched a lot of the NASA missions."
Remembering the excitement of that moment, executive producer John Walker says, 'Just to stand there was amazing. I remember as a kid watching on television those fantastic rockets go up. We got to watch the Maven Probe launch live and from closer than the press did. It was fantastic. It was worth making the whole movie just to be able to do that."
Though by far the most emotionally spectacular, Cape Canaveral was only one of the movie's many locations. The film started principal photography on farm in of Pincher Creek, Alberta, where the filmmakers had paid a farmer to grow winter wheat whose particular shade of amber was director Brad Bird's vision of rural perfection; then the crew moved to a farm in Enderby, in British Columbia's Okanagan, to shoot the Walker farm and its cornfields, also grown specifically for the production.
Shooting in the wheat fields turned out to be a special experience for Britt Robertson. 'My very first week of shooting was in the wheat fields. We went up into the interior of Alberta and the production had actually planted acres and acres of wheat on people's land. Just being around it was so real; it was so beautiful and just unlike any experience I've ever had. Being able to film there wasn't even acting because I was in awe of these fields of wheat. This whole production has been really smart about creating these experiences for the audience, but not just for the audience, for the actors too, so you really get to see the actors experiencing these very unique real things."
In addition to the Canadian locations, there were the aforementioned sets in Spain and Vancouver, with additional spots in the latter doubling as the Hall of Invention and Unisphere Plaza of the World's Fair. Add to that time spent filming at the It's a Small World ride at Disneyland in Anaheim, two days spent on a beach in the Bahamas, and a second-unit shoot in Paris. And if one counts visual effects producer Tom Peitzman's plates of the World's Fair Globe in what is now Flushing Meadows park, the spot in Queens where the 1964 World's Fair was held, you can also count New York among the locations. In all, the film had over 90 different combinations of sets and locations, and moved ten times, almost unheard of in the industry.
'I had never worked on a movie this big before," comments executive producer John Walker. 'Every week there was another miracle for the taking. There were giant sets on gimbals, an antique rocket ship on another gimbal, a 360-degree circular screen broadcasting footage we shot for a Google Earth-like sequence, an 11-year-old boy flying in a skydiving simulator"it was just one wonder after another. It was very complex; it took an enormous amount of preparation and work and technology to bring everything together but it was fantastic."
Costume designer Jeffrey Kurland began the process of creating the looks for each of the characters by talking with the filmmakers to understand the characters and the world they inhabit in the film. 'I tell the story through the visual of what people look like and how they present themselves," explains Jeffrey Kurland. 'So, after reading the script, I first talked to the director, Brad Bird, to find out how he sees these characters. How does he feel about them? What's their background? We give them a bit of a background, so we know where they came from, what their likes and dislikes are and what kind of people they are."
When we first meet Athena (Raffey Cassidy) in 1964, she is, for all outward appearances, just an ordinary 11-year-old. But look closer at her aquamarine eyes and matching dress and you discover something special, if a little off. 'The silhouette of her dress is typical of the period," says Kurland, 'a fitted bodice and dirndl skirt. But it has a pattern on it that looks like a grid that goes around the dress. As you get closer you see the pattern is based on the golden ratio, which keeps repeating, so the lines are not straight, and they are made out of algorithms and theorems, all these numbers and letters. The fabric itself looks advanced and has sheen to it. I couldn't find the color to match her eyes so I had the fabric printed the color first and then we printed the algorithms on top of that. It all makes her slightly otherworldly but not in a creepy way."
Athena in 2014 presented a challenge to Jeffrey Kurland. 'Here's this 11-year-old girl who's running around 2014 by herself," says Jeffrey Kurland. 'And I didn't want her to look like a homeless girl or a refugee. She looks like a girl, but there's also something a little different about her, so there is a little something advanced about her that's in the fabrications of the clothing. She's wearing a denim jacket, but she's wearing double layers of shirts and then the hoodie that she's got on is kind of strange because it's a knitted thing, like maybe an item that you find at a thrift store. But then her pants and her shoes look a little more advanced."
Casey's (Britt Robertson) quirky intelligence and the importance of her familial bond are reflected in her clothing. 'She's definitely not your average girl," says the costume designer. 'She's wearing jeans but they're rolled up over different coloured socks; her shoes are old wing-tips, and she wears her father's old NASA hat. Her wardrobe is filled with a lot of vintage stuff"at one point she's in an old bowling shirt"because her father wears vintage clothes. And he too wears weird socks; it's a thing they share."
When we first saw Young Frank (Thomas Robinson) in 1964, explains Jeffrey Kurland, 'he was wearing overalls and a kind of sports jersey. And when he went down to the World's Fair he was wearing jeans, a striped shirt, and a jacket."
Now, fifty years later, you can still see a bit of that boy in Frank Walker (George Clooney): He's wearing clothes very similar to what his father was wearing at the beginning of the movie, but the jacket is made out of a fabric that's more advanced; it's actually something that Frank left Tomorrowland in and has been wearing ever since. It's a very subtle hint that Tomorrowland still has a closeness to him even though he denies it."
For Hugh Laurie's character David Nix in 1964, Kurland wanted his suit to have a feeling of Tomorrowland. 'I wanted you to look at it and go, -Oh, nice suit,'" says Jeffrey Kurland. 'And then when you get closer, you go, -Mmm, he doesn't look like everybody else. It's a little different. Where did that come from?' So that you get the feeling that he's influential from another place but not in an alien kind of way. Then we don't see him for a while until we get to 2014 and then when we see him, he takes on a grander, almost more royal quality to fit his role in Tomorrowland, which is reflected in the design of his clothing."
There were 400 extras to be dressed for the 1964 World's Fair scenes"a challenge for Jeffrey Kurland and his team that involved finding clothes and making clothes that fit the era. 'There are certain things that had to be recreated that were real," relates the costume designer. 'For example, the people who manned the ticket booths and the maintenance people, what they looked like at that time, and the Greyhound driver, the trolley drivers and more."
Kids & Stunts
To get the kids ready for their roles, the film hired supervising stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo. 'I had to do a physical assessment of them to make sure they would be able to handle what was coming to them," says Robert Alonzo. 'Within a half hour of meeting Raffey Cassidy I said to the producers, -You have a winner. This girl is going to be amazing.' We trained her in swimming, gymnastics, wirework, and martial arts, which was the main thing I needed her to learn for this film."
Alonzo quickly discovered, however, that he had to adapt his methods to train Raffey Cassidy successfully. 'A child doesn't have a sense of right or wrong defense. They don't understand; they just think, -I'm doing this for a movie. I'm going to be a superhero.' So her punches and kicks were good but there was no substance behind them. I had to ask her, -What does Casey mean to Athena?' I said to her, -You've got a family that you love; you would protect them, right?' And so whenever she would throw a punch or a kick I would have her say a word"-No!' or -Don't touch me!' or -Leave my sister alone!'"so that she understood and gave value to the movement. Because there's no other way to get the face and the face is the key. It's never the punch that the audience remembers; it's the face, the reaction after the punch. If you don't have that reaction the audience is never going to believe your intention. It took a while to get there but once she got it there was no going back. It was the most beautiful thing to see the transition from the smiley face to determination. When she sets her mind to it now, she becomes so focused. It's amazing."
For Raffey Cassidy, the training paid off with a newfound skill. 'I didn't know a thing about martial arts or fighting before this," says Raffey Cassidy, 'and now I know the kicks and the punches and I'm starting to get more into it. I'm further on then just the basics"I got a yellow belt in mixed martial arts while I was in training."
With Thomas Robinson, the challenge was a little different. 'Thomas was initially scared of heights," says Alonzo. 'How were we going to get this kid in a harness, pretending he's flying comfortably in a jetpack at eighty miles an hour? So we started training him with trapeze since a lot of harness work is involved there; we started teaching him how to fall so that he could get comfortable with doing quite a bit of his own action."
Echoes Thomas, 'The harnesses are the most uncomfortable thing I have ever been in, but being able to fly thirty feet in the air is totally worth it. It's one of the coolest things I have ever done." When it was later revealed that the production wanted to achieve an open-air wind tunnel sequence with Thomas, he was sent off to iFly to learn to master a skydiving simulator. 'I had never before seen that done with a child. If Thomas hadn't made enough progress I would have said we couldn't do it, but Thomas was just as good in the wind tunnel as he was walking. He was so good we got everything and more. I have to say he did an amazing job. I'm very proud of him because of the things that he overcame. He went from scared of heights to flying on his own sixty feet in the air and having the time of his life."
The greater problem with children, though, is the danger of their eagerness to please. 'Kids want to perform and they will ignore their own limitations," explains Alonzo. 'So you have to make sure they understand that they have to be comfortable and not try to please anybody. We do all the necessary testing and we abide by every protocol, but we can only go as far as they're able to do and are mentally capable of understanding, so I have to establish a really solid relationship not only with the child but also with the parents. We all have to trust each other and I need the kids to be honest with me. I tell them, and I ask their parents to tell them, if something's uncomfortable or if you're tired, if you're feeling sick, you need to tell me because it is my job to make sure that you're safe and are able to perform at your highest level."
For the props department, creating props for the different time periods of the film"1964, 1984 and 2014"was a challenge. There are different influences and materials that affect the manufacture and design of the props for each era, so every prop needed to be carefully researched and analysed to make sure the technology and materials they planned to use existed in the time period. Then the filmmakers had to try and find the real parts to make things authentic.
Kris Peck, the supervising prop master on 'Tomorrowland," jumped right in by working on the 1964 jet pack invention created by the Young Frank character. His invention is a kerosene-operated contraption, yet despite the jetpack's obvious shortcomings it remains a proud symbol of the scientific zeitgeist that in just a few short years would put a man on the moon. 'Frank's jetpack is representative of the optimism of the future," says supervising props master Kris Peck. 'James Bond had a jetpack sequence in a 1960s film, you saw jet packs in shows like -The Jetsons'; these can be traced way back to Buck Rogers in the thirties. While doing research for this movie I even found an interesting story about how the Germans were trying to create a jet pack to go behind enemy lines."
The 1964 jet pack designed for Young Frank (Thomas Robinson) was actually a feat of engineering and imagination. It has 40 different fasteners on the backpack frame and has mounts for Electrolux vacuum cleaners on the sides. Control cables operate the small shovels on the back. Cables run through the jet pack onto the handles so the actor can control it. The jet pack was fastened to a plate and could be easily removed from the frame so that Thomas Robinson did not have to walk around with 20 lbs. of jet pack on his back between takes.
The jet pack evolved over the course of the film. In addition to the crude 1964 version, there is a 1984 and a 2014 version as well. The 1984 version has handles and is reminiscent of the art and design of the 1980s with influences from 'Star Wars" clearly visible in its shiny, white metallic finish inspired by Storm Troopers. The 2014 version does not have handles as it is intuitive, and the jet pack is powered by Tesla energy.
For Brad Bird, creating the jet packs was one of his most memorable parts of the production process. 'There's a 10-year-old-kid that's still alive in me to this day," says Bird, 'so any chance to make a jet pack was fun, and better yet, we had a few different jet packs in this movie, so it's safe for me to say that one of my favourite props from the movie is one of the jetpacks." Peck calls the Tomorrowland pin 'the most important prop of the movie because without the pin there's no Tomorrowland." In the movie, the pin was intended as a guided tour of Tomorrowland beamed directly into the cerebral cortex, the start of a rollout campaign that was intended to introduce Tomorrowland to the rest of the planet in 1984. In the movie Ursula Gernsback (Kathryn Hahn) calls the tour 'the world's greatest movie trailer." It's 'a fleeting glimpse, a taste, a one-way e-ticket for a single rider," adds Hugo Gernsback (Keegan-Michael Key).
Describing the design of the pin, Kris Peck says, 'We used the colour palette of the 1964 World's Fair, blue and an orange. The pin is one inch in size and made out of brass and has a good weight. It feels good in your hand."
Commenting on the symbolism of the design, director Brad Bird adds, 'We worked hard to find something that had a little bit of a retro feel but also felt classic. We took the universal symbol of the atom but made it like a sun rising, so it's the idea of something that's beyond the horizon but coming and that there is a golden view of the future. Then we looked at the letter T and realized that if you tweak it a little you can make it look like a jet pack with a tremendous amount of force coming out of both sides of the top of the T. So the T is sort of blasting off while behind it there's the symbolism of a rising the sun and that's meant to say the future is coming and it's going to be fun and bright."
In the scene at Blast from the Past, the memorabilia emporium, the Gernsbacks are firing plasma ray guns that, while they may look like toys, prove to be anything but. Designed by premier illustrator Tim Flattery of 'Men in Black" fame, the guns feature interactive light that spills out into the environment, adding to their air of authenticity.
'Brad Bird had said that when -Star Wars' came out, one of the things that he had a problem with was that when the light saber was on you didn't see any light on the characters," says supervising prop master Kris Peck. 'So we worked with some people from Vancouver's Unlimited Design to build a very small but powerful wireless battery pack that fits on the end of the gun. So you hit the trigger and the gun throws this interactive light out the front. And then the plasma is empty so the red lights go on, and as the gun recharges the lights turn blue again." Equally cool is Athena's time bomb, which she uses to temporarily incapacitate the Gernsbacks. Designed by illustrator Victor Martinez and manufactured by SAT in Los Angeles, it looks like an orange that has been peeled and opened up into glowing segments.
Despite its small size, the prop demanded a big commitment. 'We had to have a floor piece built into the set for this prop because there were mechanisms that went under the floor for the wires and cables that came down," recalls Kris Peck. 'It was such a small space in the real estate but it was one of those props that when you look at the illustrations you're, like, man that's fantastic, and then the manufacturers are saying -we can do it,' but when it actually comes time to execute it, it becomes a very complicated piece."
Other significant props that kept Kris Peck and his team busy were the Tomorrowland gun, featuring a LED blue light pattern; David Nix's watch, with two screens and graphics; the 'Dave Clark" Robots' guns, including the cheese cutter, the rifle and the shotgun; the Combine Remote, made from an old washing-machine motor; the Thinking Machine, the most complicated prop in the movie with about a dozen moving parts; and Frank's Gizmo, a multi-lens, trombone-like creation that can project 2D and 3D images.
'Tomorrowland": What The Future Holds
'What we all look for in terms of entertainment is that there is something for everybody," says producer Jeffrey Chernov. 'Whether you are 8 or 80, you can go and just have the best time, sitting there and enjoying that movie. That's what we're hoping to do. We would like to be able to make Walt proud that we were able to take his idea of the future and turn it into something really entertaining."
Executive producer Jeff Jensen says, 'We hope people have a really fun time watching the film and it totally delivers on that"it's a really great piece of escapist entertainment"but the best escapism ultimately leads you to ask questions about your real world and how you're living in it. Hopefully this movie can do that in some small but meaningful ways."
Summing up, director Brad Bird says, 'We hope audiences will be entertained but with luck we've also made something that will give them something to talk and think about later…maybe even start to imagine a different kind of future."
Release Date: May 21st, 2015