One of the more formidable tasks for the team was the bottling plant set where Banner works (and has increased access to flowers and plants he can analyze for a possible cure to his gamma-irradiated cells) during his self-imposed exile in Brazil. This would be where Blonsky (pre-Abomination inoculation) has his first encounter with The Hulk. The exterior factory-yard scenes were filmed at the former Behring Chocolate factory located in the Santo Cristo neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. But as an integral part of the first act takes place in the interior of the bottling plant, it was necessary to construct a set that would satisfy the specific parameters of the script. The action sequences were so detailed that several weeks filming would be required.
“It was a very involved sequence with tricky geography,” explains Petruccelli. “We needed a massive space we could take over and fashion to our needs—The Hulk needs a lot of space to throw stuff around.” After scouring almost every old factory in and around the Toronto area, the filmmakers found an ideal location at an abandoned glass factory in Hamilton. What followed was an exhaustive eight-week construction schedule as carpenters, painters and riggers worked in tandem with set dressers and prop masters to create the illusion of a working bottling plant. This place would eventually be destroyed in an explosive confrontation between The Hulk and General Ross’ team of commandos.
To achieve the level of mayhem and destruction the filmmakers were looking for in this and other action sequences, the combined expertise of special effects coordinator LAIRD MCMURRAY and stunt coordinator JOHN STONEHAM, JR. was called into play. To bring realism to The Hulk’s destructive fury, McMurray and his special effects crew devised elaborate wire rigging mechanisms and machinery capable of exerting thousands of pounds of pressure and pull. These apparatuses could accelerate large weighted objects at very rapid speeds to make it appear as if The Hulk was tossing or kicking them around. Working closely with McMurray and his crew, Stoneham and his stunt team were able to devise scenarios in which the destruction The Hulk leaves in his wake is rooted in high-flying reality.
The script also called for a fight of monumental proportions in which The Hulk must save New York City and her citizens from the wrath of The Abomination. Recalls Petruccelli, “When Louis told me he wanted the climax of the film to take place in Harlem in front of the Apollo Theater, I said ‘Sure, but we’ll have to build it,’ because there was no way anyone was going to let us throw cars around, blow things up— basically trash and terrorize a historically designated area—for a couple of weeks in New York City.”
The team explored a number of locations and options, but, in the end, they decided to film the sequence in three different locations over a period of several weeks. Dubbed “the biggest bar fight in history” by visual effects supervisor Kurt Williams, the clash between two titanic forces was one of the film’s most multifaceted and complex sequences. Almost 80 unique visual-effects shots were seamlessly blended with action to give audiences, The Hulk and The Abomination a fight to the end. Here especially, integration between the art department and the visual effects team was critical. Comments Williams, “Where The Hulk goes, action follows. Our mandate was to devise a scenario as realistic as possible by combining practical environments with CGI.”
An urban section of Toronto’s Yonge Street was deemed the ideal location to recreate some of the storefronts of Harlem and, in mid-September, the production was given permission to shut down a four-block section of the street where, over a period of four nights, the main and second-unit crews worked in tandem with the visual effects, special effects and stunt crews to film elaborate sequences involving hundreds of extras and a lot of pyrotechnics. To accommodate the scripted mayhem of cars crashing and buses blowing up, façades and storefronts—including a façade of the Apollo Theater and its legendary marquee—were constructed and positioned along the route.
With the aid of visual effects, the destruction continued across a two-block section of downtown Hamilton, where Petruccelli and crew erected façades replicating a Harlem street on a couple of parking lots—buildings that would be destroyed in the brutal fight along the route Leterrier and the producers called “Abomination Alley.”
Finally, the action culminated on a virtual Courthouse Plaza set constructed on a backlot at Toronto Film Studios. The set had to accommodate, among other chaos, a helicopter crash and the ensuing havoc. The project kept the scenic art mold shop busy making breakaway bricks for months, not to mention the countless “stone and marble” plaster molding and vermiculite tiles—always helpful to cast and crew disinterested in being injured by flying debris.
While filming in Toronto, the production also made good use of a local university campus, Morningside Park and the city’s Financial District. Toronto Film Studios housed the movie’s constructed interior sets, including the place where it all began, Banner’s laboratory. Other filming locations included the Canadian Air Forces Base in Trenton, Ontario, and a glacier in Bella Coola, British Columbia.
Regardless of the shoot, the cast and crew grew very accustomed to seeing their director in one location in particular: at the helm of his 15’, 30’ and 50’ techno cranes, with their telescoping arms. Recalls Norton: “Louis uses a techno crane like other people use a shoulder cam; he is very dynamic with the camera. I told him once, ‘I’ve never seen anybody more married to his cranes.’”
For Leterrier, his commitment remains to give audiences nothing less than the full-force action they want. “Part of the whole Hulk experience is that you put the audience in Bruce Banner’s shoes by literally following him when he runs down the favelas. But you also are next to him on that motorcycle through the cable cams. When he’s Hulk you want to be behind him…so the Russian arm [key camera crane] helped us to run as fast as The Hulk, be as high as The Hulk and get into ‘Hulk Vision.’ To do that, we used the Russian arm and techno crane to make you feel like you are The Hulk, so you move like him. You are fast, and you push in and you grab and throw stuff out—that is the total Hulk experience.”