Principal photography for THE INCREDIBLE HULK began in July 2007, for an 88-day shoot that started in Toronto and finished at the end of November in Rio de Janeiro. From the beginning, Leterrier and the producers knew they wanted their “man on the run” epic to have a global feel to it. Feige comments: “We meet Bruce Banner walking to the ends of the earth to get away from society and be away from others. The story then begins to be his journey back toward America, toward characters he knows and loves. It takes us through South America, the East Coast of the United States and ends up right smack in the middle of Manhattan.”
Veteran production designer Kirk M. Petruccelli led the design team in creating more than 100 sets for the film. As THE INCREDIBLE HULK begins, Banner is in Brazil, keeping a low profile and working at a bottling plant, while he continues his never-ending search for a cure. His whereabouts discovered by General Ross, Banner finds himself once again on the run. On a journey that takes him through Latin America and the East Coast of the U.S., Banner winds up in Harlem.
For Petruccelli, there was strong appeal at the idea of working on a film with such a large and imaginative canvas. Key to his establishing the visual feel was to ensure all elements reflected the shadowy world into which Banner disappeared. “One of the first things Louis said to me was that he wanted The Hulk to be as real as possible, bashing and smashing through the real world,” recalls Petruccelli. “This is a road picture, a chase movie. Banner is always on the run, and as a designer, that gave me so many avenues in which to take it and contribute to the action.”
To create the world, Petruccelli and crew blended a majority of location-based shoots with a handful of staged sets. From multiple city streets, homes and buildings, they integrated recognizable, real locations. For his part, Norton would often arrive on set and be amazed by what the crews had accomplished. He offers, “A lot of times, I came onto the set and realized that Louis and Kirk had gone much bigger with it than I had in my head—much bigger. The scale of it was really amazing to me.”
Of his interest in so many locations, Leterrier took the screenplay and literally ran with it. He wanted his action movie to be “an interesting mix of a Zen chase on one side and extremely kinetic on the other.” He knew that when Banner was being hunted— whether in the favelas of South America or the streets of Manhattan—he could “cut to him, and it’ll be calm as he’s trying to regain control. Then he won’t be able to hold it in, and Banner will just explode and Hulk out at any moment.”
The filmmakers took advantage of a number of locales in and around Rio de Janeiro. Filming portions of THE INCREDIBLE HULK in Brazil brought a look to the movie that could not have been achieved by a majority-set shoot. Some of the most vibrant sequences were filmed in the hillside favela of Tavares Bastos, a winding maze of narrow back alleys and steep steps that offered a spectacular backdrop for the elaborately staged sequence at the beginning of the film—in which Banner attempts to escape from Ross’ commandos.
In addition to shooting main and second-unit action sequences in Tavares Bastos, scenes were also filmed in a number of other locations in the storied city, including the older, colonial neighborhoods of Lapa and Santa Teresa. The team took advantage of its close proximity to Tijuca Forest, the world’s largest urban rainforest, to lens breathtaking ground and aerial sequences.
During preproduction scouting trips to Brazil, Petruccelli meticulously researched the look and design of the favelas in order to re-create on a Toronto soundstage the interior of Banner’s Rio apartment. “Because we were going to be filming in Brazil, it was even more important that our constructed interior set have the same details and textures to give a smooth transition between what was shot on location and what was shot on stage,” Petruccelli says. “The favelas are so individual—a little plaster here, a brick there, vivid colors or no color at all. They are very organic.”
Leterrier found the favelas, with their endless stairways and 3.5’ pathways quite the bustling “ant farm.” The director remembers, “It’s a little difficult to shoot in the favelas. But with the right favela people knowing we were doing everything to not abuse or destroy the space, but respecting it and making it shine to the world, we were fine. People have a really bad impression of what a favela is; it’s actually very clean, with a sewer system, some electricity, video clubs, rental video places and hairdressers. It’s a town within a town.” And to his alternate delight and chagrin, they were in the middle of Brazil’s rainy season, which was good for the dark mood of the film, bad for the cast and crew’s interest in staying dry.