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"Minority Report" 

In Washington, D.C., in the year 2054, murder has been eliminated. The future is seen and the guilty punished before the crime has ever been committed. From a nexus deep within the Justice Department’s elite Pre-Crime unit, all the evidence to convict – from imagery alluding to the time, place and other details – is seen by “Pre-Cogs,” three psychic beings whose visions of murder have never been wrong.

It is the nation’s most advanced crime force, a perfect system. And no one works harder for Pre-Crime than its top man, Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise). Destroyed by a tragic loss, Anderton has thrown all of his passion into a system that could potentially spare thousands of people from the tragedy he lived through. Six years later, the coming vote to take it national has only fueled his conviction that Pre-Crime works.

Anderton has no reason to doubt it ... until he becomes its #1 suspect.

As the head of the unit, Anderton is the first to see the images as they flow from the liquid suspension chamber where the Pre-Cogs dream of murder. The scene is unfamiliar, the faces unknown to him, but this time, the killer’s identity is clear – John Anderton will murder a total stranger in less than 36 hours.

Now, with his own unit tracking his every move, led by his rival, Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell), Anderton must go below the radar of the state-of-the-art automated city, where every step you take is monitored, every car you drive can be controlled by someone else, and your own eyes tell the world who you are, what you want and where you’re going. Because you can’t hide, everybody runs.

With no way to defend himself against the charge of Pre-Crime, John must trace the roots of what brought him here, and uncover the truth behind the question he has spent the past six years working to eliminate: Is it possible for the Pre-Cogs to be wrong?

From Steven Spielberg comes a futuristic thriller Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise as a detective who must race to uncover the truth before he becomes a victim to the system he helped create. Written by Scott Frank (Out of Sight) and Jon Cohen, based on the short story “The Minority Report” by legendary author Philip K. Dick, the film is produced by Gerald R. Molen, Bonnie Curtis, Walter F. Parkes and Jan De Bont. Gary Goldman and Ronald Shusett are the executive producers. Buzz has been stirring for months already. Get in on it at the newsgroup rec.arts.movies.current-films .

With Minority Report, Spielberg and his team investigate the nature of crime, technology and destiny with both a sense of adventure and the inscrutable mystery reminiscent of classic noir films of the 1940s. “I want to tackle subjects I haven’t really tackled before,” the director explains. “I’m in a period in my life of experimentation and trying things that challenge me. Minority Report is really a mystery. It’s a who-done-it or who-will-do-it, and you’re along for the ride. It’s also a very human story, about a man who has lived through a tragedy and is working through it.”

Spielberg decided early on that he wanted the visual world of Minority Report to reflect essentially that which is around us every day – specifically Washington, D.C., where the story unfolds -- with pieces of the future peaking out. To aid in envisioning this future, Spielberg brought together the men and women helping to shape it. “I thought it would be a good idea to bring some of the best minds in technology, environment, crime fighting, medicine, health, social services, transportation, computer technology and other fields into one room to discuss what the future a half a century hence would be like,” Spielberg notes.

From M.I.T. scientists such as John Underkoffler to urban planners, architects, inventors, writers (such as Generation X author Douglas Coupland), the Think Tank came together at a hotel in Santa Monica, California, to hash out the social and technological details of our very near future during a three-day conference. Sitting in were the filmmakers, along with screenwriter Scott Frank, and production designer Alex McDowell and his team. “We sat around in a room and talked through the aspects of how society would be affected over a five-, ten-, twenty-, thirty-year period,” McDowell recalls, “what would change, what the trends were, and where they would logically end up. We knew that we would have to learn the answers to those issues we would have to go into a consumer environment.”

The conversations encompassed everything from advances in medicine, to how people would brush their teeth, to transportation, urban planning, architecture and art. “Steven wanted backgrounds that we were familiar with, that we could relate to, and within the context of the familiar have spectacular props,” notes producer Bonnie Curtis.

The gradual loss of privacy was a near unanimous prediction. “The reason is not so people can spy on you,” explains Frank, “but so they can sell to you. In the not too distant future, it is plausible that by scanning your eyes, your whereabouts will be tracked. They will keep track of what you buy, so they can keep on selling to you.”

“George Orwell’s prophecy really comes true, not in the twentieth century but in the twenty-first,” the director explains. “Big Brother is watching us now and what little privacy we have will completely evaporate in twenty or thirty years, because technology will be able to see through walls, through rooftops, into the very privacy of our personal lives, into the sanctuary of our families.”

Spielberg’s vision for Minority Report was devoid of the natural disasters and wars that shaped many other futuristic films. Notes McDowell, “The technology is benign and getting more and more efficient and serving the world better.” Offices would be entirely portable and personal technology like computers and phones would become built-in human accessories.

Generation X author Douglas Coupland dreamed up a number of products for the Washington D.C. of 2054, such as a sick-stick, a weapon that causes involuntarily vomiting, spray meat, and boosted cats, which have been engineered to grow to the same size as dogs.

Though the corporations would drive development, such technologies would naturally prove valuable to law enforcement – to find and track suspects and, by extension, catch them.

“Philip K. Dick was always interested in the consequences of technology and science,” comments M.I.T. science advisor John Underkoffler, who for 17 years has worked at the institute’s world-renowned Media Lab. “But Phil Dick took it past where most other people stopped, because he was one of the few people who understood that good science fiction is actually social science fiction. Technology is a reflection or an echo of what’s happening socially. Dick was interested in what the anthropological effect would be. I’m not sure if he ever passed a real judgment, but he was always asking. And that’s what makes him so great.”

Spielberg had similar aims in devising Minority Report. “Steven wants the audience to be split down the middle in their perception of this world,” says McDowell, “whether it’s a good world or a bad world, and not be black or white about it. He didn’t want the audience to think everything about this future world was evil or dystopic, but an extension of a world that we absolutely recognize.”

“We want the audience to take the technology we show them for granted by having so much of it in the movie,” says Spielberg, “so they can sit back and focus on the mystery.”

Fossil fuels have given way to the development of Magnetic-Levitation traffic system and while the potential to prevent murder is an optimistic one, it comes with a price. “To Steven’s credit, the world we have in the film is edgier and more realistically gray than the kind of utopian world imagined by futurists,” says Underkoffler. “And that’s always a more exciting place and a more interesting place for a story to unfold.”

The complex drama and action Spielberg conceived for the film demanded a number of large-scale believable sets and intimate synergy between all departments – from lighting to design to visual effects to the massive special effects and stunt sequences. Using both practical locations and soundstages at three major studios, Alex McDowell’s art department created preliminary sketches and storyboards that, once approved, gave way to Ron Frankel’s animatics from Pixel Liberation Front, a company which helped Spielberg and McDowell create 3D, moving storyboards to pre-visualize virtually every scene in the film, saving the production potentially millions of dollars in tests.

Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who has worked on every Spielberg film since 1993’s multiple-Oscar-winning Schindler’s List, points out that the large scale sets and visual effects required all departments to work closely together. “More than any other production I’ve been involved with, I would say this is the movie where all the departments collaborated the most,” he says. “We incorporated our own ideas to the sets in terms of lighting and how the camera is going to move. There are sequences where the camera moves through an entire house and that has to be designed to fulfill that kind of demand. So, to maintain coherence of the images and continuity of the lighting and visual style, we had to become involved in building the sets and working with wardrobe months in advance.”

Spielberg saw Minority Report as a noir film from the beginning. “I said to Janusz I wanted to make the ugliest, dirtiest movie I have ever made,” Spielberg remembers. “I want this movie to be dark and grainy, and to be really cold. This isn’t a warm adventure the way A.I. was. This is, rather, the rough and tumble, gritty world of film noir.”

Consequently, Kaminski and Spielberg worked to create a visual world that would mirror Anderton’s dark, emotional and psychological journey. “We wanted to create a world that feels realistic, kind of seedy, and full of shadows,” Kaminski describes. “We wanted it to be a dangerous world.”

To achieve this affect, Kaminski designed the lighting to allow for such elements as darker shadows and grainy skies, and used a bleach by-pass process in developing the film to desaturate the colors and create a grittier world. “Normally, when you develop the print, the film goes through a process in which the emulsion gets bleached out,” Kaminski explains. In skipping this process, “the highlights become much more severe in terms of not seeing any details. The blue skies get eliminated; the shadows become really dark; and the grain structure gets altered, making it grittier. The movie takes place in the future, but we wanted to create a world that feels realistic but also dangerous. Lighting the movie with heavy contrast and not allowing the viewers to see any details in the shadows, automatically creates a sense of danger.”

The main set pieces broke down into several sections – Anderton’s apartment, where we are first introduced to a device called the Mag-Lev, a network of magnetic “roads” for advanced magnetic cars running both horizontally and vertically throughout the city; Pre-Crime headquarters and the area called the Temple, where the Pre-Cogs are kept; and the Hall of Containment, the state-of-the-art suspension chamber where murderers are stacked end to end in pneumatic tubes. For both the Mag-Lev track and the cars, a synthesis between practical effects, real cars and functional models, and visual effects elements was essential.

Additional set pieces involve a car factory and tenement where elaborate stunt sequences would play out, Mall City, the Cyber Parlor, and finally, the private garden of Iris Hineman, which contains some very unusual flora.

Production designer Alex McDowell, whose previous work includes Fight Club and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, began his research as early as 1998. After participating in the Think Tank, he set to work creating and designing the plausible future reality in which Minority Report would unfold. “Steven was very clear about what worked and what didn't work for him,” says McDowell. “It tended always to veer away from a traditional, classical sci-fi vision. Anything that tended too much to the fantastic he steered us away from. It's an interesting challenge to try and really make a world that's as believable and real as possible.”

Scott Frank found McDowell and his team a constant source of inspiration throughout the development of the script and the various tweaks necessitated during production. “They had a whole Bible of the technology for me to work from,” he describes, “what the computers were going to look like, what the visuals were going to look like. So, I really wrote from that. More than anything else, they inspired me and came up with a lot of stuff that I then used to help tell the story. They really started thinking, if we were going to make this real, how would it work? How could we do this?”

Spielberg conceived a visual vocabulary that would communicate a believable future some fifty years from now, focusing on Washington, D.C. “We will still have the Washington Monument, the Rotunda of the Senate and the Capitol Building,” Spielberg comments. “There will still be a White House. There are great swatches of the District of Columbia that are not going to change in the next hundreds of year. But around that city are going to be the vestiges of the future architecture and technology, so I thought it was really nice to always return to a city that has the icon of the Washington Monument, or the Lincoln or Jefferson Memorials. It’s a touchstone to reality, and I think every time you see Washington D.C. it reminds you that this is happening in our world, in a real world just a little bit ahead of our time.”

“The film has been a great experience because of the range of sets and environments we’ve needed to create to satisfy the story,” continues McDowell. “Our future architecture is very diverse. At one extreme we’ve got the very traditional federal office building of Max von Sydow’s character and on the other, we’ve got Pre-Crime headquarters that, in the tradition of Frank Gehry, has been liberated from the square.”

Working with Spielberg, McDowell extrapolated that Washington, D.C. has evolved into three layers – the D.C. of monuments that does not change; an upscale, “bedroom community” across the Potomac where Anderton lives that has developed vertically; and the old part of the city that has not kept up with the technological advances afforded to the rich. “There’s a dark, decaying city which is where our tenement hotel, the alley chase and a significant part of the movie takes place,” he says.

The transportation in D.C. has been supplemented with a Mag-Lev (Magnetic Levitation) system based on magnetics. “Mag-lev, three dimensional system was based on a combination of taxi cabs and elevators, in the way that they are beginning to be released from their trappings and made free. It can take you wherever you want to go on command.” Adds Bonnie Curtis, “The Mag-Lev can go horizontally, vertically; it can spin; it can turn; and you sit in the middle and never spill your coffee.”

“The most futuristic thing about the movie, and maybe the most science fiction-y thing, is the look of the Mag-Lev systems,” Spielberg comments.

Spielberg and McDowell turned to Lexus and car designer Harald Belker, a visionary of multiple futures who worked on vehicles for Batman and Robin, Armageddon and numerous other films, to create the vehicles for Minority Report.

Pre-Crime headquarters was conceived as a building installed within the last ten years, and designed to be a statement about Pre-Crime. “Steven liked the idea that Pre-Crime is a transparent organization,” says McDowell. “It had nothing to hide. There was no hidden secret, and at the same time it's hiding the biggest secret of all, suspended above, in the egg. We conceived of the egg as this pebble dropping into a pond, and very early on came up with a spiral design that incorporated this expanding ripple that, at the same time, in the three-dimensional design expanded into a series of spirals.”

Very different from the egg containing the three Pre-Cogs is the monument dedicated to them outside the building. “The Pre-Cogs are unknown to the public completely,” says McDowell. “They've become these very idealized, almost godlike figures, because they're saving people from murder on a daily basis. Pre-Crime has encouraged this attitude. So, we wanted to come up with a Washington Federal-type sculpture that reflected the idea of the power of the three Pre-Cogs and at the same time had a kind of religious overtone. We had our own sculptors developing this and I think they have achieved something that's very close to a piece of art in the real world.”

Following McDowell’s lead, costume designer Deborah L. Scott designed the costumes according to imagined segments of a futuristic Washington, D.C. “There are three segments of society,” she explains. “There are the inner city people who can’t afford any luxuries. Then, there is a middle class, consumer-oriented strata made up of people who hang out at Mall City. And, finally, the traditionalists whose old money buys old things.”

For Pre-Crime officers, Scott referenced astronauts and Air Force pilots to “make the cops look like heroes,” she explains. For the Hall of Containment, where the murderers are incarcerated, she fitted the prisoners with costumes loosely based on NASA cooling suits with tubes and wires for life-support type.

One of Spielberg’s most imaginative set pieces was to take place in a tenement hotel. Spielberg consulted with cinematographer Kaminski, McDowell and visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar on how to accomplish one long take that follows robotic spiders from room to room until they locate who they’ve been programmed to identify as Anderton.

“Very early on, I showed Steven a foam core model of the tenement hotel” says McDowell. “Like most models, it didn’t have a roof on it, and within a few minutes, he said ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could do this in one overhead shot?’ So the crane now follows the action, follows the spiders and reveals piece by piece the action leading up to the spiders discovering Anderton. It was a tremendous challenge for the art department and the grip department but we were aided tremendously by Pixel Liberation Front’s animatics. Essentially, they converted the design into a 3D computer storyboard, so we were able to perfect the crane move before anything was ever shot.”

PLF created animatics not only for how the shot would appear on film, but also how the cranes, cameras, lighting and actors would move to accomplish the scene. “I wanted to do it all in one shot, looking straight down overhead, and I didn’t know if that shot was possible,” Spielberg comments. “So, I designed the shot with the computer guys on their software. They even showed me how to get the shot by actually putting the crane into the set, so on screen you have a pre-visualization of what the shot was going to look like.”

The visual effects challenges of Minority Report were not in the number of effects shots, but in the detailed elements and compositing of those elements that would need to be perfect to create a seamless representation of Spielberg’s vision. The 481 visual effects shots in the film were divided up, with the majority of the work going to San Rafael, CA-based Industrial Light & Magic, which has played a vital role in numerous Spielberg films.

For Minority Report, the ILM team, led by Scott Farrar (Oscar nominee for A.I. Artificial Intelligence) created vast interior environments using digital set extensions and their groundbreaking proprietary software to create 3D modeled people. Further, ILM was intent on matching Janusz Kaminski’s grainy and textured visual style. Farrar decided to shoot blue screen work on a very fine grain negative and degrade it to match the rest of the film. With the majority of the scenes taking place in broad daylight, the visual effects team had no place to hide.

One of the more complicated compositing sequences involved the master shots of the Mag-Lev
traffic system within within 21st century Washington, D.C. “This is a broad cityscape full of buildings, with rising steam and hundreds of cars, a tremendous number of elements,” says compositing supervisor Scott Frankel. Add to that racing cars and their drivers, shadows and reflections, and the only physical element of the shot -- Tom Cruise who, when Anderton’s car is recalled to Pre-Crime headquarters, must jump out of his own Mag-Lev vehicle and try to escape by leaping from car to car. “The blue screen element of Tom we shot against a blue screen,” says Frankel. “The rest is completely synthetic.”

Farrar shot aerial background plates of the Washington skyline, which then had to be augmented with touches of the city’s newer development. “The idea of Minority Report was to somehow combine old and new,” says Farrar. “The challenge was that no matter what we did, putting new buildings into pre-existing backgrounds, if you made it too fancy, too modern, too excessive, it stood out like a sore thumb. So, through Alex McDowell, and then our art director Alex Laurant, designing our futuristic buildings had to be pulled way back. We were trying to make it as gritty and real as possible. So, we’ve spent a lot of time trying to put the grit and texture of real city backgrounds into all the stuff that we’re putting into the foreground.”

The Hall of Containment sequences take place in a massive, 21st century “jail” in which the prisoners of Pre-Crime are kept in a coma-like state of suspended animation in which their crimes are played out on a continuous loop before their eyes. Spielberg and McDowell decided to use a nineteenth century prison model called a Pentopticon, which has a central tower surrounded by containment pods, that would have been converted into the Hall of Containment. “Layered on top of that old, hundred year old prison are these shiny, perfect tubes that are keeping these guys really in cold storage,” McDowell describes. “The image that Steven came up originally with was that it would be almost like Arlington Cemetery, and when Anderton walked in it would appear to be a space full of grave stones. And then Gideon reveals that in fact the gravestone was just a cap of a tube full of people. So there's this great moment when this field of gravestones suddenly rises up out of the ground and you realize that there's, you know, thousands of people stored in this enormous space, stacked one on top of each other.”

For ILM, the challenge was to take the actors and a minimal set and create not only the extended digital Hall, but each individual prisoner within each individual sled. “In the Hall of Containment, we have hundreds of people that have to be 3D because we’re going to see them from all different angles,” says Farrar.

To manually paint photo-realistic digital humans on that scale was not time or cost effective, so the production took a chance on software being developed by one of ILM’s engineers, Steve Sullivan, called 3D photo modeling.

Using 19 extras, the effects team set up 12 cameras photographing them from all different angles against a green screen. “Each camera has an outline and you can extract the person from the background create an outline,” says visual effects producer Dana Friedman. “The computer can then piece those outlines together and create a 3D model based on those pieces. Then, you use the textures of the photos and map that back onto the 3D model and voila. You have a 3D model that you can put anywhere.”

Each image had to then be variegated and inserted into each digitally-created containment sled, and composited together with the live action footage and other elements for the scene.

In addition to various wire removal, and adding flames and heat ripples from the jet packs, ILM worked with Michael Lantieri to create supporting footage for a giant hover craft used by the Pre-Crime team to arrive quickly at crime scenes. Though there was an actual physical hover craft built to scale, ILM made it fly, creating the floor and missing parts of the craft digitally. The team also created the fantasy images in the Cyber Parlor, where consumers live out their wildest dream, which provides Anderton with some key clues as he unravels the mystery. Other dazzling surprises include two digital face effects, and a peculiarly aggressive garden maintained by researcher Iris Hineman.

Minority Report appears to be a movie packed with adventure and amazing special effects. Oh, and the story actually sounds decent. :) Check it out on June 21, 2002!

 - by Ilana Rapp

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