Man of Steel films Superman adventure on location in Illinois and British Columbia
Man of Steel tells Superman’s origin story as the baby Kal-El is sent from Krypton to Earth and then, as an adult, is pitted against the ruthless General Zod. Director Zack Snyder filmed on location across British Columbia in western Canada, and in Illinois.
“The main locations for Man of Steel were Plano, Illinois, for Smallville, Chicago for Metropolis, Vancouver, Vancouver Island and Blackcomb for Alaska and the Arctic, and Edwards Air Force Base [in California],” recalls Supervising Location Manager Bill Doyle: “The search for Smallville hinged on having a city we liked for Metropolis nearby.”
An abundance of military hardware made Edwards Air Force Base a sensible choice for some of the choice action sequences (“At one point at Edwards we were told we had over a billion dollars worth of military equipment in one shot,” Doyle marvels), while Chicago became Metropolis for a three-week location shoot at landmark locations like Willis Tower and Union Station. The city had already stood in for Gotham in Christopher Nolan’s first two Batman films – Nolan has story and producer credits on Man of Steel – and the Windy City now welcomed Superman’s latest incarnation.
Searching for Smallville, the rural Americana town where Clark Kent spends his formative years on Earth, the production team needed somewhere that was within easy reach of Chicago. They scouted 70 potential locations nearby and the town of Plano proved the complete package they were looking for.
“Plano's first advantage was that it was within one hour of our Metropolis,” Doyle explains: “It had a classic Main Street, right down to the train station in the middle of town. Plano's Main Street was bypassed when the highway came through town in the 60s, so the heavy traffic that comes with that was kept a few blocks away.”
The biggest challenge was taking complete control of a town of 10,000 ... and then of course we blew it to hell and back, repeatedly!
Bill Doyle, Supervising Location Manager
“The biggest challenge, I think, was taking complete control of a town of 10,000. Virtually closing all of downtown for three weeks and then surrounding the entire area with an eight-foot-high privacy fence. We essentially turned it into a back lot. And then of course we blew it to hell and back, repeatedly!”
Extensive negotiations were needed to make sure all the affected local businesses were happy with the arrangements. Sets were built on some conveniently-placed parking lots that were then destroyed as in-camera effects during the shoot to lend added realism to the tone of the film’s action sequences.
“Most of our Smallville-related locations were also either in Plano or in the surrounding towns of Oswego and Yorkville, including the Kent Farm,” Doyle adds.
Studio work was all undertaken in Vancouver in British Columbia, which Snyder was already familiar with. Additional location filming also took place in the surrounding region, including on Vancouver Island, which is separated from the North American mainland by a slither of water known as the Georgia Strait.
The Vancouver Island North Film Commission helped the production team liaise with native First Nation communities in the region and also helped with location scouting and extras casting. Places like Ucluelet on the west coast proved a useful double for the story’s more remote areas and were dressed to resemble arctic locales. Months of preparation culminated in a one-week location shoot.
“The production converted Ucluelet's main street into an Alaskan fishing village,” reveals Joan Miller of the Vancouver Island North Film Commission: “Ucluelet's authenticity as a working fishing village was the look the director and production designer envisioned.”
Doyle enjoys recalling the reactions of the Mayor of Plano and various city officials when they found out the film they had agreed to host was in fact Man of Steel: “Each face was a mixture of surprise, shock and disbelief. But each and every person there also couldn't hold back a laugh and a smile. And that is how they remained until the end of the shoot, when I drove out of town headed to Vancouver: surprise, shock and a smile!”
(Man of Steel stills courtesy of Clay Enos/Warner Bros Entertainment/Legendary Pictures. Plano photo courtesy of Bill Doyle)
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