The Lone Ranger builds Western sets filming on location in New Mexico
Disney’s big-budget feature production of The Lone Ranger built Western sets for extensive filming in New Mexico. Based on the classic 1950s TV series, the film features Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as Ranger John Reid.
Among the production’s major set builds were Colby and Promontory Summit, built at Rio Puerco about 40 miles west of Albuquerque. Colby was a fictional Western creation comprising 12 full-size structures and five miles of railroad track. Promontory Summit, on the other hand, was based on a historic location where the Union Pacific and Central Pacific trains met when the Transcontinental Railroad was finished in the mid-19th Century.
Production designer Mark ‘Crash’ McCreery also built a classic Americana farmstead – the home of Ranger John Reid – along with a moveable ‘tent town’ dubbed ‘Hell on Wheels’. This was a carnival-style mobile settlement that houses workers as they follow the construction of the railroad and was inspired by real moveable settlements of the era.
The railroad itself was a crucial element of the shoot as it was the setting for several of the film’s major stunt set pieces. An initial plan to use existing tracks was reconsidered when the scale of required upgrades was revealed and it turned out usage would have to be shared with a local mining company. Instead the production team decided to lay their own track and build a pair of 250-ton trains. Ostensibly steam-powered, they were merely fitted with smoke and steam effects. The real power came from hidden hydraulics and diesel motors and they had a computer for a driver.
When you see the rigs working their way down a highway, almost one hundred feet long and followed by support vehicles and police cars behind them, it’s breathtaking.
Armie Hammer, Co-Star
“We built them, just as we built several full-size ships for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies,” says producer Jerry Bruckheimer: “There’s no substitute for reality and given what we needed to do with those trains, the real thing was the only way to go.”
Stunt filming on the trains themselves was a logistical challenge that involved having actors, stunt personnel and cameras operating safely on the roof. Special platforms had to be mounted on one side to accommodate Technocrane camera rigs and then water barrels were fitted opposite to act as counterweight ballast to stop the train tipping over with the lopsided weight of the cameras.
“We never did anything on those trains slower than 30 miles per hour and usually somewhere around 40 miles per hour,” explains stunt supervisor Tommy Harper: “We put special tracks on the top of the train cars so that the stunt players could run along the top, but always tethered to the train on a limit line - which you can’t see - so that if something should happen, they wouldn’t fall off.”
“When you see the rigs working their way down a highway, almost one hundred feet long and followed by support vehicles and police cars behind them, it’s breathtaking,” marvels star Armie Hammer: “After about an hour of shooting, all the townspeople are lined up on the side of the road, never having seen anything like it. Just the magnitude of it is amazing.”
The New Mexico Film Office assisted with regional production logistics and interiors were also filmed at Albuquerque Studios. Additional shooting included three weeks in Creede, Colorado, an historic town that was built up from the mid-19th Century around silver mining. The team built a set of the film’s Sleeping Man Mine location that was designed to blend in with the town’s historic architecture.
We’re in the real locations, not using a lot of CGI. In a lot of films these days, the environments are artificially created. This is the real deal.
Jerry Bruckheimer, Producer
“It’s really authentic,” Bruckheimer notes: “Just a beautiful part of Colorado. But to get all our equipment here wasn’t easy, including an entire train. It’s never easy in small towns to move around and find housing for this big of a company. But when you see the picture, you’ll see the authenticity, and that’s what’s wonderful about this movie. We’re in the real locations, not using a lot of CGI. In a lot of films these days, the environments are artificially created. This is the real deal.”
The Lone Ranger is out in the UK from 9 August 2013.
(Production photos: Peter Mountain/Disney Enterprises/Jerry Bruckheimer; Aerial set photo courtesy of Mark Indig)
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