NM locations star in 'Transcendence' - Albuquerque Journal

NM locations star in ‘Transcendence’

Joy Junction. Belen. Downtown Albuquerque. Rio Puerco.

They are a few of the locations that were transformed last summer for the $120 million science fiction film “Transcendence,” set to open Friday nationwide.

Starring Johnny Depp, the movie marks the first time Wally Pfister steps out as director of a film. Pfister is an Oscar winner in cinematography and worked on “Inception” and the “Dark Knight” movies.

Actor Johnny Depp, left, and director Wally Pfister talk in between scenes shot at Rio Puerco for the film "Transcendence." (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)
Actor Johnny Depp, left, and director Wally Pfister talk in between scenes shot at Rio Puerco for the film “Transcendence.” (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

“Transcendence” follows Dr. Will Caster, played by Depp, the foremost researcher in the field of artificial intelligence, who works to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known about the full range of human emotions.

The controversial experiments also have made him a prime target of anti-technology extremists who are trying to stop him. He is shot and is dying. But first, his brain is uploaded – and his thirst for knowledge evolves into a terrifying quest for power.

“As we define it for the film, singularity is basically the uploading of the human brain into a supercomputer: The duplication of every synapse, every neuron … every bit of activity in the brain goes into a machine, which then becomes sentient,” Pfister says.

The film also stars Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman, Cole Hauser and Kate Mara. Filmed in Los Angeles, as well as New Mexico, the movie takes place in a variety of settings. From the urban streets of Berkeley, Calif., to a dying desert town and a forested mountain hideout, Chris Seagers, production designer, worked closely with Pfister.

Pfister says Downtown Albuquerque also doubled for some scenes in Berkeley and some of the businesses on Gold Street were transformed into Berkeley-type businesses.

“We had a fantastic crew comprised of artists who were all very interested in the subject matter and excited to be part of it,” Pfister says. “My experience has made me appreciate streamlined sets married with interesting visual effects and an overall naturalistic style, and they were able to create exactly what I’d envisioned.”

The set Pfister refers to is a compound in the fictional remote desert town of Brightwood, called the Brightwood Data Center. The underground facility is where the ever-evolving Caster is able to continually expand his scope of knowledge, accessing and merging with every hard drive in the world.

The set was created on stages in Albuquerque and, according to Seagers, required long corridors to accommodate Pfister’s vision.

Luckily, much of what they needed was already there.

“Wally wanted something that felt both not of this world, but not purely science fiction either,” Seagers says. “The stages off I-25 in New Mexico were perfect because they had low ceilings and very flat concrete floors, and very, very long corridors – one was 300 feet long – so we could shoot everything practically, which he likes to do as much as possible.”

The exterior of Brightwood was filmed in Belen, where Seagers’ team constructed five buildings and a number of trailer homes.


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