Motion-capture apes overran cineplexes this year. Photo-realistic animated worlds teemed with fighting pandas and an adventurous young reporter. But one of 2011’s most jaw-dropping sequences comes courtesy of the human special-effect himself, Tom Cruise, and the craftspeople behind director Brad Bird’s “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” which opens Dec. 21. In it, Cruise’s spy Ethan Hunt and his squad (Jeremy Renner as Brandt, Paula Patton as Jane Carter and Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn) find themselves in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa — the world’s tallest building. Complications force Hunt to travel several stories above the team’s 119th floor command center — from outside the building — using electronic gloves that allow him to climb glass. The dizzying experience is made all the more vertigo-inducing by being shot in Imax. And, yes, that really is Cruise doing the climbing. Here’s a breakdown of how that scene came together, with script excerpts by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec.
EXT. BURJ KHALIFA — DAY
Brandt cranes his head skyward, looking at the behemoth building he’s under. It seems to go up forever.
Stunt coordinator Gregg Smrz: We were in meetings, and they said, “Tom’s not going to climb that building. The studio will never allow that.” I said, “Tom’s going to climb the building, I guarantee it.” When you’re on top and you look out, people are going to think it’s CG [computer generated], and it’s not. You have to see it to believe it.
EXT. BURJ KHALIFA — 119TH FLOOR — DAY
A window panel is removed and pulled inside the room by Brandt and Benji. Ethan picks up the gloves. Coproducer, visual effects producer Tom Peitzman: Special mounts had to be made for the 65-millimeter Imax cameras, special safety had to be put in place, because in a building that’s 800 meters tall [it’s 2,723 feet], you couldn’t run the risk of anything falling. Even all of us who are working inside the building, we all had to harness ourselves because the window was open. Being in a building that high, it almost gave you the sense you were in an airplane, watching Tom Cruise outside, actually doing it.
Smrz: We spent hundreds of hours trying to figure out, how are we going to climb this glass and make it look real. In Prague, we had a [replica] section of the building brought over from Dubai and built it on stage. We knew the temperature of the glass and where the sun was going to be on the day of our filming, and we put 50-foot-tall lights on a rheostat so we could adjust them so it was like the sun.
Actor, producer Tom Cruise: We were dealing with a lot of issues — not only the height issue but also the temperature issues and the winds. It can get so hot up there that it could burn me, so we had to really play with different kinds of rubber, different kinds of materials with the wardrobe. A sequence like this, with the amount of manpower and craftsmanship it takes — and also, athletically, what it takes — even for training as we’re trying to figure how we’re going to do it, it’s pretty intense. And then the aesthetics, how it’s going to look.
Originally appeared in the L.A. Times December 6, 2011 By: Michael Ordoña, Special to the Los Angeles Times