The 'Ruins' temple of doom

Production entangled in challenges

The film team behind "The Ruins" thought they had it made.

On the surface, the movie had a simple premise: Five vacationers uncover Mayan ruins entangled with man-eating vines.

"It seemed self-contained and easy," producer Chris Bender recalled. "Find a hill, build a set on top of that, and shoot the entire movie there."

But finding that perfect hill — one that had forests, cliffs and rivers layered around it — turned out to be impossible. DreamWorks, the studio behind the movie, had decided to shoot in Australia, and while there were many perfect hills in the vast outback, none of them was practical: They were too remote, and getting actors, cameras and vehicles in was impossible or too costly.

The production decided to split the set into two parts — one would be the top of the temple/hill, the second would be the bottom, encompassing a jungle environment with a field leading up to the massive temple. The two parts then would be digitally connected to give the illusion of one whole.

The top set was build on private land near the Natural Arch in Springbrook National Park in Queensland, about 65 feet up from the ground. It was constructed to be a dirty, ancient temple with a shaft in the middle. The underneath was where the real action took place. The scaffolding structure housed the sound, camera crews and food services and was where the prosthetics team worked.

"If we had to race down to the ground for everything, it would have been prohibitive," Bender said. "It was like a self-contained outdoor stage, and all the departments were underneath it. It was really genius."

The set also was used for sweeping shots from a helicopter.

The helicopter shot the top of the hill, and the background — including the rest of the temple and hill — was created via VFX.

The second set, encompassing an area the size of a football field, was situated on Queensland's Mount Tambourine. The filmmakers found an area with ominous-looking trees and proceeded to build three-quarters of a Mayan pyramid, one large enough that the actors could climb.

"Ruins" bows April 4.
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