Oscars: How 'Imitation Game' Team Re-Created the Turing Machine

"Our version of the machine had to look convincing," says production designer Maria Djurkovic
Jack English/The Weinstein Company

This story first appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Long before Steve Jobs and Bill Gates changed the world of computing, Alan Turing designed a machine to crack Germany's Enigma code during World War II and became a computing pioneer himself. The Weinstein Co.'s period thriller The Imitation Game, which opens Nov. 28, tells the story of Turing, and one of the film's biggest challenges was re-creating Turing's machine.

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Production designer Maria Djurkovic and her team conducted extensive archival research and photographed and measured a replica of the machine at the U.K.'s Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, the site of the code-breaking effort, which is now a museum.

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"Our version of the machine had to look convincing," explains Djurkovic. "All the dials had to turn and move in a sequential order as the real machine did." But the original machine was encased in a rather ordinary-looking box, so she and director Morten Tyldum decided to reveal its inner workings. "[The version we built] is probably about two feet taller than the real thing, but the front and back panel are actually quite accurate, except that we made it visually as interesting as possible," says Djurkovic. "I chose the colors of the dials. The real machine does have red wires coming out of it, and we considerably enhanced the number of red cables." The cables, adds producer Ido Ostrowsky, "gave you the feeling of it being alive and sort of pumping blood through its veins."

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Sound also was critical. "Morten described the idea of a thousand knitting needles creating a deafening racket," says supervising sound editor Lee Walpole. To achieve that, Walpole recorded the sound made by the Bletchley Park replica, plus sounds of period Enigma machines and paper-tape readers. "We also gained access to The National Museum of Computing, where we recorded the Heath Robinson and the Colossus [another machine the Germans used during World War II], which broke the Lorenz cipher," says Walpole. "That gave us a genuine palette of appropriate period machine sounds, which we were able to utilize to add layers and enrich the sound."