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Immersed in Movies: Recreating Iconic Ebbets Field for Jackie Robinson Biopic '42'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood April 12, 2013 at 4:05PM

Getting Ebbets Field just right as the legendary home of the Brooklyn Dodgers was the greatest challenge for production designer Richard Hoover on "42," the stirring biopic about Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) as Major League Baseball's first African-American. It's both an arena and a battleground for Robinson's crusade in 1947 to fight racial prejudice and prove his greatness as a baseball player. But without digital enhancement they never could've made us believe we were there.
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'42'
'42'

Getting Ebbets Field just right as the legendary home of the Brooklyn Dodgers was the greatest challenge for production designer Richard Hoover on "42," the stirring biopic about Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) as Major League Baseball's first African-American. It's both an arena and a battleground for Robinson's crusade in 1947 to fight racial prejudice and prove his greatness as a baseball player. But without digital enhancement they never could've made us believe we were there.

"The first thing we had to do was figure out what Ebbets Field was in a planned view and then continue an investigation in more detail," explains Hoover, who previously collaborated with "42" director Brian Helgeland on the gritty "Payback" "We were able to find scanned drawings and conjured various approaches. The best and most cost-effective approach was building a digital green screen from scratch, 1,200 feet long and 40-feet high and we could rely on VFX [from Hammerhead and overseen by production VFX supervisor Jamie Dixon] to handle the outfield and some of the infield.

"Fortunately, we discovered a stadium in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Engel Stadium, which was in disrepair. It's one of the oldest existing ballparks [where Robinson actually played], and we were encouraged to use it to help energize the community to renovate it someday. We laid our Ebbets Field over that with a little bit of digital cheating. The Ebbets infield was on a piece of property that had an 80-degree angle and came to a point. So we took one of the sides of our existing stadium, which was 90 degrees, and rebuilt it out of wood and angled it in. Ebbets was very intimate and we wanted to make sure that we delivered that accurately and have a sense that you're really at the game."

This article is related to: Immersed In Movies


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.