How Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One made a sentient palace

Production designer Gary Freeman reveals how it was done

By Gabriella Geisinger 19 Jul 2023

How Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One made a sentient palace
Mission Impossible; Cr: Paramount

Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One has a lot to recommend itself to those with a keen eye for below the line talent. From its stunts to its score, the seventh in the series has won over critics and fans alike.

In an interview with The Credits, Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One production designer Gary Freeman discussed how he made an AI-sentient palace, one of the key physical spaces in the film.

The scene takes place at Doge’s Palace, a sprawling 14th-century landmark built with a Venetian gothic flair.  

A big bash is being held in Italy, but in reality the party lends cover for the various ne'er-do-well-ers who want to trade in the sentient AI that will give them ultimate power over global governments, economy, and media. 

To achieve the sense of inevitability, the palace itself had to be under AI control too, Freeman said. 

“We wanted it to have a feeling of horror about it,” said Freeman in creating the mood. “But on the flip side, we wanted to embrace the glamor, colour, and beauty of Venice.”

According to The Credits, the process involved scanning the surface of the massive palace, on which you overlay video, graphics, etc., giving the impression that they are painted on.

The inside of the palace was recreated as a set. Freeman said: “We only had limited time to work there because it’s such a prolific monument,. We would prep for two hours in the evening before shooting the rest of the night. And because of the way Chris and Tom like to work, we had to build a safe set for them on a stage."

The interior set was made with polystyrene, covered in a silver material that gave them the option of lighting it in whatever colours they chose. 

Freeman found a company in Istanbul that made digital artwork with the ability to adapt to its environment. "It’s a type of artificial intelligent artwork,” he said. “I contacted them and asked if, instead of it being a learning piece of artwork if they could rewrite it so it could be a repeatable piece of artwork to give us continuity in our coverage. Chris [McQuarrie, director]loved the idea as it felt like the room was being controlled by The Entity.”

The key was then to convince the audience that the set is actually the palace, so the viewing experience is seamless. "It’s always about convincing the audience that they are at the location even though we might be on a soundstage in London. We built everything as financially large as we could, so it felt like the two worlds were the same. We forged detail for scale, and for me, that’s always the mantra."

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