Men In Black 3: New York–1969 Vs. 2012

Four-time Oscar nominee Bo Welch, who designed the previous two Men In Black films, returns for thirds. “The film is set in New York, which has always considered itself the center of the universe as we know it,” he says with a wink. “The irony is that it turns out New York is the center of a larger universe where aliens come and go, migrating across several galaxies.”

And why not? “New York has a vibe to it that I think would allow aliens to feel right at home,” says Sonnenfeld. “To this day, when I walk through Times Square and I see some of the people, I go, ‘Mmmm, Not human. That’s an alien.’”

The MIB films are always a challenge for production design, pushing the boundaries of reality while staying within the realm of the possible, but Welch would have an additional challenge this time around as he would have to design two worlds, one taking place in 2012 and another in 1969.

As the conceit is that the MIB have remained in the same space for over 40 years–with that space updated with the times–Welch created the 2012 MIB headquarters set for the scenes in the first act, then, during the film’s holiday hiatus, re-dressed the entire set for 1969. “We changed basically every square inch,” he says.

Upon their return for the first day of filming, the actors were in for a pleasant surprise. “I walked into the 1969 headquarters and it was like magic,” says Smith. “Bo has been able to create and re-create that quintessential Men In Black look. I’m happy to be on his team.”

Among the additions to the 1969 HQ are a couple of vast rooms containing an acre of Univac computers and the MIB neuralyzer.

In keeping with the rest of the tone of the film, Welch says he never went for an obvious laugh. “I’m not designing things to be humorous. They just happen to be funny,” he says. “I tried to put myself in 1969 and ask myself, ‘What would it really be like?’ If you stay too far ahead, you haven’t capitalized on the joy and fun of time travel. I take my cues from the material and, in this case, 1969 gives you a huge, deep vast mine of inspiration to generate the props, the sets, the weapons, the vehicles.”

Apollo 11 Moon Launch, July 11, 1969

A major set piece for Welch that required close interaction with VFX supervisor Ken Ralston is the Apollo 11 moon launch of July 16, 1969. “I see a lot of movies where the explosions and effect all feel very digital, sort of like a video game,” says Sonnenfeld. “For me, the best effects are the ones that you don’t even know that they are effects. That’s what Ken is so good at–his effects are all about reality. He watches the way I direct the scenes and works with Bill Pope, the cinematographer, and Bo, and we all work together, as a team, with a singular, unified viewpoint.”

Welch and property master Doug Harlocker also did their research into Andy Warhol’s Factory. “One thing Bo found was that Warhol put up aluminum foil in his place, so we did that, too,” says Harlocker. The propmaster also created pieces that reflected the high pop art aesthetic of the period. “They had interesting buffets that were more art than food, so we sculpted a large boar and put it on a bed of apples, as though it was bleeding fruit,” he says.

Re-creating New York in 1969 also required Welch’s and Ralston’s expertise. “New York has changed so much in the last 40 years,” says Welch. “We picked our locations carefully, and then augmented with dressing and signs.”

Rebuilding Shea Stadium

The filmmakers were also responsible for rebuilding Shea Stadium and presenting it in its glory days of 1969, and Harlocker was responsible for helping to give the stadium its authenticity: “Banners or pins from Shea Stadium, period Cracker Jack boxes, the proper kind of paper cup that beer was dispensed in – all of that we either had to generate or find through collectors.”