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“Dark Knight Rises” Swoops Into Carnegie Mellon Chemistry Building


On August 3, Pittsburgh news outlet WPXI captured this footage of Batman and villain Bane fighting on the steps of Gotham City Hall (aka The Mellon Institute) during the filming of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Pittsburgh.

Carnegie Mellon University chemists experienced a taste of showbiz last week, when filming for the hotly-anticipated third installment of the “Batman” movie franchise took over the lobby of their building as well as the surrounding area.

The Mellon Institute, the imposing Greek-columned edifice that houses chemistry and biology at Carnegie Mellon, doubled as Gotham City Hall in an action-packed shoot for the movie, to be titled “The Dark Knight Rises”, according to local newspaper the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (The Post-Gazette has comprehensive Batman coverage). The multi-day affair saw pyrotechnics, fake snow, and a massive brawl encompass the historic building and the street. The production crew and the university set out to film the movie with as little interruption to research as possible. But when the battle between good and evil is being played out in your backyard, it’s hard not to notice things that are a little out of the ordinary. “I turned around the corner coming from my lab, and I see these guys in orange jumpsuits carrying submachine guns,” says Stefan Bernhard, an inorganic chemist who studies luminescent materials. “The next day it was police officers-again with a bunch of submachine guns.”

“This has become the new normal– people running around with guns.”

Even though the operation, codenamed “Magnus Rex”, was supposed to be shrouded in secrecy, footage has been making its way to YouTube, posted both by local media outlets and Batman fans staked out near the set.

Chemists have some of the best vantage points for catching a glimpse of the Caped Crusader. “From our window we can see the scenes that are being shot outside the building,” Tomasz Kowalewski, who studies nanostructured materials, told C&EN August 5th. “There are a lot of fight scenes with big crowds of extras, and yesterday they were shooting a scene with Catwoman,” he said.

According to Kowalewski, a garage across the street from the building, also part of the set, was outfitted with elaborate doors. Huge cranes were employed to light up the building’s interior courtyards. “It’s a major operation- the whole area around the Mellon Institute is full of trucks, trailers, tents for extras– it looks very different,” Kowalewski says.

Reminders were posted throughout the building asking researchers to avoid the lobby, to minimize noise, and to stay away from windows during filming. Gawkers can ruin a shot if cameras are panning through the windows, Kowalewski explains.

Carnegie Mellon isn’t the only Pittsburgh location for “Dark Knight Rises” filming. The Post-Gazette reported that the production also took over Heinz Field, Pittsburgh’s football stadium, for a scene that required thousands of extras. Some Carnegie Mellon chemistry students were chosen for the scene, Kowalewski says.

As far as Bernhard is concerned, “The Dark Knight Rises” will be a must-see when it premieres in 2012. 2010′s “The Dark Knight” sealed his status as a fan of the franchise, he says. “The message of the last ‘Batman’ film, highlighting a psychological conundrum, was actually pretty profound.”

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