Without question, the design centerpiece of the film was the actual time machine, which Parkes says, "is a direct descendent of the time machine in the first movie, down to the handcrafted leather barber's chair. It was very important for us to honor certain aspects of George Pal's movie, but none more so than the time machine itself."

Simon Wells acknowledges, "We all have a great affection for that first movie, so from my earliest meetings with Oliver Scholl it was a given that we had to have spinning discs. All time machines have to have spinning discs," he smiles. "We experimented with a number of different materials. Then I remembered that in the original book the Time Traveler is referred to as a professor of physical optics, which inspired the idea of using fresnel lenses-the kind used in lighthouses-to form refractive petals."
Wells then turned over the approved concept sketches and illustrations to computer designer Tim Wilcox, who was able to render a fully three-dimensional digital model in the computer, which could be seen from different angles, and could show how the movement might work.
Taking it from the virtual to the practical, model makers Dana Juricic and Andrew Jones then crafted a scale model of the time machine, which was used to refine the design, and work out surface textures, how the pieces would fit together, and how an actor might fit in the machine. Any modifications were passed back to Wilcox who adapted them into his digital model of the time machine. From there, set designer Darrell Wight produced the final blueprints, adding period detailing and consistency to the design, so that special effects supervisor Matt Sweeney and his team could turn form into function.

"It was very involved because there are a tremendous amount of working parts in it," Sweeney describes. "There are probably a dozen separate controls for different electric motors. The engine alone has three different motors to make it work. There are electric actuators to make the petals go in and out, as well as the main motor that counter-rotates the two discs, top and bottom."

When it was completed, the time machine stood 10 feet, 6 inches high, and weighed in at approximately 6,000 pounds, but its impact on the cast and filmmakers was immeasurable. "I don't think anything prepared us for finally seeing the actual time machine," Wells states. "It was one of those occasions when tears come to your eyes. It was three tons of aluminum and polycarbonate, but it sure looked like brass and glass. It was beautiful and just awe inspiring."

The inspiration was especially felt by Guy Pearce, who would be the one to actually step into the machine. "As an actor, you do to a certain extent rely on your costumes, your makeup, your give you added insight into your character. The first time I saw the time machine up and running, it gave me an incredible sense of Alexander's ambition...the genius of this man."

In truth, however, they were only part of the way there. Somehow they had to convey how this Victorian machine manages to transport Alexander through time. Wells comments, "We determined that the time machine generates a sphere that becomes a self-contained area of time. The essence of the time machine is that it stays in one place and the world changes around it. It only travels through time, not through space."

The computer generated time sphere was created by the visual effects team, headed by visual effects supervisor James E. Price. "At a certain point, the discs have to rotate at a rate that can't be achieved practically. We took over and created a digital version of the blades, which could spin at a much higher rate. Once they were at a maximum we formed a CG light sphere that cocoons Alexander as he travels through time," Price says.

The effects artists at Digital Domain handled the time-lapse images that visually mark Alexander's passage through time. One of those sequences was especially important to screenwriter John Logan. "When I mentioned to anyone that I was writing 'The Time Machine,' the one constant comment was that we had to keep the dress shop, so the memorable dress shop, with its changing hemlines, is us tipping our hat once again to the wonderful George Pal."

More dramatic and far more challenging to the effects group was the journey through 8,000 centuries, in which we see vast geological and ecological changes to the earth on a grand scale.

For the filmmakers, remaking "The Time Machine" begs the question: If a time machine really did exist, would you go?

"Not me," says Logan, stating, "As a writer, I would rather imagine it than do it. Dreaming about the future is a real human need; I wouldn't want to lose that by seeing the reality. Time travel may well be coming someday, but I won't be taking the ride."

Guy Pearce shares his trepidation. "I really don't know what I would do. I guess we can't learn anything until we venture. But isn't one better off venturing into the depths of the present moment where life unfolds naturally, and the future and the past remain in their true form-illusion?"

"For me, this question always brings up the eternal time travel paradox: If you went back in time and strangled your grandmother, you wouldn't be born, so you couldn't go back and strangle your grandmother...," Simon Wells muses. "Even if you could travel back in time, you can't alter the things that have happened to you because they are what made you who you are, and that, in turn, informs the decisions you will make in your future." "I think time travel challenges one of the basic tenets of our existence," Walter Parkes reflects, "which is that we live in the present. I think that fearfulness would ultimately keep me off of the time machine, but, as the Uber-Morlock tells Alexander, we all have time machines. The ones that take us back are called memories and the ones that take us forward are called dreams. Maybe somewhere in there is the elusive thing that makes us fascinated with time travel."


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The Time Machine Project 1998 Don Coleman
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