By Ron Magid, Special to The Times Building a believable oil rig that actually erupts before catching fire was only half the challenge faced by special effects supervisor Steve Cremin on Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood." The other 50% was making it environmentally safe. Cremin's previous gusher, for the 2005 Gulf War film "Jarhead," provided the template -- with one big difference. "This time, we had to have oil coming out that wasn't burning, which then ignited on-camera," he says. The derrick was constructed in Marfa, Texas, close to where James Dean's "Giant" did its own drilling. Back then, it was common to shoot gasoline skyward then light it at the director's command. These days, what goes up better not come down. "The Texas Environmental Quality people tested the soil for a baseline before shooting; afterwards, they came back to verify that we had not added any gas to the soil. If the air and fuel mixture becomes too rich, unburned fuel will fall on the ground. Spilled gas requires a toxic cleanup. That's a no-no." The trick is to achieve 100% burn -- easy with a 3-inch propane torch, not so easy if your fire must dwarf an 80-foot derrick. "Gallons of gas might not ignite. Everything that goes up the pipe has to burn or you get shut down," Cremin says. Here's how he created the scene without drawing environmental ire.
Francois Duhamel / Paramount Vantage
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