The SHIELD base in The Avengers‘ opening sequence was filmed at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School outside Albuquerque — quite a stark contrast between a school and a top secret organization’s headquarters. SHIELD’s headquarters were expanded with two other real-life locations: the Space Power Facility at NASA’s Plum Brook Station and the Creekside Mushroom Farm in Pennsylvania. The use of real-life locations, like the SHIELD headquarters at a real high school, adds a sense of movie magic to the MCU, compared to studio sets and green screens.

An important MCU location from The Avengers couldn’t be more different from its real-life counterpart. Phase 1 established the foundations for every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and films such as Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers continue to influence the franchise to this day. The Avengers, especially, laid the foundations for the MCU’s crossover events, providing the template for the Avengers’ MCU team-ups with the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ first world-saving mission.

Massive MCU movies like Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: No Way Home may have overshadowed early entries like 2012’s The Avengers, but that doesn’t mean the franchise’s trailblazing movies were inferior in any way. The Avengers attained the impressive achievement of bringing together the original six Avengers from their respective solo movies, and it raised the bar for superhero movies ever since. Not only was The Avengers a hit due to its ambitious concept, but it also succeeded due to its execution.

The Avengers featured exciting set pieces that have withstood the test of time. The SHIELD helicarrier, Stark Tower, and the Avengers’ Battle of New York — which recreated Manhattan digitally in order to depict it as an apocalyptic battleground — were only some of the movie’s memorable locations. Curiously enough, the scenes taking place in the SHIELD headquarters during The Avengers‘ opening sequence were filmed at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School outside Albuquerque. The book The Art Of Marvel’s The Avengers explains how the crew transformed a real-life high school into the top-secret base of a sci-fi organization:

Turning an operating high school’s campus into the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility — complete with helipad — required many custom rigs for on-camera lighting containing thousands of LEDs. They had to be able to withstand rotor wash from the choppers.”

Related: Loki Completely Flips The Avengers Origin 11 Years After The Battle Of New York

Why The Avengers Real-Life SHIELD Setting Makes It Even More Impressive

The SHIELD base in The Avengers‘ opening sequence looks nothing like a regular high school. However, it’s not only the addition of a fake helipad, creative camera angles, and VFX tweaks used to make it look bigger and more isolated. The large number of heavily-armored vehicles and suited-up extras rushing to evacuate the base also does a lot of the work. Besides, The Avengers connects this practical set with the real-life Space Power Facility at NASA’s Plum Brook Station, which is where the Tesseract is studied in the movie. Afterward, Loki escapes through SHIELD’s underground tunnels, which were filmed at the Creekside Mushroom Farm in Pennsylvania.

There’s a certain sense of movie magic in the use of real-life locations like the ones used for SHIELD’s HQ in The Avengers, as opposed to studio backlots and indoor sets enhanced with green screens and Marvel’s traditional use of VFX . For instance, it’s easy to connect the dots while visiting the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia, which served as the filming location for the Avengers compound in Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s harder to map out the same location in Avengers: Endgame, where it was destroyed during the Battle of Earth and therefore had to be shot in a studio in its entirety.

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