Rainbow was the world's first all digital film and was shot in high-definition video. Shot entirely with Sony's first Solid State Electronic Cinematography cameras and featuring over 35 minutes of digital image processing and visual effects, all post production, sound effects, editing and scoring were completed digitally. The Digital High Definition image was transferred to 35mm negative using Sony's Electron Beam Recorder for theatrical release.
Mike "Mikey" Bailey is a rambunctious 10-year-old living in Hudson Harbour, New Jersey. His notable family members include his grandfather Frank, a magician; mother Jackie; and older brother Steve who is a loner and wishes to join a local street gang. Mike encounters a stray dog who he names Mutt, who leads him to a spot where he seemingly witnesses a rainbow actually land. He tells his friends Pete and Tessy of his encounter and takes them to the landing site, but they do not believe his claims. At the site they find a triangular crater, Tessy taking a soil sample and testing it, the soil illuminating in colour and vanishing in her hand. Mike, Pete and Tessy prepare a scientific project to track down the next rainbow and examine it.
Eventually, a rainbow appears and the three, along with Steve and Mutt, race across town on their bicycles to get to the rainbow. Upon arrival, they witness the rainbow land and are sucked into a colourful pathway, taking photographs as they go. They then enter a dark area of the rainbow filled with gold, Steve taking three pieces which causes the rainbow to vanish and drop the group in a cornfield. They are revealed to be in Kansas, and are taken to the local sheriff's office at an airport. Sheriff Wyatt Hampton contacts Jackie to pick them up, but the group flee into the airport to print their photos of the rainbow's interior. Jackie and Frank come to the children's aid when they arrive back in Hudson Harbour, but no one believes their story except Frank. Steve sells one of the pieces of gold to a pawnbroker's, and another to the street gang, and attempts to join, only to be humiliated and rejected. The children's school science teacher, Sam Cohen, obtains the photos and discovers the children's project.
Eventually, colour begins to drain from the world and people either act aggressively towards each other or fall unconscious. The children, Frank, Jackie and Sam all deduce that due to Steve's removal of the gold pieces, the rainbow has been damaged and caused colour, oxygen and photosynthesis to be drained, and all life could be threatened. The group split up to retrieve the gold pieces. Mike and Frank break into the pawnbroker's and retrieve a piece of the gold, Tessy and Jackie gain results on where the next rainbow will appear, and Steve, Pete and Sam gain the other gold piece from the street gang. With time almost up, Mike, Steve and Mutt race out to the new rainbow's landing site. Mike and Mutt are absorbed by a faulty rainbow, but Mike tosses the gold pieces back into it, restoring the rainbow and the world to normality. Mike and Mutt then end up in a tropical rainforest, as the film ends.Willy Lavendel as Mike Bailey, the main character who seeks to chase the rainbow.
Jacob Tierney as Steve Bailey, Mike's older brother who wants to join a local street gang.
Jonathan Schuman as Pete, one of Mike's friends.
Eleanor Misrahi as Tissy, Mike's other friend who shows great intelligence.
Bob Hoskins as Frank Bailey, Mike's grandfather who is a skilled magician.
Terry Finn as Jackie Bailey, Mike and Steve's mother.
Saul Rubinek as Sam Cohen, a school science teacher.
Dan Aykroyd as Sheriff Wyatt Hampton, the sheriff of Sativa Falls in Kansas.
Richard Jutras as Deputy Head, Hampton's silent deputy who spitwads as a running gag.
Principal photography began in Montreal on 21 September 1994, the start of a nine-week shoot that would take the cast and crew through to the end of November. This included two weeks of green screen studio filming.
Clarenceville, a 30-minute drive from Montreal, was the site of the important cornfield scenes (doubling for Kansas), and the opening and closing of the film features aerial footage in New York City and Hawaii. The remainder was shot in Montreal.
Montreal was chosen for the production site due its ideal mix of architecture and weather conditions. "When the script was originally written, the locale was set in Washington D.C." Visual Consultant, 2nd Unit Director and Executive Producer David L. Snyder stated. "When we arrived in Montreal Bob and I made the decision to change the locale to New Jersey and not move the production around, as we had found everything we needed in Quebec. A fictional city located in New Jersey can be fairly nondescript and much less identifiable than Boston, New York City, or Washington for that matter."
Hoskins chose Snyder to establish the appropriate look after their experience working together on Super Mario Bros.
Pre-production commenced at Ealing Studios, London prior to the move to Montreal. The Ealing conferences dealt with script readings and visual concepts, including some preliminary filming of various 'practical' man-made rainbows.
Once in Canada, Snyder met with Production Designer Claude Pare and asked him to turn his concepts into reality, which included design ideas for the Hudson Harbor settings. A primary task involved taking a French-Canadian city and replacing all the French language signage with English language graphics and signage.
For a film that's featured set-piece is a ride through the Rainbow and whose story features the loss of colour to the world, costume designer Janet Campbell's role was especially important.
Each character's look was also designed to reflect his or her individuality. "Steve is one good example," says Campbell. "He's older than the other kids and is a rebel, so the colors I've chosen for him are darker. But toward the end, when his true nature begins to shine through, the colors of his clothing become brighter."
The best example of Campbell's attempts to showcase colour came in the guise of Jack The Prophet, the character which warns about the impending advent of doomsday.
In early October, in the area of Montreal known as the Plateau Mont Royal, the cast and crew spent several days filming both the inside and outside of an authentic American diner. The Galaxie Diner, transformed for the film into Ynez and Charlie's Galaxie Diner, serving Spanish-Chinese food, plays an important part of the film.
About seventy-five extras were needed to portray a mob brandishing baseball bats, overturning cars and generally causing havoc, as the world turns headlong into disaster. Opposing them are 15 members of Montreal's actual SWAT team (many of whom had prior experience working on films) and several mounted policemen.
The eight-strong stunt crew included veteran, five-time world karate champion, Jean Frenette. He performed the motorcycle jump over a car and through the deadly 'Wall of Fire', with a pillion rider seated behind him.
To achieve the floating quality for the interior of the Rainbow, originally the traditional special effects concept of harnesses and wire rigs hanging the actors from the rafters was suggested. However, the film's Visual Effects Supervisor, Steven Robiner, brought in from Sony Pictures in Los Angeles, had a different idea. Robiner said "Aesthetics was my main concern; we wanted to show the kids really floating through the rainbow, and none of these actors were gymnasts so I felt strongly that it would be much easier for them to express this feeling of floating and weightlessness being underwater. It was also going to be much easier in the post production process to composite the children within the rainbow, and not have to worry about hand-painted wire-removal" Robiner's plan was to submerge a green screen inside a diving training pool that had an instructors window, under the water, at the side. Fortunately, a nearby Montreal university, located in Montreal's east end, had exactly the type of pool he was looking for. At first this underwater concept was questioned as being too radically different and untried, however after Robiner pointed out that this would also save the production about 3 days of shooting because more than 70% of the rainbow interior scenes could be all shot at this one single pool location with a locked off camera and lights, the producers agreed.
To help the children adjust to this potentially hostile environment, the producers engaged the services of aquatic consultant Daniel Berthiaume.
Shooting under water lasted for two full days and Berthiaume was in the water for periods of three to five hours at a time.
The last portion of the shoot continued on a large sound stage in Montreal, where the Visual Effects segments involving the kids travelling through the rainbow was to be filmed. The stage's 3-story high walls and floor were all painted with the special green coloured paint necessary for the compositing process. Special mechanical seats, platforms and camera rigs concept designs were made by Steven Robiner and John Galt and then engineered and built by Special Effects Supervisor Antonio Vidosa and his crew. For a shot in which the four kids are to float, spinning in the form a circle with each child holding the hand of the kid on each side of them, with their heads together and feet at the outer edge, then they let go their hands and each spin off and away from the others. Originally it was suggested to do this with the four actors hanging on wires, but Robiner rejected that idea because "hanging four kids on wires just seemed to be a dangerous and time-consuming idea, on top of being difficult for them to perform in..."
To produce a shot in which the kids are supposed to be spinning head over heals while floating in the rainbow, another rig was used that let the actor remain motionless while the camera rotated 720 degrees over his head, behind his back, and then under his feet and up again. The old style HD cameras had umbilical cables for power and signal transmission which needed to be carefully wound around a large spool as the camera rotated.
Autumn Kelly (age 17), later a member of the British royal family by marriage, has a small part as one of the Tigerette gang.
Philip Kemp's review in Sight & Sound, August 1996, commented that "the story is put across with energy and imagination" and pointed out that the scenes where "colour drains away and society starts tearing itself apart… are genuinely disturbing [with] effective use of transitions between colour and monochrome." Kemp further reflected that the "chief credit for the clarity and richness of the images should go to veteran cinematographer Freddie Francis, whose experience of colour/monochrome effects goes back 40 years to his work with Oswald Morris on John Huston's Moby Dick.”
According to the staff of Halliwell's Film Guide, Rainbow was a "Heavy-handed, didactic children's film that strives for a fairy-tale quality, but too frequently falls flat."