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How a McMaster University map got into Brad Pitt's new film 'Fury'

Gord Beck, a map specialist at McMaster University, helped filmmakers produce exact replicas of original Second World War-era maps.

Copy of 1943 map in university's collection appears in war epic starring Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt stars as U.S. tank commander Don 'Wardaddy' Collier in the Second World War epic Fury. (Giles Keyte/Sony Pictures Entertainment/Associated Press)

What do the producers of a Second World War epic starring Brad Pitt and geography students at McMaster University have in common?

Both groups have consulted the Hamilton, Ont., university’s map collection in a bid to score high marks with audiences and critics.

Set in Spring 1945, during the last days of the Allies’ European campaign, Fury depicts a U.S. tank commander Don Collier (Pitt) and his rag-tag crew of soldiers as they worm their way through Nazi-occupied territory.

Though the flick is a work of historical fiction, filmmakers went to great lengths to ensure the action appeared realistic — from the uniforms on the actors, to the equipment on the make-believe battlefields, to the maps in Allied commanders’ hands.

Gord Beck is a map specialist at McMaster University. (Courtesy of Gord Beck)

Searching for accurate maps led the Fury team to contact Gord Beck, a map specialist at McMaster University, in September 2013, about a wartime map of Hanover, Germany, that had been produced by British officials.

“They had been searching for a particular map and happened upon it on our website,” said Beck, who has been working in the university’s map collection office for 17 years.

He promptly sent along a high-resolution digital copy of the original map, which was produced in 1943. Because the quality of the scan was so high — the file’s size was about one gigabyte — the Fury producers were able to print a realistic-looking replica that would appear in the movie, which was filmed in the U.K.

Beck also put the filmmakers in touch with Larry Laliberté, a librarian with the University of Alberta, who was able to send a copy of a map that was not in the McMaster collection.

Beck didn’t ask for any payment for the Hanover map. However, he requested that a reference to the McMaster maps collection be added to the credits.

Produced by British forces, this 1943 map of Hanover, Germany can be found in the map collection at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. (Courtesy of McMaster University)

Fury premiered in North America in mid-October and has taken in a worldwide box office of nearly $100 million since its release.

Beck said he hasn’t seen the film, but said the university officials were able to confirm the Hanover map and the McMaster credit each make an appearance.

Digital map collection breeds new uses

McMaster has been in the process of digitizing many of the old maps it has in its collection using a sophisticated scanner that pumps out print-quality images.

In the past year, McMaster’s Lloyd Reeds Map Collection has made around 3,000 Second World War-era topographical maps available on its website. Most of the original were made by the U.S. Army and many were printed by the British.

Beck said the project has yielded queries from people doing all kinds of research — from museum curators, to family historians, to engineers, as well as filmmakers.

“People are doing the most amazing things with these maps that you wouldn’t even expect,” Beck said.

“All of these other uses just spring up. You never know what people are going to use these for when you make them available."

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