Production of The Dark Knight Rises got underway this week and was marked by the first official photograph of a character in costume. Bane, played in the Batman film by Tom Hardy, was revealed Friday morning in the first installment of what will no doubt be a grand viral marketing/alternate reality game in support of Christopher Nolan's new film.

Launched this morning, The Dark Knight Rises website is presently a blank, black webpage underscored with a recording of men chanting in some kind of non-English language. A spectrograph analysis of the audio conducted by SuperheroHype readers revealed a hidden message, "#thefirerises," obviously a Twitter hash tag. Tweeting the hash tag generated a reply from the @TheFireRises Twitter account with a link to another page on the Dark Knight Rises website where a mechanism plugs users' Twitter profile pics into a mosaic that within a matter of hours formed a clear photograph of Bane.

Because Batman fans are a clever and prodigious lot, the fully complete and clean image of Bane was discovered before the Twitter game concluded, and it is our first look at any character from the new film. Played by Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises, Bane is known to comics fans as the brilliant but chemically-fueled supervillain who devised a scheme that resulted in the destruction of Arkham Asylum, thus freeing all of Batman's enemies, and the breaking of the Dark Knight's back.

A game of this kind was expected, given the compelling and incredibly cool viral marketing/alternate reality game campaign that supported The Dark Knight. That initiative saw a number of real-life events based on The Joker, with fans dressing in costumes and journalists (like me) receiving Joker cakes with cellphones and other materials hidden inside, culminating with an animated Batsignal projected against a New York City skyscraper.

This image of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises coincides with the beginning of principal photography on the film, whose story remains almost a complete mystery. The film opens July 20, 2012.

Principal photography has begun on Warner Bros. Pictures' and Legendary Pictures' "The Dark Knight Rises," the epic conclusion to filmmaker Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.

Leading an all-star international cast, Oscar® winner Christian Bale ("The Fighter") again plays the dual role of Bruce Wayne/Batman.

The film also stars Anne Hathaway, as Selina Kyle; Tom Hardy, as Bane; Oscar® winner Marion Cotillard ("La Vie en Rose"), as Miranda Tate; and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as John Blake.

Returning to the main cast, Oscar® winner Michael Caine ("The Cider House Rules") plays Alfred; Gary Oldman is Commissioner Gordon; and Oscar® winner Morgan Freeman ("Million Dollar Baby") reprises the role of Lucius Fox.

In helming "The Dark Knight Rises," Christopher Nolan is utilizing IMAX® cameras even more extensively than he did on "The Dark Knight," which had marked the first time ever that a major feature film was partially shot with IMAX® cameras. The results were so spectacular that the director wanted to expand the use of the large-format cameras for this film.

The screenplay for "The Dark Knight Rises" is written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, story by Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer. The film is being produced by Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan and Charles Roven, who previously teamed on "Batman Begins" and the record-breaking blockbuster "The Dark Knight." The executive producers are Benjamin Melniker, Michael E. Uslan, Kevin De La Noy and Thomas Tull, with Jordan Goldberg serving as co-producer. "The Dark Knight" is based upon characters appearing in comic books published by DC Comics. Batman was created by Bob Kane.

Behind the scenes, "The Dark Knight Rises" reunites the director with several of his longtime collaborators, all of whom worked together on the "The Dark Knight." The creative team includes director of photography Wally Pfister, who recently won an Oscar® for his work on Nolan's "Inception"; production designer Nathan Crowley; editor Lee Smith; and Oscar®-winning costume designer Lindy Hemming ("Topsy-Turvy"). In addition, Paul Franklin and Chris Corbould, who both won Oscars® for the effects in "Inception," will supervise the visual and special effects, respectively. The music will be composed by Oscar® winner Hans Zimmer ("The Lion King").

The locations for "The Dark Knight Rises" span three continents and include the American cities of Pittsburgh, New York and Los Angeles, as well as sites in India, England and Scotland.

"The Dark Knight Rises" is a presentation of Warner Bros. Pictures, in association with Legendary Pictures. Slated for release on July 20, 2012, the film will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.