The Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) is a new facility instrument to be commissioned at the 8-m Gemini South telescope in early 2011. It combines of several subsystems including a 1500 subaperture Extreme Adaptive Optics system, an Apodized Pupil Lyot Coronagraph, a near-infrared high-accuracy interferometric wavefront sensor, and an Integral Field Unit Spectrograph, which serves as the science instrument. GPI's main scientific goal is to detect and characterize relatively young (<2GYr), self luminous planets with planet-star brightness ratios of ≤ 10-7 in the near infrared. Here we present an overview of the coronagraph subsystem, which includes a pupil apodization, a hard-edged focal plane mask and a Lyot stop. We discuss designs optimization, masks fabrication and testing. We describe a near infrared testbed, which achieved broadband contrast (H-band) below 10-6 at separations > 5λ/D, without active wavefront control (no deformable mirror). We use Fresnel propagation modeling to analyze the testbed results.© (2009) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.