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Production designers and set decorators reveal what it took to create the eye-catching looks of the season’s visually memorable films
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Stuart Craig, production designer; Stephenie McMillan, set decorator
For Craig and McMillan, the most complicated set in the last installment of the Harry Potter series — where Harry, Ron and Hermione enter Bellatrix Lestrange’s opulent family vault in search of one of the last Horcruxes, only to be nearly drowned in a rapidly multiplying treasure trove — required a bit of its own magic to pull off. Rather than relying entirely on visual effects to show the proliferation of gold ingots, candelabras, plates and goblets in the cavelike room hewn of rock, the art direction team went to work and created thousands of items from scratch. “We made an enormous amount,” says Craig. “We made it all in a softish foam so that the actors could get buried in it without sharp edges injuring them.” Adds McMillan, who has worked closely with Craig on 17 films: “We had a machine in the studio that was going almost nonstop for three months pressing out the shapes of the goblets. Because they were flexible, it was very difficult to keep the high-gloss paint sticking to them. Sometimes they didn’t bear scrutiny.” The drowning effect was achieved, says Craig, by raising the treasure-filled set floor, which was elevated by a scissors lift above the foundation at London’s Leavesden Studios. This gave the illusion that the treasure was multiplying itself, with the effect that “there was a tidal wave of this stuff in an ever-raising pile,” he adds. Says McMillan, “It was one of those sets where you dress it and then leave the art direction unit to get on with it because it’s so complicated and is going to take them such a long time.” In all, it took the Potter team — including the film’s director, David Yates, and the visual effects, special effects, concept art, propmaking and even accounting departments — more than two months to plan and discuss the scene, though it took only five days out of the six-month shoot for its actual filming. “Lots of sets went really easily,” says McMillan. “That one was a very difficult one to pin down.”
- 53,000: Total number of assorted rubberized pieces of “treasure” made for this scene.
- 5,800: Number of times Harry Potter’s scar has been applied to Daniel Radcliffe, his doubles and stunt doubles throughout the film series.
- 30,000: Number of “gold” coins manufactured by the Potter propmaking team.
Sebastian Krawinkel, production designer; Simon Boucherie, set decorator
To realize the love nest of young Queen Elizabeth I (Joely Richardson) and the young Earl of Oxford (Jamie Campbell Bower), Krawinkel and Boucherie created a 360-degree set at Berlin’s Studio Babelsberg. With walls nearly 15 feet high, it was one of the smaller sets created for the film (70 different ones were used during the 63-day shoot). Krawinkel and his team were also responsible for drawing all of the exterior scenes, which were subsequently built in CG and 3D. “I made it look as if all the buildings and sets were 200 years old, though in reality, at the time the film takes place, Oxford Hall would have been only three or four years old,” says Krawinkel. “But if we built it to look new, audiences wouldn’t believe that it is of the period.”
- 15,500: Number of candles Boucherie used during the production, to the tune of €50,000.
The Flowers of War
Yohei Taneda, production designer
The 1937 Nanjing (then known as Nanking) seen in the Christian Bale-starring film was built from scratch in a year in China. “We cut down trees and built a small town on a wilderness of nothing,” says Taneda. “Rain caused delay of work as roads became small rivers.” To create a cathedral in the midst of the mayhem, he consulted churches in Nagasaki, where Christianity was introduced to Japan, and in China. “I wanted to create the sense of mystery, the sense of space different from what we felt in Western churches.” One day during production, an ear-splitting alarm rang out. “It was the anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre, and an air-raid alarm was sounded,” says Taneda. “I am Japanese, and I felt more deeply about this. The pain triggered my desire to create.”
- $100 million: Budget for Flowers, the most expensive Chinese film in history.
Patrizia von Brandenstein, production designer
History buff von Brandenstein had a blast putting together the look for Nobbs, which takes place in Dublin in 1898, despite her meager $267,000 art direction budget and tight 34-day shooting schedule. “We calculated rentals by the day and practically by the hour, as opposed to weeks,” she says. When it came time to create this dining room scene, filmed in Dublin’s 18th century Cabinteely House, “we had to get it filmed in a week’s time so that we could get the silver back to England before our rental period ran out,” recalls von Brandenstein with a laugh. “Because our resources were so limited, we had to be ruthless about what we did and what we couldn’t do. I was determined to protect what shooting schedule we had.”
Dante Ferretti, production designer
In creating the Paris train station where much of the film’s action takes place, Oscar winner Ferretti and director Martin Scorsese were inspired by visiting various stations in the City of Light. “It’s supposed to be Gare Montparnasse, but we took some liberties with the design,” says Ferretti, who included elements from Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon. Although Paris plays a central role in Hugo, the crew only spent two weeks shooting there, with a majority of the movie filmed at London’s Shepperton Studios. “We shot at the Sorbonne, the National Library of France and on a street outside a silent theater. All the rest, we built from scratch,” says Ferretti, who worked on Hugo for a year, “because it was better for shooting in 3D to film in a studio. You have more freedom.”
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