SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMMARON
The Spirit Of The West
One special character in "Spirit: Stallion of the
Cimarron" is neither horse nor human. It is the landscape of the American West itself, at a
time when the frontier was as untamed as the wild mustangs that called it home. Production
designer Kathy Altieri offers, "As much as the physical journey, the emotional
journey that Spirit makes is echoed in the color and quality of the setting. Each location
has its own emotional integrity. What I mean by that is, in designing the look of the
film, it was important to reflect the emotions of the story, as well as to honor the
beauty and majesty of nature."
The progress of civilization has forever changed much of the
landscape, so Altieri, art directors Ron Lukas and Luc Desmarchelier, and the
filmmakers began their research in books about the Old West. They also watched old
movie Westerns and studied the paintings of the great Western artists, like
Frederick Remington, Charles M. Russell, Frank Tenney-Johnson and James Reynolds.
However, no painting, movie or photograph could be as
inspirational to the filmmakers and design team as seeing firsthand the
still-breathtaking vistas of the West. Together, Kelly Asbury, Lorna Cook, Mireille
Soria, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Kathy Altieri,Luc Desmarchelier, Ron Lukas, and story supervisor Ronnie del
Carmen embarked on a whirlwind four-day tour of eight of America's most treasured
national parks and scenic landmarks. The research trip took them to Glacier National Park,
National Bison Range,Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Monument
Valley, Bryce Canyon National Park, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite National
Altieri comments, "You might think nobody in their right
mind would do eight national parks in only four days, but I have to say that seeing
them in such quick succession had a tremendously powerful impact on all of us. It
really hits you in a visceral way—in your heart and in your spirit—that we are
surrounded by such phenomenal scenery in this country. Being out there to see the
subtleties of color, to breathe the air, to feel the texturesâ€¦ It was so much bigger
and grander than anything we'd begun to design that we had to go back and rethink
Spirit's adventures take him across a number of these iconic
locations, which might give the impression that these sites are located within
running distance of one another. Anyone with a passing knowledge of geography knows this
is not the case, but the filmmakers felt they were all integral to depicting the
mythic West, mythic being the operative word.
Cook notes, "Traveling to all those different places, we
were reminded that this is a magnificent country, so in some respects, it was a way for us
to honor and to celebrate the grandeur in our own backyard. Geographically, we kind of
threw convention out the window. We took the best from nature and gave it our own spin,
and ultimately it served the story well."
Glacier National Park became the model for Spirit's homeland.
With its magnificent landscape of lush green grass, blue open skies, and
rolling hills and valleys, the homeland represents what Altieri calls "horse heaven—a
place where a horse can run wild and free."
In sharp contrast, the Cavalry fort where Spirit is taken after
his capture is located in a re-creation of Monument Valley where the terrain is stark
and more angular and you can almost feel the hot, dry, dusty atmosphere. Asbury reflects,
"Just imagine what it would be like for this wild stallion, who had only seen green
meadows and mountains and flowing streams all his life, to suddenly be taken to a
place like that. It would seem like another planet, and that's how Monument Valley feel
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