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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 Park.

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 textures… It was so much bigger and grander than anything we'd begun to design that we had to go back and rethink everything."

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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