"Maleficent" began production on June 11, 2012, at England's famed Pinewood
Studios where most of the
filming took place. It took five months of shooting on six sound stages and
thousands of yards of backlot and
paddock area to complete principal photography.
The production had a number of extraordinary physical
sets. Production designers Gary Freeman and Dylan
Cole, along with set decorator Lee Sandales, worked with
Stromberg to create interior and exterior backdrops worthy
of epic filmmaking. "We built a lot of sets," says Freeman.
"About 40 sets, from a 12-foot square room to the
5,000-square- foot Great Hall. They're quite complicated
sets, architecturally and technically. It is the whole gamut
of design from picturesque northern European landscapes
to stark examples of castles, to quintessential fairytale
Director Robert Stromberg, whose visual artistry as a production designer is
world acclaimed, turned over his
vision for "Maleficent" to his production design team, who were tasked with
bringing the worlds to life. Describing
Stromberg's mandate, Freeman says, "Robert was
quite specific in his wants. He wanted to create this
world that's familiar but has a fantastic element, so
you're not detached from it. You feel like you've seen
it all before, whether it's in a storybook or a walk
in a beautiful forest glade. But there's something
magical and different about it. That stems into the
architecture as well. We've all visited castles and
been enchanted by them, but again we wanted to
take it to another level."
Speaking to the differences between the two worlds from a design perspective,
Freeman relates, "In the human
world, we have this hulking castle, which is a very strong silhouette. It
doesn't blend in with the environment; it
becomes a statement. Whereas in the fairy world, the creatures evolve from the
trees and they're very much in
tune with themselves and the environment as opposed to the castle with its very
strong statement contrasting
with the environment that surrounds it."
King Henry's castle was a similar physical realization, both interior and
exterior, of the castle in the 1959
animated film. "The original animation is a fabulous piece of design," says
Freeman. "It was very avant-garde
when it came out. The artist really had
an extraordinary approach to color
and the conflicts of color. You look at
each item individually and you think,
'that shouldn't work,' but when it's all
brought together, it does."
Architecturally, the castle in the
animated film was a collective of
elements from every type of period
castle but that type of design did not transfer to live action as well. Freeman
explains, "We can't really do that,
because the modern audience can't walk through a sort of
Victorian/Gothic/Romanesque castle, because it just
doesn't make sense. So we had to zone in on one look and we did. It was also a
hybrid but a more logical one:
Prague-style architecture with strong Romanesque shapes. Then we took the idea
of the flying buttress and it
became a sort of theme that linked all the spaces together."
Continuing, Freeman adds, "We took a lot of references
from St. Michael's Mount; strong shapes with a subtle relief
to it. There was a great influence from the Disney castle
itself, because it's a very strong silhouette. That was a big
influence in it, but we refined the detail, so it was less fairytale
looking. You can understand it architecturally and it
makes sense. Besides the scale, we used more luxurious
materials than you tend to see in typical Norman castles.
We went with marble floors, for example, so it's a very rich,
The castle's Great Hall, where Aurora's christening takes place, is an
eye-popping example of British craftsmanship
accented by authentic antiquities and also modeled from the designs of the
animated original. The grand design
prompted the film's Oscar-winning cinematographer, Dean Semler, to exclaim,
"This is possibly the most
impressive set I've ever seen." The Great Hall took 14 weeks to build, employing
some 250 construction workers
and an art department of about 20 people.
As well as the human kingdom, Freeman and Cole built a large fairy kingdom on
the backlot at Pinewood, which
encompassed a waterfall, a river valley, a beautiful, lush flower meadow and a
waterway, which links to the fairy
mound, a key part of the movie.
But it didn't stop there. Explains
Freeman, "We created, on stage,
another version of our fairytale world
that could be lit as a night scene.
Everything has been built. Obviously
for the smaller greens we bring in
flowers and bushes to scale. But the
trees are based on ancient oaks that we
researched that are 800-year-olds. We
wanted to give it an Arthur Rackham look. A sense of curve and movement but to
your eye you would look at it
and think that it is a real tree, except it's made from plaster and foam."
Aurora's world was another environment the designers had to build, consisting of
a real thatched-roof cottage
in a non-magical forest. "Aurora's forest is adjacent to where she lives in the
cottage," informs Freeman. "These
trees are more naturalistic; they're not as twisted as in the fairy forest. But
they have a great scale and a look to
them. We changed the color palette. We used pinks and blues in the fairy forest
and we went for warmer yellows
and orange in Aurora's forest, so there's a line of difference, but quite a
The thatched cottage that became
Aurora's childhood home was built
from the ground up on the backlot of
Pinewood Studios. The cottage features
a timber frame and an authentic
thatched roof that was hand-done by
The efforts of the production design
team on "Maleficent" were not lost
on the actors, especially Sam Riley, who experienced working in a studio
environment for the first time. "The
soundstage sets are impressive and the outside sets even have waterfalls running
through what look like real
rocks," enthuses Riley. "There's even a real cottage with a thatched roof. It's
really insane, the talent and the
work effort that goes into it. It's really mind boggling to work in a studio,
which I've never done, and see how so
many departments manage to all congregate and actually make something happen.
"It's not like we're standing in a studio with a blue floor and a blue wall.
There are very tangible things. There are
things you can touch. There are things that really help you feel that you are
somewhere magical. It still fascinates
me every time I come into work," concludes Riley.
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