The production team enlisted the talents of production designer Ethan Tobman
to create the environments where the characters would live. The three main
interiors include Wallace/Ellie's house, Chantry/Ben's apartment and Allan's
house. The design concept around these three sets was to create a triumvirate of
the three stages of the character's maturation.
Wallace is a lost soul when we first meet him, living in his sister's attic,
which accentuates his social displacement. -Visually he's literally a square peg
in a round hole and I had a lot of fun with that, says Tobman. -The walls were
covered in a hodgepodge of materials-wallpaper, brick, wainscoting, pipes and
conduit jutting out from the ceiling so low you'd hit your head. We filled the
space with Ellie and her son Felix's storage, forcing Wallace to work at Felix's
elementary school desk and sleep amidst Ellie's winter shoes and coats. Nothing
quite fits-everything is too big or too small. Shelves and bureaus are at angles
because they're too big for
the space and books and lamps threaten to fall off of them. Everyone in this
film appears to have his or her lives together. Wallace is behind on the curve
and we wanted to play with his awkward regression.
Chantry and Ben's apartment feels totally different from Wallace and Ellie's
house. It's clean, creative and self-realized. -Here we went with more neutral
cool tones and hung beautiful artwork from James Jean and Evan B. Harris that
referenced her artwork's inspiration, says Tobman. -We painted our own Chantry
designs on pillows and curtains. Wherever possible we tried to reference wings
and airiness to the decor, in the artwork sculptures and lighting. The goal was
to create timeless and classic environments for her in this film that transcend
any era. There is also certain nakedness to her environments. She's not quite
connecting with Ben, something doesn't feel right, and so while the apartment is
open and detailed there's something missing, preventing you from feeling too
Allan is the ultimate bachelor and that's exactly the environment Tobman and
his team created. -His apartment is cool and messy with some lazy vintage
accents and a total absence of anything female, says Tobman. -When Allan meets
Nicole the apartment gets cleaner, the vintage wallpaper gets painted over, the
cupboards get doors and band posters get replaced with artwork and photos. In
many ways Allan represents the in-between of Wallace and Chantry's environments,
and we get to see it transform as the story evolves.
The idea of using animation in WHAT IF started for a practical reason -
because there is so much dialogue in the story, Mastai also wanted to bring
something visually distinctive to the movie. Additionally, because of Chantry's
romantic circumstances, there were emotions she couldn't express aloud. -There
were things in the film that Chantry couldn't say, not because they're secrets
but because she's not ready to admit them, even to herself, says Mastai.
-Writing the animated scenes allowed me to showcase her unexpressed inner
thoughts in a visually arresting and metaphoric way.
Mastai came up with the idea that the animation sequences would be tied
directly to Chantry's job. -She works as an animator and the imagery we see is
drawn by her own hand. These aren't just random animated vignettes, they're the
doodles Chantry draws in her sketch-book brought to life, says Mastai.
When Dowse read the animation bits in the script, he discussed how to shoot
them with Mastai. -Mike came up with the idea of using this great light-mapping
technique to project the animation around the city -literally onto the
buildings. He took the ideas in the script and found a unique, dynamic, and
visually arresting way to implement them, recalls Mastai.
-I saw this light-mapping technique where they projected a tiger on the streets
of Paris. It made me think we could take Chantry's work and put it into the real
world. It's really an old-school, simple technique- not at all ground breaking,
explains Dowse. -There was something nice to having the animation live within
the reality of our film and having it come alive at certain
moments. I think the animation helps you get inside Chantry's head and also
showcases what she does for work.
Dowse's vision for the animation in the film was part of what impressed
Radcliffe from the very beginning. -When I met Michael he talked about films
like Manhattan and It Happened One Night and all these great romantic comedies
and he just had a real vision for this film. And, with the animation portion of
the film and those details, it brings a kind of visual playfulness to the film
that not all romantic comedies have so I really responded to that.
The setting for much of the film is Toronto. Although it's not a place
traditionally thought of as a romantic location, Dowse found ways to make the
city look as nice and beautiful as possible. -It was kind of a challenge to make
Toronto romantic, he says. -It's normally been quite a gray, sort of austere
city, and, like, David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan's works, very, sort of, cold.
But, the thing about Toronto is that there's a ton of water around it, and
that's sort of something we try to key into is, try to find the romance by the
beaches, and in the east end of the city, and, and try to capture it that way,
to give it its due as a modern cosmopolitan city.
The beach is the setting for one of the funniest set pieces in the film, a
midnight skinny dipping romp for Wallace, Chantry, Allan and Nicole. Davis, who
plays Nicole, says the production had many fun and memorable moments but if she
had to single out one, it would be that scene. -Skinny dipping in the middle of
a Toronto summer on a beach that felt very secret, she says. -That was great.
Although most of the film was shot in Toronto, the company did go over to
Dublin for four days at the end of the shoot, for the scenes when Ben is working
in Ireland. -It was a blast to shoot in Dublin for obvious reasons and it helped
to expand the scope of the film, says Dowse. -Usually you are running on fumes
by the end of a production but these last four days were a great adrenaline
shot. We had a fresh crew, enough money to make it look good and it helped the
film immensely. Shooting in Dublin was a particular pleasure for Dowse who
holds an Irish passport. -Both my parents are from Dublin so for me personally
it was great to see my extended family and bring them down to set, says Dowse.
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