Locations and Set Design
Following a preliminary shoot on location in Costa Rica (which stood in for
Paddington's birthplace, the jungles of Darkest Peru), the production got to
work on securing some of London's most iconic locations for central roles in the
film's storyline, from Paddington Station in all its 19th century glory to the
buzzing Portobello Market and the inner sanctum of the Reform Club, Pall Mall -
all before we even touch on the fabulously majestic Natural History Museum.
PADDINGTON provides a tourist trail of hidden gems and distinctive landmarks
alike - Routemaster buses, black taxis and tube trains all feature in the comic
chaos that seems to cling to Paddington as he attempts to navigate the big city.
Despite shooting in such identifiable locations, the filmmakers felt it was
important that their London wasn't entirely real. David Heyman explains, "Our
Paddington is more realistic than previous incarnations and is quite different
from the teddy bear in some of the illustrations. But he's still a talking bear
- which is a fantastic notion in itself. We didn't feel he could ever feel at
one with a perfectly naturalistic London, so as well as bringing our Paddington
into the real world, we also took our world towards Paddington."
Director Paul King elaborates: "The Paddington books have always been set in
the era in which they have been written, which lends the series a wonderfully
timeless quality. We wanted our world to work for people who read the first
books, watched the animations - or for people who don't know the character at
all. London is a city where heritage and modernity co-exist in glorious
confusion and the chance to make a timeless, heightened London where a talking
bear could feel right at home was too glorious an opportunity to resist."
Gary Williamson, the film's Production Designer, had worked with Paul in the
past on his feature film debut, BUNNY AND THE BULL. "Our starting point for
PADDINGTON, in complete contrast to our last film together, was to create a
'real' world - it's not the cardboard cut-out world of past incarnations of
Paddington Bear - but a heightened reality where it feels perfectly natural to
meet a talking bear." Hence, we see in the film a whole host of recognisable,
every-day locations tweaked and polished to give them a storybook quality.
Alongside these are painstakingly detailed fictional interiors and facades,
created specifically by Gary and his skilful team to represent the strange new
world that Paddington encounters. Through Paddington's eyes, this world is
traditional yet modern, typically British yet dusted with international flavours
Paul says "Gary spent years working with Dennis Potter and is the master of
creating sets that evoke the inner life of characters." Paddington is an
outsider, and a recurring motif in the film is how he finds himself looking into
imaginary little worlds. Paul explains, "When he is in Peru, he gazes into a
snowglobe of London, wondering what it might be like to live there. When he
comes to London, he looks into a dolls' house and wonders about the strange life
the Browns have. When Mr. Gruber tells him his story, he peers into a toy train
and wonders what his life might have been like. When he is at the Natural
History Museum, he looks into the dioramas, perhaps contemplating what it would
be like to be one of the specimens. It's only at the end of the film, when he
has found where he belongs, that he is able to break out of the doll's house and
run into the real world." He has become an insider or, at least, one who is
happy with his status as Peruvian and Londoner, Bear and Brown.
The use of colour was key. Gary continues, "We set out to make it very strong
visually and to use colour as a reference point for characters and therefore,
their surroundings; Mrs Brown, Mr Brown, the children, Millicent - all have very
specific colour palettes - which our costume designer Lindy Hemming echoes
through their clothing, too".
Paul adds "We watched THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG and were both struck by the
use of colour to tell the story. You feel people are destined to be together
because while they are wearing different colours, their costumes are accented
with the other's primary colour. You feel certain characters belong in certain
locations and not others because their costumes fit - or don't fit - with that
environment. And you get a sense of their mood from how vibrant their wardrobe
is. It's subtly done, but it works wonders as a subliminal storytelling device."
Gary continues "But you have to liberate yourself from that to a certain extent,
so that you are not restricted creatively - Paul and I worked hard to embrace
colour as the filmmaking progressed, having fun with it and adding it where we
wouldn't necessarily have done so in our early designs."
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Gary was shooting outdoors and in public:
"I can control the sets in a studio, but I can't control London!" That said, the
production was met with open arms at every turn, as this famous bear once more
proved dear to the hearts of so many - enormously helpful leverage when it comes
to closing a platform of a major train station, re-dressing stately homes,
taking over national museums and filming at working shipyards! As the director
is keen to point out, "Nothing was ever a problem, everyone did so much to
accommodate us and help us and let us do all sorts of things that we really
shouldn't have been doing! Something in Paddington definitely brings out
people's most helpful natures."
The shooting locations proved an inspiration for the seasoned cast members as
well as those new to filmmaking. As Hugh Bonneville explains, shooting through
the night, for five consecutive nights, at the Natural History Museum in
November 2013, was pretty special. "It lends an incredible atmosphere to the
film I think - it's a really crucial section of the story and to be in the
museum itself gives it a real added bonus, a real sense of awe and wonder and
danger and possibility....." The production literally took over this majestic
building by night, shooting in the Grand Hall, the famous Dinosaur exhibit, the
Mineralogy and Research rooms, the ornate corridors and even in the grounds of
the building. Watch closely and even the well-known Diplodocus, 'Dippy', who
greets thousands of visitors a day as they enter the museum, makes a cameo
appearance in PADDINGTON.
Taking this beautiful historic architecture as his inspiration, Williamson
was then able to seamlessly create the 'fictional' aspects of this existing
building - notably Millicent's taxidermy office complete with secret lair - as
well as the climatic rooftop scenes, on the soundstages of Leavesden studios.
The English weather was surprisingly kind to the film crew as they shot
through the early winter months of 2013. Chalcot Crescent, in London's exclusive
Primrose Hill, plays a starring role as Windsor Gardens, home to the Brown
family and their crotchety next door neighbour, Mr. Curry. The residents of this
picture-perfect London street were even treated to an early White Christmas when
the entire crescent was covered in thick snow and fairy lights for two days in
early November, for the final scenes of the film - complete with a live, 5-piece
The on-screen music was a hugely important aspect of the film to Paul. "My
wife introduced me to the 'London is the Place for Me' albums, which opened up a
whole world of music I'd known nothing about. It felt so serendipitous that
there was this glorious, joyful, funny and politically charged music being made
by immigrants living in Notting Hill at the same time Michael Bond was writing
about Paddington pottering down Portobello Road, and I was determined to involve
it in the soundtrack."
Paul wrote to Damon Albarn, whose Honest Jon's record label had released the
'London is the Place for Me' compilations. "I never really expected a reply, but
I knew Damon loved the music and loved collaborating with musicians from
different backgrounds. Thrillingly, he leapt at the chance."
Damon and his collaborators at EWB assembled a group of London's finest
Caribbean performers, and the group spent a happy couple of days in the
recording studio laying down the tracks that would eventually form the backbone
of the score.
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