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The Commitment of Authenticity
Viggo Mortensen's commitment to authenticity on the set of "Hidalgo” was mirrored by the director, Joe Johnston, and the crew of the picture. Two members of the crew, especially – production designer Barry Robison and costume designer Jeffrey Kurland – went to extraordinary lengths on this complex project.

"This is a film that takes place in 1890 in the American west, so we had to be prepared for the cowboy look; the American east, the New York of the 19th century, and that very different attire; and finally, the far east of 1890,” says Kurland. "This isn't a western; it's an ‘eastern!'”

Kurland had many of the fabrics and jewelry made in both the United States and in Morocco. He was also able to purchase some of the Arabian clothing and accoutrements in large Moroccan cities like Marrakech. But some costumes required a little more ingenuity.

"To make a costume, you design it, then the draper figures out how to make it. You get the fabric, you swatch it, you buy it. Only then can you make it, and after you make it, you have to age it so that it doesn't look brand-new,” Kurland relates.

"I had a man named Yussef who wove many of my fabrics,” Kurland continues. "He could weave fabrics to the colors I asked. He made me six meters of fabric in two weeks, which is extraordinary. I was also very lucky to have some of the best ager-dyers working for us.”

The film's many locations also required Kurland to design costumes for a Native American Ghost Dance. "The more research we did, the more we were able to find amazing photographs and histories that helped us to get it right,” he says. "There are subtle differences between tribes, in what their ghost shirts and dresses were made of. Some were made of animal skin, but for the tribe in the film, we decided that it was most likely that they were wearing muslin. This was, unfortunately, a time when the Lakota Sioux were destitute; there were no animals to hunt.”

The actual filming of "Hidalgo” takes place in a variety of locations, including Montana, Morocco, South Dakota, and California.

Logistically, it proved to be a demanding task to transport the large crew around the United States and Africa. A film set in so many diverse locations required the crew to be flexible as they figured out how the main sequences – including the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, the Ocean of Fire race in the Arabian Desert, the Wounded Knee tragedy, and the New York City docks – would be designed and filmed.

Robison, who previously worked with Johnston on critically acclaimed "October Sky,” was on the road almost constantly, having to build sets in California, Morocco, and South Dakota. "‘Hidalgo' is like doing three or four separate movies,” notes the veteran designer. "We've got a New York dock. We've got a Wild West show.

We've got the race. And we have the western town – the horse release, at the end of the film. It's a rich film for a designer, because there are so many different looks to create.

"I get a special charge out of the scene at the New York docks,” Robison continues. "We flooded a parking lot in Southern California and built a boat to scale. It was a cool set to do – to recreate 19th century New York.

"Joe's an incredible visual director,” Robison notes. "He could have made the decision not to build all the great sets we had – he could have made them all CG, and we do have some CG in the film. But, for the most part, Joe made a decision early on in the film to create as much of this world as we could.”

Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge came with the sets in Morocco. Not only were the sets the largest and most complicated of the whole shoot, but the weather would often get in the way. "The dust was a huge problem for us,” Robison notes. "We were in some major, major windstorms. Every day, at one o'clock in the afternoon, the winds would kick up in the desert;<

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