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Decades of Designs
After casting, one of Ray's biggest challenges was bringing to life the world that surrounded Ray Charles…from his dirt-poor upbringing in the South to the wild and sweaty Chitlin Circuit clubs he toured as a young man to the state-of-the-art ‘60s studio he created for himself in Los Angeles. With a story that spans the 1930s to the 1970s, Taylor Hackford and Stuart Benjamin knew they would need a very creative and devoted design team.

Says Benjamin: "This film crosses several decades in American history and deals with several real-life cultural icons, so it was important to us to capture the spirit of each of those times as accurately as possible. The production design, the costumes, even the vintage cars and instruments became very important to us."

The decision was made to shoot much of the film in one of America's most musical cities, New Orleans, long home to Jazz and Blues innovators, despite the fact that the action takes place in cities ranging from Seattle to New York to Atlanta. With its fresh, rarely used locations and deep connection to the history of music in America, New Orleans provided its own inspiration to the crew.

"New Orleans is the most musically evocative city in America," says Hackford. "I've owned a home there for 20 years, and it still amazes me. Not only is it the birthplace of Jazz, but it still produces some of the greatest musicians in the world. Ray Charles spent a lot of time there early in his career and he was deeply influenced by the city's R&B horn stylings. He produced his first million-selling record in New Orleans—Guitar Slim's ‘The Things That I Used To Do.' So even though we used New Orleans to create different cities all over the country, we had that sense of always being in a place that is all about the music."

For production designer Stephen Altman, an Oscar® nominee for his designs for Gosford Park, Ray was a chance to do something unlike anything he'd done before. "My main goal on every film I do is to make sure my movies don't look like any other movies I've seen," states Altman. "New Orleans helped me to keep the look of the film original."

Altman wanted to infuse Ray with authentic realism but quickly discovered that many of the clubs and theatres Ray Charles played in his early career were never even photographed — and Charles himself, of course, never "saw" them. "We did as much research as we could into how clubs in that era were furnished and decorated, what the bands looked like on stage, but we also used imagination," admits Altman. "Most of all, we wanted to capture the spirit of sensuality and freedom that flourished in these clubs."

To do this, Hackford, Altman and costume designer Sharen Davis all agreed that the look of the film should be summed up in one key word: vibrant. They wanted rich colors and strong textures throughout to emphasize the passionate, sensual nature of Ray's music and his turbulent inner and outer worlds.

Because Ray was made on a limited budget, Altman didn't have the financial resources to recreate the myriad locations around the world where Ray had lived and performed. Therefore, he and Hackford devised a plan to utilize historical stock footage throughout the film to establish "master shots" of period scope and detail which could otherwise have not been created within the film's budget. Stock shots of such cities as Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris and Rome featured incredible added production values—hundreds of historical buildings, thousands of period cards and product billboards. Says Hackford: "Our strategy was to establish each major location with stock shots and then cut into smaller, more contained sets and locations in New Orleans that Steve had designed to integrate with the original footage. As you can imagine, we did major res


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