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Designing the World of the Phantom
Like the incredibly popular stage show upon which it is based, The Phantom of the Opera is set in Paris in the 1870s, a time of great excitement, opulence and passion. "This period was a kind of golden, innocent moment,” notes director Joel Schumacher, "just before the Prussians hit the gates of Paris and the Franco-Prussian war began.” 

The era and the story's specific environs, evoked brilliantly by the late Maria Bjǿrnsson for Lloyd Webber's stage production, had to be more literally and immersively imagined for the film adaptation. The task of capturing the spirit of the period and infusing it with a stylized, heightened reality fell to production designer Anthony Pratt. 

"I've been a big fan of Tony's for a long time and we were lucky to get him,” Schumacher says of the designer, who earned an Academy Award nomination for his efforts on the 1987 film Hope and Glory and an Emmy nomination for designing HBO's critically acclaimed miniseries Band of Brothers.

"I was drawn to the film because it's such a great design project,” Pratt says. "Everything in the piece is so atmospheric that it's wonderful to design for, and it challenged the entire art department.” 

Inspired by the beauty and power of Bjǿrnsson's stagecraft, Pratt researched the work of painters from the period – such as John Singer Sergeant, Caillebotte and Degas – and toured the Paris Opera House to devise a romantic, larger than life design scheme that would accentuate the story's soaring gothic romance.

The Phantom sets were built entirely on eight stages at Pinewood Studios, where, over the course of 40 weeks, Pratt's team utilized 73 tons of steel, 15,000 litres of paint, over 92 miles of lumber and 51 miles of scaffolding to bring his ambitious designs to life.

Pratt's primary challenge was creating the "Opera Populaire,” the sumptuous Parisian theatre haunted by a disfigured musical genius who terrorizes the ensemble of actors, artisans and managers who work there. 

The film's fictitious setting is loosely based on the Paris Opera House, the largest opera theatre in the world, also known as the Opera Garnier after its architect, Charles Garnier. As Schumacher observes, "The Paris Opera is beautiful, but it's a huge municipal building with a bureaucratic feel to it. I wanted the Opera Populaire to be intimate, to feel like a sexy female character, rather than just a building.” 

In addition to enacting Schumacher's vision for the opera house, Pratt endeavored to underscore the resplendency of the theatre with a sense of foreboding. "I was struck by the underlying eeriness of the story,” he says. "I wanted to establish a macabre quality in every set.”

Pratt's design for the Opera Populaire represents a suggestion of the Opera Garnier and its opulence, without using any of its specific detail. His team constructed an 886 seat theatre on four levels, adorned with sensuous gold-hued figures entwined around the loge boxes and the stage. The deep red velvet curtains and upholstery are set off by a glorious proscenium arch. 

One of the most spectacular details of the auditorium design – and a crucial set piece in the story – is the chandelier that adorns the theatre's domed ceiling. At a climactic point in the film, the enraged Phantom sends the chandelier crashing down into the audience, setting the opera house ablaze. To meet various production needs, three versions of the chandelier were created: a "hero” piece for day to day filming; a "stunt” replica for shooting the crashing sequences; and a version outfitted for electricity for the scenes set in 1919, which provide narrative perspective on the story.

Pratt based his design on the general shape and size of the chandelier that adorns the Garnier. "The Garnier chandelier is magnificent, but it has quite a lot of external metal on it, and Joe

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