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The Film's Design
As a movie that celebrates imagination, the production of BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA would ultimately come to involve an entire team of exceptionally imaginative people— especially when it came to bringing the kingdom of Terabithia to life, just as Jess and Leslie do in the forest.

The task was unlike any other, because there was no map or blueprint to follow. Terabithia wouldn't be based on any particular history, mythology or even on Katherine Paterson's words, since she left the job of imagining Terabithia largely up to her readers. So here was a rare chance for the filmmakers to forge creatures and a whole kingdom out of thin air, as Leslie and Jess do—with total freedom. The creatures would be entirely wild, unlikely and flamboyant, yet would also be filled with the qualities of the real-life people from Leslie and Jess's life who inspired their forms.

Jumping off from what was already put into the script, Gabor Csupo decided to bring in a man he considers a brilliant visual genius to turn out a series of gorgeously detailed illustrations. This was Dima Malenitchev, the award-winning visual thinker who had served as an art director at Klasky Csupo after coming to the U.S. from his native Russia. From his pen sprang the whimsical yet richly organic vision of Terabithia that Weta Digital would later create in three dimensions on the screen.

"Dima is an amazing conceptual artist,” says Csupo. "From the beginning, we talked about the idea of what Terabithia should be. We knew we did not want any cutesy creatures. Instead, I asked him to think about what would Terry Gilliam do, what would Ridley Scott do? I wanted the unexpected and a far more fantastical look than you might think you would see in this kind of movie. I wanted to really surprise the audience, both children and adults, with very unorthodox creatures.”

Csupo was especially aware that kids today are living in an intensely visual universe—and have highly sophisticated cinematic sensibilities. "We live in an age where you have video games and designs that are unbelievably complex, so I think with this kind of fantasy world, you really have to push the envelope so that kids aren't saying, ‘Oh, I've seen that before,'” he says.

To the filmmakers' delight, Dima Malenitchev was able to forge creations—ranging from a leafy Giant to fairylike Dragonflies to Hairy Vultures and, to top it all off, the Squogres, super-speedy, squirrel-like ogres based on the school bullies at Jess and Leslie's school—that made the familiar seem entirely new.

"Dima's creatures were incredible,” says Lauren Levine. "They don't simply imitate other fantasy films but feel very different and create their own kind of world. We thought it was important to have the creatures completely emerge from Jess and Leslie's real lives and from the forest they are in, and Dima's illustrations hit the nail on the head.”

Adds Alex Schwartz, Executive in Charge of Production for Walden Media: "The creatures are very edgy and in keeping with the sensibility of kids today. It's a real visual feast that I think will dazzle young audiences.”

But the illustrations were just the start of the process—next would come actually sparking the creatures to living, breathing, moving forms in the computers of Weta Digital.

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