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SWEENEY TODD

Designing Sweeney's World
Burton's films have always been lauded for their amazing set designs and stylish visuals. The man charged with bringing his vision of 19th century London to life was the two-time Academy Award®-winning production designer Dante Ferretti.

One of the masters in his field, Ferretti first gained international recognition through his work with the late Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini on six films before making his mark in Hollywood, collaborating with Martin Scorsese on several films including "The Age of Innocence,” "Gangs of New York” and "The Aviator,” with Brian De Palma on "The Black Dahlia” and Neil Jordan on "Interview with the Vampire.”

"I've seen Dante's work since the Fellini days and there's just an energy about working with somebody who's worked with Fellini,” Burton notes. "It roots you in the fact you're making a movie and not just doing it as a business. He's an artist. You walk by his room and he does his own drawings. There's some real energy to that, and the history and all the stuff he's done, that was exciting to me.”

For his part, Ferretti always thought Burton reminded him of Fellini, not least because of Burton's artistic nature, always drawing, always sketching. "I always thought so, I always thought he reminded me of Fellini,” says the Italianborn designer. "Because he is so creative, he always makes a little sketch, exactly like Fellini. They are very close to each other.”

Burton wasn't interested in creating a historically accurate recreation of 19th century London for "Sweeney Todd.” "We decided not to be real hardcore because it is kind of a fable and it's slightly stylized,” he explains. He sent Ferretti a DVD of "Son of Frankenstein” as a guide to the look he was after in the movie. "He said, ‘I want to do a London that's a little bit like an old black and white Hollywood movie,'” recalls the production designer. "Not too many details, like black and white in color, just a few colors. It's very graphic. Tim is really creative. He has a very clear idea what he wants. He's a great, great director and if you look at all his movies, the look is one of the most important things.”

Adding to the movie's distinct look was the use of brightly colored flashbacks to explain the characters' backstories or fantasies. "The original music and lyrics talk about Sweeney losing his wife and having her tragically taken away by Judge Turpin,” says producer MacDonald. "But the movie gave us the opportunity to visualize that, so we actually see who Sweeney was before and how he was forged. These vibrant punches create a sharp contrast to Ferretti's stark design and convey the juxtaposition between who Sweeney was and what he has now become.”

Renowned for creating amazing fantasy worlds using traditional filmmaking techniques — building sets on soundstages and back lots rather than using CGI — Burton had initially planned to shoot "Sweeney Todd” in the manner of "Sin City” and "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” using minimal sets and props, and filming his actors against green screens. "Part of the reason was the budget,” he explains. "But when I really thought about it, being on a set helps me, it helps the actors, it helps everybody. And at the end of the day, people are singing. And singing on a green screen, you're so far removed from any reality that it would have been a really scary nightmare. I think that made it even more important to have sets on this one, because of the singing.”

Producer Zanuck says the difference in cost between building sets and using the green screen method was minimal. "We realized that for substantially the same as doing it digitally, we could, if we did it intelligently with set extension and a little green screen, build sets,” he reveals. "And Tim certainly feels much more comfortable and so do the actors.”

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