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The Spiderwick Estate As A Character
The Spiderwick Estate is virtually a complete character itself in the movie. What at first seems to be a musty, secluded old mansion in bad need of repair, slowly opens up to reveal a fascinating and mysterious history. Odd creatures lurk in the walls; even odder ones are trying to get in to steal the Field Guide, the lifelong research of the home's original owner, Arthur Spiderwick – who lived there with his young daughter, Lucinda, and then vanished and is presumed dead. So many pivotal events in the film unfold there (both in the distant past and the present) that production designer Jim Bissell had to design it in such a way that audiences were able to appreciate the way it once looked and what remains special about it to this day.

"Arthur Spiderwick built the estate in the early decades of the 20th century,” Bissell explains. "He came from an old New England family and studied to be a naturalist. In the course of his work, he discovered an unseen world he'd read about when studying European myths but didn't realize also existed in the United States. This led him to embark upon his studies, which culminated in his masterwork, Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You (The Field Guide). So his estate is unique in that it reflects his old-time New England values and, at the same time, has a tower built atop the house, which Arthur used as an observation post for keeping an eye on the forest around him – the goblins, fairies and other creatures. He also kept a secret study where he documented his findings and observations,” Bissell explains.

Bissell referenced the work of designer William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 1800s, known for their emphasis on organic motifs, for his design inspiration, as well as the Spiderwick books themselves. "The books are fantastic. I was familiar with them because my kids love them, and that's what drew me to the project in the first place. Tony's illustrations, his pencil drawings, his pen and inks, are just fabulous. So when I was designing the film, I kept them on the wall to inspire me. They always had relevant information for me,” Bissell says.

The house had to reflect Arthur Spiderwick's interest in the enchanted world, requiring a fairly isolated location in the Montreal, Canada area, where the film was shot. "We found a beautiful glade in a park called Cap-Saint-Jacques, and there was a little shack there, probably built in the 1950s. The city and the park graciously let us tear it down and build our house there,” he describes.

The company built a shell of the house, though an elaborate one. "It was four stories with a tower - a full 360 degree structure surrounded by woods, which also worked in the film. We also built the ground floor, including the foyer, the parlor and library and the staircase to the second floor. And we constructed bits of the second and third story windows for POV shots, as well as the interior tower, so that the kids could run in and out, and so the scenes that directly related to the outside could be filmed on location.”

On soundstages, the company replicated the ground floor for all of the complicated effects shots in which Mulgarath crashes through the house and the goblins mount their final assault. "We also built a second floor where the kids' bedrooms are and created the goblin glade, with a grotesque oak tree where we first see Mulgarath,” Bissell explains.

To Bissell, "The Spiderwick Chronicles” is fundamentally a film about discovery, he says. "It's about city kids discovering nature, discovering their families and the heritage of their families – the people who preceded them and their own immediate family, for better or worse, and the transition that kids go through between their wild imaginations and into the world that they never knew – a world of logic, o

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