Building A Magical Realm
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen director Tarsem Singh's
earlier work that Mirror Mirror is an extraordinary visual feast. Built on
massive sound stages in Montreal, the settings include a haunting snowbound
forest, a rustic and richly detailed cabin inside a hollow tree, a gloriously
over-the top Great Hall for the Queen's elaborate and expensive fetes and a
seemingly infinite palace bedroom in which to hatch her nefarious schemes.
Complementing the fantastical locations are the film's sumptuous costumes, hair
and makeup, which leapfrog from century to century, incorporating both authentic
historical detail and complete fantasy.
As executive producer Kevin Misher says, "Tarsem brings a blend of poetry,
magic and visual flare to every film he works on. He incorporates a vast
spectrum of influences from Eastern architecture to Western culture and
everything in between."
Production design was at the core of the film from the very beginning of the
creative process, according to Singh. "When conceptualizing Mirror Mirror, I
remembered a Russian film I'd seen called Ivan's Childhood. There's a romantic
scene in that movie that takes place in a silver birch forest. I immediately
thought that if I could have a similar set designed it could define the tone of
Singh explains his passion for visual detail this way, "Physically
constructing an alternate reality is a beautiful experience. I want to create
the world that the characters live in, so that the actors have a better
understanding of how they should be portrayed. It was a real joy creating the
world that these characters live in."
Production designer Tom Foden, cinematographer Brendan Galvin and costume
designer Eiko Ishioka have all collaborated with Singh on three earlier films.
This longstanding artistic partnership was a keystone in the success of the
production design, says Goldmann. "Tom and Tarsem have developed a way of
working together to really define the look of the movie. Tom provided us with a
great foundation for both the magic and the emotion we envisioned. He's an
incredible designer who helped us build characters with his work.
"Watching the sets take shape over time blew me away," he continues. "I was
always aware that I might never see a set like that again. It was really old
fashioned moviemaking and it felt like we were making a Warner Bros.' movie from
the '30s or '40s. The level of detail and craftsmanship was unbelievable. It's
Rather than depend on special effects to create the vast universe of Mirror
Mirror, the filmmakers opted for practical sets whenever possible. "We certainly
use green screen and wonderful visual effects in the film," says Singh.
"However, I also wanted to make the actors' surroundings as visceral and real as
possible. That's why the sets had to be oversized."
The production design was unlike any Roberts had seen before. "The sets are
sensational," she marvels. "The Magical Cottage, where the Queen meets with her
alter ego, is beautiful and the Great Hall, where we did a lot of the party
scenes, is mind-blowing. When you see the space filled up with all these people
dressed in wild outfits, it's really something. They don't make many movies like
Hammer, too, says the sets were bigger and bolder than he could ever have
imagined. "The Queen's bedroom was bigger than most amphitheaters," he says.
"The whole atmosphere is so grand that you are able to suspend your disbelief.
The scale is so enormous that it's almost difficult to comprehend. People are
going to walk into this film and see something truly unique."
The equally sublime costumes, ranging from the Queen's outrageous golden and
blood red gowns to Snow White's pastel court gowns and her spare and sculptural
battle gear, were created by the late Eiko Ishioka in what was to be her last
film. The Oscar-winning costume designer worked with Singh on four films before
her death in January of 2012. "She was born outside the box," says Singh of
Ishioka. "Every director is always trying to get people to think differently.
You never had to tell her that. Everything about her was unconventional, even
her research and how she did it-and how much of it she did. She had two speeds:
full speed and stop. When you have a person like that, you just never let them
Ishioka, who earned an Oscar for the spectacular costumes in Francis Ford
Coppola's Dracula, was also a respected visual artist whose work is the
permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. "She was an
incredible artist," says Singh. "She didn't just design pieces of clothing, she
created works of art."
Her elaborate and imaginative designs combine pageantry and personality,
drawing on influences from the 16th to 19th centuries to create something
entirely new. "Eiko was all about spectacle," says Goldmann. "But, like Tom
Foden and Brendan Galvin, everything she did was also about building character.
She was a genius at the visual, but she was also an amazing help in building
Snow White's and the Prince's characters. The actors had an arc not only
emotionally, but also physically."
Impressively, her sensational designs were not limited to the gowns and suits
worn by the film's stars. Ishioka also designed the over 300 costumes that are
worn by the film's extras. Almost all were handmade. Hammer says that all that
effort is part of what makes the film so special. "The costumes really set the
tone for the entire movie. Eiko did a wonderful job creating something that
seems so operatic and over the top, yet at the same time completely believable."
Executive producer Kevin Misher says the collaboration between Singh and
Ishioka went beyond the aesthetic to the spiritual. "The work they did together
speaks to that connection," he says. "I think her work on this film is a
testament to her artistry in general and to their relationship in particular. It
is a lovely gift she leaves for us to remember how special she was."
Makeup and hairstyles designed for the film by hair and make-up artist
Felicity Bowring add to the hyperbolic opulence of the costumes. "Everything
stems from Eiko's designs," says Bowring. "It was
delicious to work with her vibrant colors. Imagine people wearing vivid red,
yellow, orange, green, hot pink and silver all in the same scene. For a costume
ball, we created about ten face-painted animal masks for the guests instead of
having the usual masks that go onto people's faces. And the hair had to go with
the proportions of the costumes. When a dress has a bustle that sits three feet
out from the body, a wig has to offset that and be tall enough so that it too
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