The Beast and Belle have something in common...a love of books... The library is relevant to an important theme in the story: the thirst for knowledge and the vital role books play in feeding the imagination...
Belle [Emma Watson] assists her beloved father Maurice [Kevin Kline] as he makes his intricate music boxes which depict different places around the world. Because they exist in an enchanted and magical environment, these are not just music boxes, but portals to other worlds!
Belle and Maurice’s cottage… The village of Villeneuve, the film’s largest set, measuring 28,787 square feet, was built on the backlot at Shepperton Studios outside of London. Pictured here is a quiet morning at their cottage on the edge of town, but for the epic opening number, more than 150 extras, hundreds of animals, 28 wagons and countless props and set decorations were used, each with an incredible amount of detail...
“The interplay between the photography and the phenomenal design and décor work on these sets has been incredible to see,” says co-producer Greg Yolen. “We built the foyer and ballroom of the castle – as they would actually be laid out – across two soundstages...”
Belle [Emma Watson] meets some of the castle’s other ‘inhabitants”...the castle’s staff members who, like their Prince, have been transformed except into household objects rather than beasts, each reflecting their personality or role...
Did we mention that Lumière [Ewan McGregor] is madly in love with Plumette [Gugu Mbatha-Raw]!! And it’s obvious that each of these and several other characters were actually made in various sizes and then photographed for animation...
Normally this would be the staff’s dining table, but since they’ve been transformed, they use it as a prep table for the dining room...note Lumière and Cogsworth at the center of the table discussing something with Mrs Potts and Chip
Castle ballroom… In the story, Madame de Garderobe takes gold gilding from the ceiling of Belle’s bedroom and sprinkles it onto her gown. Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran, whom Greenwood & Spencer have worked with often, had the dress accentuated with 2,160 Swarovski crystals.
The now gentlemanly Beast [Dan Stevens] and the dynamic Belle [Emma Watson] in the most romantic of settings...
The actors did all the singing and dancing...and the design and décor team gave them a full-sized, gorgeous fairy-tale ballroom, amongst myriad lovely sets, some enormous, some small, but each a gem...
Those who create the magic... (Left to right) Casting Director Lucy Bevan, Set Decorator Katie Spencer SDSA, Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran, Makeup and Hair Designer Jenny Shircore, Editor Virginia Katz, Production Designer Sarah Greenwood on the set of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, directed by Bill Condon.
To bring to life today the tale as old as time, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, while honoring previous incarnations including the exquisite animated version of 1991, Director Bill Condon brought in the magical team of Production Designer Sara Greenwood and Set Decorator Katie Spencer SDSA, along with other of the world’s top film-making department heads, which fittingly for this tale of female empowerment, many of whom are women.
Greenwood says they were striving for a timeless, European feel in the tradition of the great Hollywood romances. The story is set in a specific time and place, mid-18th century France, as opposed to an undated alternate fairy tale universe, and while each department’s work was influenced by the animated film, the sets, props, costumes and hair and make-up were often authentic to 18th century life in France...a fairy tale set in that universe.
The fictional town of Villeneuve, the village where Belle [Emma Watson] and her father Maurice [Kevin Kline] live, was built on the backlot at Shepperton. For the production’s largest set (measuring 28,787 square feet), Greenwood, Spencer and their teams drew inspiration from the village of Conques in Southern France. Included in the town, which was named after the author of the original Beauty and the Beast story, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, is Belle and Maurice’s cottage and his workshop, a school house, a dress shop, a village tavern, a church, fountains and the village square and market.
For the film’s epic opening number, “Belle,” which takes place in Villeneuve, more than 150 extras, hundreds of animals, 28 wagons and countless props and set decorations were used, each with distinctive detail.
Over 1,000 crewmembers worked around the clock to build and decorate all the mammoth sets, providing an incredible amount of hand-detailed artistry. Emma Watson notes, “I’ve worked on films before where the craftsmanship has been amazing, but this film has been really special because they’ve taken something which is so well known and loved and somehow managed to keep what we know and love but also expand on it and give it more detail and more depth and more layers. Everyone felt there was so much more to explore..."
“For me, the details are the fun element,” Spencer smiles. “You’re storytelling on your own when you’re dressing a set. Even if nobody sees it, we enjoy it!”
“For instance," she adds, "the Castle ballroom was huge, but the Versailles-style chandeliers notwithstanding, it’s a relatively simple dress, whereas something like Maurice’sworkshop is a much smaller set but the level of dressing in there is much more detailed and dense. It’s where he makes his intricate music boxes, so imagine all of the tools and pieces and miniscule elements. And working with an actor like Kevin Kline, who’s very interested in the backstory...how you make a music box, how Maurice would have made them, and the emotional sort of details...makes it all the more fun and exciting to delve into.”
The beautiful music boxes Maurice creates were all crafted by hand with intricate gilded castings. They were inspired by the works of goldsmith Johann Melchior Dinglinger and depicted different cities and countries from around the world. Because they exist in an enchanted and magical environment, these are not just music boxes, but portals to other worlds!*
The most magical environment, the Castle is a combination of different architectural styles, but mostly French Rococo, a style prevalent in 1740s France, used in the design of such notable structures as the Palace of Versailles. “Rococo was a French design style where the motif was quite extreme,” says Greenwood. “It was a very short-lived design theme because it was so intense and excessive and very expensive!”
One of the significant differences between this castle and that from the animated version is its evolving look. Greenwood explains, “The castle in the animated film does not change over the course of the story, but because we’re working within a live-action format, we were able to show the castle reacting to the effects of the spell as time goes by. With Rococo, everything is very exuberant, but also very organic, and what we wanted to convey in our designs was it slowly growing and stretching – post enchantment – which is reflected in the castle’s frost, topiaries, architecture and plaster moldings.”
“We didn’t have the time or money to change things dramatically within the architecture...we did on the exterior terrace, that has a major change...but within the castle, the changes are more subtle,” says Greenwood. “For example, the Ballroom plays 5 times. The first time we see it, it’s frozen. So this is a kind of metaphor for the fact that the castle has been left in this kind of inert state, the frost has crept in—so the first time we see the ballroom, it’s dark, it’s frozen. Maurice comes in and the harpsichord, Credenza, begins playing on his own, and it’s all very lonely. When we learn the story of the Prince’s enchantment, we get a slightly surreal glimpse of it filled with dancers in white, hinting of the frost to come. We see it again, when Belle is cleaning the ice off of the windows, so the sun floods in, bringing it to life. Then we see it for the famous waltz, where it has a magical quality to it, sparkling romance...
...And then at the end, full of light and life, everyone reunited...”
The castle’s ballroom is a massive set—the floor is made from 12,000 square feet of faux marble. Greenwood based the design on a pattern found on the ceiling of the Benedictine Abbey in Braunau, in the Czech Republic. Spencer brought in ten crystal chandeliers, each measuring 14 feet x 7 feet, which are based on chandeliers from Versailles. For the desolation of the enchantment, they were frosted, covered in fabric and candlelit, and then for the romantic waltz, they were dazzlingly ablaze in prismatic splendor.*
Belle’s bedroom, like the ballroom, is located in the benevolent enchantment area of the castle and is designed to appeal to every little girl as the ideal fairy tale bedroom. The west wing, where the Beast often retreats, is the epicenter of the enchantment and is designed in Italian baroque, which is more sinister and dark in appearance.
The castle’s library is based on the design of a celebrated library in Portugal and is relevant to an important theme in the story: the thirst for knowledge and the vital role books play in feeding the imagination. The floor is made from approximately 2,000 square feet of faux marble and features thousands of books which were created especially for the production.
"What I like about this version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is the fact that it’s like old technology and new technology," proffers Greenwood. "These are big, bang, kind of old-fashioned sets, proper big old sets, BUT into that, we bring the latest technology with the house itself, with the creatures. We’ve made perfect models...we created the beautiful objects...and then with the latest computer technology, which we’re using, they come alive! So it’s this combination of old and new. The whole process is amazing, and then that it’s a musical, so to include the dancing, it’s all so complicated, but to have been allowed the opportunity to work on a film like this, it’s just incredible."
Spencer agrees. “The musical aspect adds quite another dimension to our work! Not so much in the ballroom where it’s sort of more the traditional dancing, and the dance area is not furnished other than chandeliers above and then the periphery, but something like the tavern, which is the Gaston number it was significant. For that set, we had to make all of the furniture, to have it strong enough for the dancing...and we had to know where everything was going to go before the set was built, because our choreographer Anthony Van Laast and the actors and dancers were rehearsing as the set was being designed...and you can’t move the furniture once decided! And you have to take your lead from the choreography, because that’s what’s important. That was new to us. So it wasn’t necessarily like, “That would look nice over there.” It was, ‘That needs to be over there. How do we make it look nice...and it’s got to take the weight of 20 men jumping on it!’ So that was challenging. And we loved it.”
She adds, “I mean it is my favorite fairy tale, which is another thrill. You just have such an incredible journey, to use an expression...but you do. You go from a village, a sort of 1740s/1750s village, through into the castle, through into the enchantment, through into the redemptive power of love...and it’s everything a fairy tale should be.”
*Editor's note: Check back every Saturday in April for new behind-the-scenes details like these!
*New details! Two delightful new characters were added to the castle and film... a maestro who, along with his diva, is performing for the Prince at the castle when the spell is cast. Maestro Cadenza [Stanley Tucci] is now a harpsichord confined to the vast empty ballroom. Cadenza’s wife, the renowned Italian opera diva Madame de Garderobe [Audra McDonald] has been transformed into an enormous armoire wardrobe in Belle’s bedroom at the castle, the same room where she had previously stayed herself, when she was the visiting opera singer accompanied by her devoted husband, who is now both close by and far away. Garderobe has a flare for melodrama and a proclivity for frequent naps.
When she designs Belle’s ballgown, Madame de Garderobe takes gold gilding from the ceiling of the bedroom and sprinkles it onto the gown.
The dress Emma Watson wears in the film was created from multiple layers of feather light satin organza dyed yellow—180 feet of fabric, which was cut broadly in a circular shape and required 3,000 feet of thread. The top two layers were printed with gold leaf filigree in a pattern matching the ballroom’s Rococo floor and accentuated with 2,160 Swarovski crystals. Add those to the thousands in the chandeliers and it's a completely magical scene!