CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG
December 14th, 2021 by Michelle Schluter-Ford SDSA
“Middle school is never easy, but Emily Elizabeth Howard [Darby Camp] has it rougher than most. Not only is she the new girl at the elite private school she attends on a scholarship, but she’s also been nicknamed “Food Stamp” by the mean girls who bully her at every opportunity. When her mom is called away to Chicago on business, Emily Elizabeth is left in the care of her well-meaning but wildly irresponsible uncle Casey [Jack Whitehall]. An unemployed graphic artist, Casey always seems to find a way to get them into trouble of some sort. When they meet Mr Bridwell [John Cleese] a magical animal rescuer who gifts her a little red puppy, she asks how big he’s likely to grow—and the old man answers with a twinkle in his eye, ‘It depends on how much you love him.’ She never anticipates waking up to find a giant ten-foot hound in her small New York City apartment. -Paramount Pictures
Emily Elizabeth’s bedroom. “Emily Elizabeth [Darby Camp] names the new puppy Clifford, and as she cradles him in her arms, she wishes they both might be big and strong so the world wouldn’t be able to hurt them.”...Paramount Pictures
Set Decorator Michelle Schluter-Ford SDSA and Production Designer Naomi Shohan in close collaboration with Director Walt Becker and all their teams, have brought the beloved Scholastic Books CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG to life in the Big Apple, on the big screen!
While the puppeteers and the Visual Effects department worked their wonders, the design & décor team worked theirs, creating the world the characters and story would inhabit. As the production designer says, “It’s a little bit heightened and a little bit idealized in every direction that it goes.”
Michelle told us it was a delightful experience to shoot this big-hearted film in New York City, and she generously shares some behind-the-scenes notes and images.
Enjoy, we know you will!
Karen Burg, Editor
Emily Elizabeth’s bedroom. “When Emily Elizabeth wakes the next day, her wish has come true. Her new furry companion has grown—significantly—and now stands 10-feet-tall! Darby Camp. Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures
From Michelle Schluter-Ford SDSA...
“It was really important to Naomi to get the scale of everything in Emily Elizabeth’s & her mom’s apartment correct, and really, throughout the movie. Trying to find the perfect balance of a space that allowed Clifford to move around freely without the spaces feeling too big and too unbelievable. Naomi nailed the scale!”
“The art dept and set dec offices were in half of a floor of an old office building on Madison Avenue. We had more space than I’ve ever seen for a production, which was great, because we set up so many experiments dealing with scale, color and patterns in the bullpen area between our offices. We had a section of vignettes for the tents, a section for Emily’s apartment and a section for the LyfeGrow lab.”
Mr Bridwell’s Emporium for Lost Animals
“The magical tents!!! These were fun to create. We had two versions, one for exteriors and one for all the interior work. The interior tents were made slightly larger to accommodate the work with all of the animals.”
Bridwell’s Emporium for Lost Animals. It’s immediately clear that this unusual emporium, one that is far larger than it appears from the outside, is a long way far from ordinary. Production Designer Naomi Shohan reveals, “I wanted the light to come through lots of directions like a jumble to recreate an internal experience of seeking and finding.” Photo by K.C. Bailey ©2021 Paramount Pictures
Bridwell’s Emporium for Lost Animals. The green-and-white striped tent compound where Bridwell cares for his lost animals is an inviting place where the rules of physics don’t necessarily apply. Photo by K.C. Bailey ©2021 Paramount Pictures
“Once the awning fabrics were selected for the tents, they went through a multi-step process: First, my awning guy, Mike Cantalano at Capital Awning Company, cut the pieces a couple of feet longer then we needed. They then went to an industrial laundry service to be washed with a product that broke down the coating of the awning fabric… which created a weathered and aged look. Then it went back to Mike who created the magical tents.”
“Two of the first things I purchased for the interior of the tent were a Chinese tabletop cabinet in a pyramid shape and a very small wooden teeter totter swing,” shares Set Decorator Michelle Schluter-Ford SDSA. “I pictured a cat lounging in the bottom drawer and a mouse above him peeking out the wee top drawer, and the animal wranglers made it happen! It was amazing! ” Cast: Jack Whitehall, Darby Camp & John Cleese. Photo by K.C. Bailey ©2021 Paramount Pictures
“Working on the interior with all of the animals and the animal handlers was a dream come true! It was hard to not change the overall mood of the day when you were greeted by the kind animal handlers and their animal partners. Working with them and Naomi to create a path through the 3 tents that Emily Elizabeth could meander through and discover different animals lounging along the way was really fun. Then the animal handlers would work on having the stay in those positions. It was truly magical.”
Bridwell’s Emporium for Lost Animals. Left: Pink signs designate animal perches & seating. Right: Some of the animal actors rehearsing. Courtesy Paramount Pictures
“It was fun looking for antiques for the inside of the tent that were visually interesting and could accommodate some sort of animal, whether it was a guinea pig, a corgi, St. Bernard, pony, a sloth, or a snake. We even had the biggest fish tank I’ve ever used on a set and had a fish wrangler!!! LOL. And the Corgi in the Victorian cradle is another favorite!”
“We created a Visqueen tent experiment to be sure we loved the sizes we wanted to make the tents and that the three tents could accommodate all of the animals!” [Click on SHOW MORE PHOTOS below!]
The other magic was, of course, my amazing Leadman Eddie Decurtis and set dressing crew and my wonderful Assistant Set Decorators Jeanelle Marie Vander Hueval, Lee Malecki, Heidi Stenzel & Henriette Lopez and all their fantastic work! Their contributions throughout the film were invaluable! I was so lucky to have such a magical team.
Emily Elizabeth’s & her mom’s apt
“We wanted to have Emily Elizabeth’s house feel very whimsical and creative. Naomi started with a pink and green palette, and then we got to be whimsical and creative (!) working with all the 12 X 12 boards of multiple different greens and multiple different pinks, pulling in all of the fabrics and wallpaper until the exactly right shades of pink and green were approved.”
Emily Elizabeth’s bedroom. “I couldn’t find curtain fabric that I loved for her room, I wanted something with animals in the pattern, but nothing that really screamed animals in your face. I ended up using sheets and having them made into curtains and I really loved them.” Photo by K.C. Bailey ©2021 Paramount Pictures
The apartment wallpaper choices...
The apartment kitchen...note the wallpaper choice! Photo by K.C. Bailey ©2021 Paramount Pictures
“I wanted to have subliminal animal elements and animal themes throughout the apartment, which you don’t fully see unless you are searching for them. Bird finials on lamps, antique Swan faucet for the bathroom sink, birds carved into the dresser, a basket shaped like a llama…We had little details like equestrian ribbons on the bulletin board in Emily Elizabeth’s bedroom, to allude to why she could ride Clifford so well later in the movie."
Inspirational, perfect elements for the apartment set.
Emily Elizabeth’s school
“This is the elite new school where Emily Elizabeth is a scholarship student outcast. We wanted to create spaces that felt stuffy enough that she didn’t seem to fit in. We tied in multiple locations with furnishings, school colors and signage.”
Emily’s new elite school. “This location was Marymount School, across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Photo by K.C. Bailey ©2021 Paramount Pictures
“I so enjoyed doing this set! The first thing I found for it was the long serpentine sofa and the chair. We shipped it in from Chicago and had it reupholstered. It was so beautiful and fit the space well.”
The Yu penthouse. Classmate Owen Yu has a crush on Emily Elizabeth and tries to help with protecting Clifford. His wealthy father is an art collector. Darby Camp, Izaac Wang, Clifford & Jack Whitehall. Courtesy Paramount Pictures.
“It was also important to Naomi that we used art from Contemporary Chinese artists. Finding the artwork was an exciting and collaborative process. Naomi and I were both discovering wonderful pieces, and between my coordinator Leo Ramirez and Joshua Messmer the clearance coordinator, our graphic designer Emma Stensaas, who made sure all of the pieces were perfect for printing, and the great legal team at Paramount, we were able to use amazing pieces by Lan Zhenghui, Fudong Yang, Gu Gan and Shi Jinsong, along with pieces from the 16th - 19th century that were reproduced.”
[For additional photos, check below]
“Casey is an unemployed graphic artist partially living out of his moving van...he never quite finished finding a place to move. So, this was another fun space to do. And we had to do it twice! One that actually was used on the street, and one for the stage. Finding a balance between ordinary, creative and something fun to look at took some time to finesse. We also had to think about how things would be strapped down and corralled for stunt driving and all of the physical comedy.”
“On one of the first days of shooting the van, it was pouring rain that morning and the roof leaked. It was a mad dash to get it all squeegeed and protect all of Casey’s artwork. Was a great way to get the adrenaline flowing first thing in the morn!”
[For photos of Casey’s van, and more great CLIFFORD behind the scenes photos, click on SHOW MORE PHOTOS below!]
You’ll find magical imagery and magical moments throughout this film. Director Walt Beck says, “I think it’s important to believe in a little magic...for us magic represented possibility. When people feel like things are possible, it sort of raises the whole community up.” He adds, “I hope audiences realize two things: the love between humans and their pets is real and amazing and magic. And if we can capture that and spread that around the world, then we’ll be making strides and finding ourselves in a better place.”
You and your family can find CLIFFORD THE BIG RED DOG at theaters near you and on Paramount+
Editor's note: Michelle wishes to acknowledge the support of SDSA Business members, especially the following with whom she worked to bring about the sets for this lovely film:
Aisling Flowers * Alpha Companies Motion Picture Rentals * Arenson Prop Centre * Art For Film *Astek * Bridge Furniture & Props * Carpet Time * Chairish * City Knickerbocker * Eclectic/Encore Props * Fabric City * Fabricut/S. Harris * Fennick Studio Props * Furnish Green * Kravet NYC * LCW Props * Newel Props * propNspoon * Visual Alchemy * Zarin Fabrics