Agrabah, Port city at the crossroads of East & West... Set Decorator Tina Jones SDSA International brings us vivid recollections of the making of this musical wonder!
“Agrabah was such a great set to create. Production Designer Gemma Jackson and I went on a buying/research trip to Marrakesh and were inspired by the traders who still operated in the same way they had been doing for hundreds of years. We also found great inspiration from a group of Victorian painters called ’The Orientalists’ who chronicled their early travels to the Middle East and North Africa...”
Agrabah, Port city at the crossroads of East & West...
“The mood on set was such a positive one ! We had so many cultures & languages being spoken and everyone was visibly happy to be involved in such a great project. Weather wasn't always what we hoped for, but the atmosphere was perfect!”
“The concept art for the environments were all generated by the Art Department – Gemma had such a great team. We provided them with many of our set research and prop images, which helped create the authenticity of the images...”
“When in Marrakesh gathering ideas, we thought it would look rather wondrous for one of the Aladdin chase scenes to involve running through beautiful rose petals. We tried lots of options: painting real petals, paper ones (not wise with the English unpredictable weather) and fake silk petals, which we eventually settled on...a laborious job for our wonderful prop men who had to separate them all to allow the free fluttering movement in the wind machine...”
The massive Agrabah set was built at Longcross Studios in the UK, on a tarmac the size of two football fields in just 15 weeks. Everything about the layout...from the Marrakesh pink and blue walls, the courtyards and market stalls to the narrow alleys and cluttered rooftops...was designed to accommodate filming of the musical numbers.
Executive Producer Dan Lin points out, “There was a logic behind every single building placement, the direction each street turned and the way each house was oriented because of the intricately designed musical numbers and action scenes...”
“Sadly we didn't see everything on screen that we produced for this set... We had an ingenious 'tea cabinet' that we manufactured out of an old antique Indian trunk which had lots of pop out shelves and teapot holders... The beautiful big curtain that magically reveals the set was made from hand-woven Indian cotton that was then painted and stenciled with a design that Gemma had found... I loved this set ! Such great fun to prop and decorate...”
“It was such a joy to be part of this incredible project...it was my first time working on a musical and to have the corridors filled with singing and music was such a great accompaniment to the work...I often found myself driving home humming one of the songs to myself!”
“Jasmine’s feminine yet scholarly enclave and bedroom were designed to exemplify the intelligence and strength of her character and were dressed with books, maps, lavish tapestries and pieces of art. The bed was doubled in size, as it needed to accommodate both the princess and her tiger, Rajah. The bedspread was hand-embroidered in Pakistan to honor Jasmine’s late mother’s kingdom of Shehrabad, which is based in South Asia...”
The palace interiors, including the massive Great Hall and the sumptuous Throne Room, feature magnificent marble floors, beautiful archways, ornate wooden carvings and massive tapestries... Actual fabrics, doors and tiles accumulated from Jones and Jackson’s scouting are visible throughout the palace as set decoration.
Power-hungry Jafar, the snakehead scepter wielding advisor to the Sultan, wants desperately to go to war. Jasmine and her father, the Sultan do not. They wish to continue to live in harmony with their neighbors near and far.
“We wanted to illustrate that the Sultan was a well-travelled man who was respected by his neighbors. This was reflected by all the treasures and gifts that had been collected by him from around the world...”
Director Guy Ritchie says, “We made a decision early on to root this world in some expression of Middle Eastern culture that, simultaneously, had elements of a contemporary multi-cultural universe...”
Note that in each of the niches that Jackson designed as showcases, Jones has included a significant art piece from different cultures, as well as the large standing sculptures and hanging pieces, which she has harmoniously brought together throughout the room...
“The snake symbol that we used for Jafar’s scepter, we also incorporated into the design for the large oil burners that we then had made for the dramatic palace backgrounds. These snake lamps helped to change the mood in the palace when the evil Jafar came to the throne...”
“From the snakes on the stairs to the central large brass orrery set in a pool of water, this set was such a beautiful one to dress. We purchased some huge brass lamps from North Africa, and much of the inspiration came from old, antique references to alchemists and visionaries...”
The Genie of the Lamp transforms Aladdin into Prince Ali and stages his arrival at the Sultan’s palace with a pageant-filled parade through Agrabah, and Prince Ali astride a 30-foot flower-bedecked camel...
The sequence...the biggest production number of the film, featuring 250 dancers, 200 extras and actors Mena Massoud and Will Smith...was shot over five days, with director of photography Alan Stewart and team using seven cameras to capture all the action.
Jones smiles, “My camel! This huge prop was not only the biggest thing I've ever designed and had made, but it was also the most rewarding and challenging—we used 7,000 fake marigold heads! I had a tear in my eye the first time he was ever paraded out into the set...”
“Originally we had talked about this parade being a huge spectacle, and for me, the sight of Prince Ali on an ungraceful regular camel didn't quite cut it. I looked at some spectacular carnival procession references and then came up with the idea of Aladdin's camel being like a huge flower float.
Guy and Gemma loved the idea and our 'camel' was born! I am very proud of him and the work I did on Aladdin...”
“We used colored paper lanterns and floating lily 'candles' to add a soft ambience to the garden party, along with the silks and florals throughout the palace. This was another example of where we worked closely with the costume department and incorporated some of the wonderful color that they had used on their costumes into our flowers and lighting...”
The production filmed in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on the stunning desert vistas of Wadi Rum and Wadi Disi, the sets giving a focal point to the immense desert...the textures and weavings underscore the both the history and timelessness of the place and its peoples...
“The cave was fun...we purchased lots of glittery costume jewelry and made up 'tiles' that were then molded and produced into our rubber jewel-encrusted cave floor, created for both the visual effect and for the safety and comfort of our cast and crew.
We then added lots of beautiful shiny bright candlesticks, fake gemstones and gold coins. The crowning glory, that was mostly dressed to camera, was the cache of beautiful REAL precious stones, gold and jewels that were kindly loaned to us from Zales, the jewelers!”
ALADDIN is a thrilling and vibrant live-action adaptation of Disney Studios animated classic, which is the exciting tale of charming street rat Aladdin [Mena Massoud], the courageous and self-determined Princess Jasmine [Naomi Scott] and the Genie [Will Smith] who may be the key to their future.
-- Disney Studios
The magical spell of ALADDIN...
The live action musical is still in the top 5 films at the box office six weeks after its release! And now, we are able to reveal set photos and concept drawings, as well as glimpses from the actual film!
Production Designer Gemma Jackson and Set Decorator Tina Jones SDSA International once again teamed up with Director Guy Ritchie, but this was a first for the three: a Disney musical! They had just finished the action saga KING ARTHUR, when they jumped into the fantasy extravaganza based on a story from 1001 ARABIAN NIGHTS. Ritchie had felt Jackson and Jones, who had won an Emmy award for GAME OF THRONES, were a perfect fit for the medieval tale, and then was certain that they would bring depth and substance to the fabulous fable...which of course, they did...above and beyond!
“We made a decision early on to root this world in some expression of Middle Eastern culture that, simultaneously, had elements of a contemporary multi-cultural universe. The challenge was getting the balance right so it felt authentic,” Ritchie reveals.
The mythical Agrabah sits at the crossroads of East and West, its capital a trading center port city, with teeming streets and hidden byways. The labyrinthine city provides an intricate showcase for the film’s two largest musical productions, as well leading to the Sultan’s opulent palace sitting on its outskirts and the desert and mystical cave beyond.
Jackson and Jones, with their teams, created the city as a gateway to the Eastern world, vibrant, colorful, and full of life. Since Agrabah is on the Silk Road, where cultural influences from other regions could be found, their inspiration came from Moroccan, Persian and Byzantine architecture and history, and featured elements of Arab, Indian and South Asian cultures.
The massive Agrabah set was built outdoors on a tarmac the size of two football fields at Longcross Studios in the UK. The courtyards, market stalls, narrow alleys and cluttered rooftops were designed to accommodate the extensive choreography and stunts. Disney Studios notes: “Set decoration for Agrabah included fabrics, textiles and carvings similar to those found in Marrakesh, colorful woods, metals, fruits and vegetables, crafts of every sort, and a 1,000-year-old olive tree.”
Executive ProducerJonathan Eirich points out, “When you walked around that set, you could bask in the textures and the colors, and experience all the different types of people and languages and animals...it was just a magical world.”
Mena Massoud, who plays Aladdin, adds, “There was an entire marketplace, a bazaar, someone making Turkish Delights, someone selling lamps, someone making scarves...it was insane! As were the palace and the Cave of Wonders!”
Check the gallery above for illuminating details and sets within sets...rose petals, dye vats, crafts makers, palatial trappings, a bejeweled cave...and lovely insider notes from Set Decorator Tina Jones SDSA International