March 3rd, 2023 by Gene Cane, Chase Helzer, Karen Burg. Captions: GC

Main Photo
WWI trench warfare, raging battle. Jumping from the trenches, soldiers charge their enemy. The fortified trenches and all defense equipment were constructed for the film with great care to safety of the crew and performers. Photo by Reiner Bajo ©2022. Netflix.

Set Decorator Ernestine Hipper SDSA

Production Designer Christian M. Goldbeck


The shockingly brutal and astonishingly beautiful film ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (IM WESTERN NICHTS NUES), based on the 1929 novel by Erich Maria Remarque, tells the story of four young German friends facing the horrors of World War I. Though the story has been adapted numerous times for film and television, the 2023 feature film is the first version from Germany, it has already won several prestigious awards, and is nominated for nine (9) Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best International Feature Film and Best Production Design: Production Designer Christian M Goldbeck and Set Decorator Ernestine Hipper SDSA.
We caught up with Ernestine via zoom as she is working on her next project, and she graciously shared in-depth details of the research and making of this astonishing film. Thank you to Ernestine, to Gene Cane, SDSA Executive Director and to Chase Helzer, SDSA Chairman for a fascinating conversation. We have excerpts for you here. You will be amazed at some of the details & process revealed. 
Karen Burg, 

Photo 3
Uniforms taken from dead soldiers are washed, patched and mended in a giant warehouse and then assigned to unknowing incoming recruits. Note the paper patterns and propaganda posters tacked to the walls. Image courtesy of Hipper & Netflix.

Early in the film, there is an astounding sequence where we see clothes that have been stripped from dead soldiers being laundered and resewn to be then given to eager new recruits. Aspects are hauntingly abattoir-like and hundreds of seamstresses toiling side by side in a factory.

Photo 4
Dozens of young women work tirelessly at treadle sewing machines with light mainly coming from the windows. Image courtesy of Hipper & Netflix.

Photo 5
Piles of uniforms from fallen soldiers, stains removed, delivered from the laundry ready for the sewing women’s next work day. Constant use of machines requires slapdash repair of the sewing cabinets. The huge amount of uniforms needed was procured by Set Decorator Ernestine Hipper SDSA from multiple sources, including clearing out a whole costume house. Image courtesy of Hipper & Netflix..

From Ernestine...
“Whatever piece of wardrobe [not being worn by an actor] that we see in this movie was set decoration. Only the piece where the seamstress was sewing on the patch was an original uniform from Costume Designer Lisy Christl. I rented an entire costume house...something they had never done. I told them,  ‘Well, they’re going to be used as for props and be drenched in blood...’ Thankfully, it all worked out.”
“For the sewing machines, we had to go to collectors. So our buyers found 10 collectors from which we were able to have about 50 sewing machines. And yet, this was just a small part of what actually occurred. Our research showed us that the real factories were like hundreds of meters long of people, of ladies making uniforms. I mean, it's hundreds of thousands of uniforms these ladies had to make...and grenades! 26 million grenades were built. “

Photo 6
Hand washing the blood and mud from the uniforms leaves the laundry area resembling an abattoir. Image courtesy of Hipper & Netflix.

Photo 7
Washing room: The arduous task of cleaning the uniforms from soaking in tub sinks, boiling in tubs and wringing. Note the blood-stained undershirts in the sinks to the final washed shirts hanging to dry. Multiple implements are ready for the tasks, buckets, brooms, stir paddles are scattered about the slick wooden floor. Image courtesy of Hipper & Netflix.

You can catch a glimpse of Ernestine tweaking the abbatoir-like laundry set in the video here! Video by Assistant Set Decorator Ingo Klier.

Photo 8
Uniforms hanging to dry show a frightening tableau reminiscent of dangling bodies. Image courtesy of Hipper & Netflix.

Photo 9
Uniform distribution, new recruits. Young recruit Paul Baumer [Felix Kammerer] stands in line to receive his soldiers uniform, unaware he will receive recycled, repaired clothing from deceased soldiers. The distribution takes place at the local school, decorated with evergreen festoons for Christmas. Photo by Reiner Bajo ©2022. Netflix.

From Ernestine...
Barbed wire...
“There's a great story behind the barbed wire. I think it was in 2016. I was in London at The Trading Post theatrical supply, and I saw guys putting rubber spikes on wire with a hot glue gun. There were meters and meters and meters of this wire...and I said, ‘Oh my God, what are you doing here?’
“Well,’ they said, ‘We're making these for the movie 1917.’ 
And so, I asked, ‘May I take one just to remember, to have a piece of 1917 with me?’
I've had that with me in my little personal workbag all this time. When I started this movie, I had the spike tip in my hand and thought, ‘Ah, isn't this wild? Now I'm actually ordering the same thing.’ We had , I think, 5000 meters of it."

Photo 11
Winter warfare. A forest of barricades and barb wire, while in the background the French forest stands quiet and serene. The weather of the Prague location was surprisingly compliant to the filmmakers needs. Image courtesy of Hipper & Netflix.

“The core wheels were used for the areas near the gun posts because that's where the spikes were really close together. On the x-bars...or ‘Spanish riders’ we call them...the spikes were a bit further apart. As I remember, there were at least 400 x-jacks.”

[Editor’s note: Click on  SHOW MORE PHOTOS below to see more of the barbed wire and the core wheels. You find them in the Prop shop photos.]

Photo 10
The desolate landscape of war, like broken bodies, remnants the log barricades wrapped in barbed wire, crates and sandbags litter the landscape. The pigtail rod with barbed wire and shredded fabric is deeply symbolic. Image courtesy of Hipper & Netflix. [For more info re: the barbed wire and barricades, click on SHOW MORE PHOTOS at the end of the article.]

Battlefield...“It's hard to really see the dimension of the war field—it was 1000 meters long, 400 meters wide. They dug the trenches in November when the ground was frozen, and started creating the wooden trenches in January, and I think we started shooting middle of February. When I walked on that set for the first time, I looked at Christian and said ‘Oh my god, how are we going to do this?’” 
“Well of course when you're in it, you just do it. You start focusing. We had an incredible greens department that had been digging for four weeks and then we put the forest in and they made the blood crater, and we dressed it all. The areas where the battle scenes take part needed to have some paths for camera to follow the 300 soldiers constantly. So that was everyone joining together to make things work. And then at the end it was all covered with black soil, three kinds of soils...gray soils and black make weapons crater fumes. And our scenic painters worked for weeks to create every single shade of gray for the trenches ...I think we used the entire palette of grays!”

Photo 12
BTS battle scene: Crew sets a trench scene with the French tank. With very few true vehicles extant from the first World War, a later model was employed with a clever shell of the correct tank over it. Wood debris has been picked through to remove nails and shards for protection during filming. Shooting Day 30 photo by Reiner Bajo ©2022. Netflix.

Photo 13
French surprise: German soldiers have overrun and moved into the French trenches, but a retaliatory move from the French surprises the Germans. The newly developed tank brings an added ferocity to the horror of combat. Shooting Day 32, photo by Reiner Bajo ©2022. Netflix.

Trench warfare...
The trench warfare scenes depicted both German and French trenches, each representing elements of their cultural characteristics, both phenomenal huge sets.
Here is a a set tour of the German trench. It is amazing! Watch it and then check below about the French trench...and more! Video by Assistant Set Decorator Ingo Klier. 

Photo 14
Trench victim: Multiple soldier bodies were manufactured for the film. In fact, there were 50 that were much more graphically portrayed with missing body parts, including partial faces. The fake corpses were hand-painted with eight different shades of blood to accurately depict the wounds. Ernestine painted some herself, and they are exceedingly realistic. We are sparing you those. Here a victim of war lies among the rubble of trenches. Though he Is not real, it does not lessen the tragedy of the losses of war. Image courtesy of Hipper & Netflix.

French trench...
“At some point, Christian and I thought about how we're going to show the differences in the German and the French trenches. So well, of course, when it comes to France, you think of wine, food and excellent cheese, and crockery. And we figured, of course, since the battlefield is in France, they would be supported by the farmers, who would bring them stuff. So, they would have a good supply of food, but the Germans had to wait until a train would be coming to get to bring them supplies, the were given like 250 grams of bread per day and cup of potatoes, and at the end of the war, the trains didn’t come, there was nothing.”

Editor's note: Be sure to click on  SHOW MORE PHOTOS below for extensive additional images of the field camp, the German headquarters based in a captured French castle, church and square serving as hospitals, derelict bistro, the Armistice train, weapons creation and props...