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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 this film.”
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 producer Bernie 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 over-the-top opulent.”
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 Julia 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 this anymore.”
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.”
Image Courtesy of Mirror Mirror