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‘Snow White and the Huntsman’, starring Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron, is currently playing in cinemas around the world. The incredible work of the dwarves plays seemingly easy on the big screen, but behind the scenes, a dedicated production team worked restlessly to make it all happen.
As the costume, hair, makeup and prosthetics departments all had to deal with the trials and tribulations of marrying the images of the principal actors with their doubles, so did Peter Elliott. The established movement director has worked on more than 50 features including such classics as ‘Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey’ and ‘Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan’, ‘Lord of the Apes’ and recent marvels such as ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ and ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.
Elliott’s challenge on this film was to teach the principal actors and their respective doubles how to all match the manner in which they move. To do this he collaborated with the cast to invent a walk that was achievable by both actors playing the same role. Then, each pair had to learn to walk in a manner that was unique to their particular character.
“I was given three weeks during which we had intense rehearsals,” recalls Elliott. “I started with the doubles, just to get the generic framework, then took our principals and worked on walks. People do not realize how hard it is to change something as integral as the way you walk…and then make it look and feel completely natural. It was a tight time frame to get it ready, but we managed it in the end.”
One of the most intrinsic things that the actors changed for their walks was their center of gravity. “When we sit on two legs, our center of gravity is completely balanced and in the middle,” shares Elliott. “To release the weight from one leg to take a step, we lean backwards slightly, which releases our weight to put the other leg forward. Our center of gravity is continually and very minutely going backwards and forwards.”
This was quite different among the taller and shorter actors. Says Elliott: “Our doubles had a whole different way of walking. Their legs are shorter, and they don’t have the same distance our principals do in which to achieve that. So they change their center of gravity from side to side, which creates a natural twist in their walk.”
It was quite a new experience for our new band of dwarves. “We had to go to dwarf college,” recounts Nick Frost. “Peter Elliott, who is one of the best movement coaches in the world, trained us to walk in a particular way for what seemed like weeks and weeks. There was a joke amongst the dwarves on set. You’d just hear someone cry out ‘small steps,’ which is exactly what Peter shouted at us constantly for weeks while hitting us with bamboo.”
Clothing the Dwarves
Once the principals and doubles had been through prosthetics, hair or wig application and makeup, they were finally ready to get into costume. “The dwarves were one of the main challenges for me, as each of those characters had a personality,” says costume designer Colleen Atwood.
“Mathematically it was simple because it was all about proportion, but if I managed to get the head-and-shoulders ratio right between a principal and his double, I couldn’t make the body thing work. We ended up using body suits on some of the actors and doubles to make the bodies correspond, and then exaggerated the dwarf quality in the principal actor.” The body suits had to be specifically designed to re-create the body shape of each principal actor and his double. Indeed, they were intended to change the methodology of the actor. The costume design became an incredibly important part of the technicalities behind the suit design, which can appear to lower the crotch and change the shapes of the arms, legs and body.
Even though this story exists in a fantastical world, it was still grounded in a time period that one could believe. From the beginning of preproduction, Atwood collaborated with director Rupert Sanders, prosthetics and the hair and makeup teams to achieve this feat. The costume designer says: “Rupert talked to us all about how he wanted Snow White and the Huntsman to be a bit edgier than just a fairy tale.”
If you look close enough, you’ll notice that Atwood subtly incorporated the characters’ personalities into the costumes. “Duir and Coll are the buddy trailblazers,” explains Atwood. “They have a rustic frontier, so we needed to give them weapons. Muir and Quert have a more demure, spiritual side to them. Nion is outgoing and comedic, and then we have the salty dogs, Beith and Gort. The concept was that all of these guys are magpies, they steal and stash treasure all over the woodlands, but also carry a bit of bling under their coats.”