What’s more difficult than directing a hugely complex musical number with a small army of singers and dancers? How about directing a hugely complex musical number with a small army of singers and dancers who aren’t actually present when you shoot the scene?
That’s the challenge filmmaker Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Mr. Holmes) faced when the director of Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast adaptation began work on the “Be Our Guest” sequence, in which the Ewan McGregor-voiced candelabra Lumière leads the household staff of very animate objects in a song to welcome Emma Watson’s Belle to the Prince’s enchanted castle.
“Well, it’s interesting to do what is going to be our biggest musical number with nobody there, except for some cutaways to Belle,” laughs Condon, whose film is released March 17, 2017. “It’s a four-minute number that cost more than Mr. Holmes‘ entire budget. We shot it with first and second unit for over a month and it’s taken over a year to put it together — and six months before that to plan it. I would guess that is pretty far up there in terms of most intricate and elaborate musical numbers ever shot.”
The sequence’s dancing was overseen by Beauty and the Beast choreographer Anthony Van Laast (Mamma Mia!), who admits it hadn’t occurred to him that he would be designing dance-steps for a candelabra, a clock, and a teapot, among other objects, when he took the job. “The biggest challenge has been doing the choreography for the animation, which I hadn’t really thought about when Bill approached me,” he says. “I’d never really thought about [it]. I mean, I’d seen a hundred animation films before but I’d never really thought that some choreographer had put it all together. Of course, a choreographer put it all together! So suddenly there I am with ‘Be Our Guest,’ and I’m thinking, God, this is a huge number to choreograph, using animation. Then we started talking about pre-views, and I had no idea what a pre-view was!”
Sorry, do you mean, pre-viz? “Pre-viz!” he laughs. “See, I can’t even say it! I didn’t know what it was, so I went on a little course to learn about pre-viz, and then we’ve done all of the choreography for ‘Be Our Guest’ using pre-viz, and using motion capture, and me choreographing things on dancers, and then transferring that onto various characters. The teapot is limited in the way that they don’t have any legs. But Lumière is a full mover, so we’re choreographing Lumière, we’re choreographing Plumette. We’ve got these wonderful sort of flying sequences going into Esther Williams patterns.”
McGregor didn’t feel very wonderful when acting out the movements his character makes in the sequence. “It’s not very graceful doing mo-cap,” says the actor. “You’re dressed in a skintight suit with balls stuck all over you and you’ve got to wear a very stupid hat. It’s not your proudest moment. And, of course, everyone wants to come and watch, so there’s like 50 people standing behind the camera. [Laughs] I had to say, ‘Look, I can’t do it, you’ve got to get everyone out!'”
“We just spent months and months and months and months,” says Condon. “Anthony choreographed it, and we took that into a kind of computer world, and applied it to the characters. It’s going to feel very real. Photo real. It’s the most intricate thing I’ve ever worked on.”
Watson, for one, believes the effort has all been worthwhile.
“It was really just very technical, and because it was so technical, really sort of painstaking,” says Watson. “Yeah, it was tricky. But I think it looks spectacular, and it all paid off — so all worth it in the end!”
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