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Sets to Make Us Swoon
Being the production designer on a film as big as Beauty and the Beast can be intimidating. Not only is Sarah Greenwood responsible for the look of a massive Disney project, but she has the added pressure of reimagining a fairy tale beloved by millions. Oh, and there's the small matter of designing and building an entire castle. "As a story, you think, 'Oh, that's simple. It's a village, it's a wood, it's a castle,"' Greenwood says. "It's so complicated. So complicated."
Greenwood and director Bill Condon wanted their take on Beauty to feel even more luxurious and magical than ever before. They oversaw sprawling sets packed with historically accurate details, from the chandeliers in the ballroom to the books in Belle's library. The designers used the 1991 animated film and Jean Cocteau's 1946 romance as a reference, complemented with some good old-fashioned imagination. "To design a fairy-tale castle," she says, summing up the experience. "Are you telling me that's not the biggest treat in the world?"
From Entertainment Weekly’s special issue The Ultimate Guide to Beauty and the Beast, on newsstands now, here’s a look at how Greenwood brought a magical fairy tale world to life.
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Having a Ball
For the Beast's ballroom, Greenwood and her team went for full-on glamour and romance, adding details like 10 separate 14x7-ft. chandeliers, all modeled on those in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. "Once it's populated with the songs and the characters, it just completely comes to life," Greenwood says. And if you look closely, you may spot a few Easter eggs in the finished film: The faux-marble floor is inspired by the ceiling of a Benedictine abbey in Braunau, Germany, to which Greenwood added a "W.D." monogram honoring Walt Disney.
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Beauty and the Beast's 1740s setting places it smack in the middle of the rococo period, and the elaborate, luxurious style lent itself perfectly to the idea of an enchanted castle. "All our draft people had to do rococo boot camp," Greenwood says, laughing. "What we didn't want was something that was going to get kind of dank and overgrown. Rococo worked really well because it's so effervescent."
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Home Sweet Home
The home that Belle shares with her father, Maurice, may be a stark contrast to the opulence of the Beast's castle, but the 18th-century detail is still there. One of the crew's biggest challenges was constructing the intricate music boxes Maurice crafts for his daughter. "She's overprotected in a way by her father because she's lost her mother." set decorator Katie Spencer says. "So we've made all these music boxes that represent different countries of the world, so she can see what she's missing."
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A Castle Fit for a Princess
The Beast's sweeping grounds and hedges were inspired by the elegant baroque style of France's Chåteau de Vaux-le-Vicomte, while the actual architecture borrows heavily from the Chåteau de Chambord and its jaw-dropping French Renaissance roof. "Unlike a lot of Disney fairy stories, this was set in France in an actual period," Greenwood says. "So although it's still fantastical, it definitely came from somewhere real."
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Fountain of Inspiration
Initially, Greenwood thought the film would shoot on location in real French villages like Conques and Noyers-sur-Serein, but instead the crew built a sprawling village at Shepperton Studios outside London, covering 28,787 sq. ft. Although the architectural details are primarily French, Greenwood modeled the town's fountain on a similar one in Rothenburg, Germany. "We kind of poached the best elements and put them in our village," she says. The final touch? The filmmakers named their quaint town Villeneuve, after original Beauty and the Beast author Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve.
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A Lavish Library
In the animated film, no setting inspires as much awe (or envy) as the massive library in the Beast's castle. To build the literary sanctuary, Greenwood took inspiration from a library in Portugal and added elaborate ceiling frescoes. "It's described in the script as the biggest library in the world, but we didn't want it to be just big," she explains. "It didn't have to feel like a place you wouldn't be allowed into. It had to have a warmth and openness about it."
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Be Our Guest
Entertainment Weekly’s special issue The Ultimate Guide to Beauty and The Beast, featuring the casts and creators of the new film and the animated classic, is on sale now.