By Aly Semigran
February 20, 2012 at 01:00 PM EST
Anne Seibel
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Each year, the Oscars recognize A-list talent we regularly see on screen, on the red carpet, and in tabloids. But the Academy Awards also reward those who work behind the scenes: the writers, editors, costume designers, and others who help create trophy-worthy movie magic. This Oscars season, we’ll be toasting those off-screen artists by delving into the hidden secrets that helped create the on-screen magic that we — and the Academy — fell in love with. For more access backstage during this Oscars season, click here for EW.com’s Oscars Behind the Scenes coverage.

In Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, it was easy to see why Gil (Owen Wilson) fell in love with the City of Lights, both past and present. While some magical time-traveling (and some very famous travel companions) certainly had something to do with it, none of it would have made Gil — or Academy members — swoon without the romantic scenery and mood set by Oscar-nominated production designer Anne Seibel. EW spoke with Seibel (who is nominated alongside set decorator Hélène Dubreuil for the Academy Award for Art Direction) about her process on Midnight in Paris (click the jump to see her sketches and mood boards), how the magical sets came to life, and what it was like to work with Woody Allen. C’est magnifique!

Interior: Gertrude Stein’s house in Paris

For one of the more research-intensive of all of the scenes in Midnight in Paris, Seibel explained that she studied everything from Stein’s “private life and what she collected” to “reference photos” to “the descriptions in the books of F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Seibel tells EW, “I based the design of Gertrude Stein’s house on  all that. I based my look on this idea that she had a workshop with big windows on the side.”

Still, even though she had a vision, Seibel had to find the right location. “We were not allowed to do construction on stage, so I had to find to find a place in Paris, a flat or something, that I could transform.” With the help of the film’s location manager, Seibel says she “found a space with the same configuration, and from that I re-created what could have been a life in her flat and all the paintings she had collected at this exact period. I took the space and I found a set decorator to get some furniture and from that, we created [Gertrude Stein’s house].”

“The look we wanted for the period parts of the film was opposite of the contemporary one, which was more in beige and brown and gold colors. So I had this long conversation with [cinematographer] Darius Khondji and showed him all these references, so we chose the color together. It gave this mood that draws you into it,” Seibel explains.

Check out Seibel’s mood board for Gertrude Stein’s house here:

Next: Going for a (complicated) stroll at Place Pigalle…

Exterior: Place Pigalle, when Gil (Owen Wilson) and Adriana (Marion Cotillard) go for a lovely late-night stroll

“This was the longest process because Woody [had an idea of] Pigalle in his mind, but the real Pigalle is completely modern,” Seibel explains. “It’s very, very busy: neon lights, sex shops. So I went down a lot of little streets, made some sketches but was never satisfied. One day we went to Pigalle with Darius and we found a corner between two streets and the piazza and there’s a bistro and there’s a hotel next to it. We realized that if we made the frame just enough for the two of them to walk in, we could do it.”

“We changed the signs and the lights and put some posters on the walls and put up some curtains and tables and chairs outside. But, there was a traffic light [on the corner], which didn’t exist at this time. So I told Woody, ‘Listen I can’t do anything for that at the back,’ and he said to me, ‘You know Anne, if we see that, it’s because my actors are bad, so don’t worry about that,'” Seibel says with a laugh. “We really framed it right and it worked. We found a way.”

Next: A taxidermy wedding…

Interior: Deyrolle, a real Parisian taxidermy shop that was transformed for the eccentric 1920s wedding party

“Woody loved it from the beginning, so he really wanted to do something with the shop. So we decided to do the wedding because they let us film in there. The bear was [already] there, the rabbits, most of the things you see [in the scene], but I thought I should do something to enhance the scene,” Seibel explains, adding, “When Woody shot, he put the tiger on the table.”

“There’s ostriches and a white peacock with white feathers so I decided for lighting and our look — I wanted a lot of light coming down for the mood — I used typical chandeliers and hanging lamps and made skirts with ostrich feathers. The curtains with beads and mirrors gives an effect of mystery and shine in the middle of all this eccentric set,” Seibel said of the aesthetics she created for the scene. (For a more detailed look at Seibel’s Deyrolle sketch, click here.)

Seibeil’s mood board for the Deyrolle scene:

Next: Making a new Moulin Rouge and working with Woody…

Interior: Moulin Rouge

“The most challenging was [creating] Moulin Rouge at the beginning of the century,” says Seibel, “The Moulin Rouge at this time was an empty space with pillars and lights and a wooden floor. This doesn’t exist [there] anymore. We looked all around Paris and finally found this concert hall called La Cigale, not far from the Moulin Rouge in Pigalle. But they have one balcony that wraps around with round metallic pillars and it’s all very dark grey. When you look at the movie, you see the balcony, but it’s a period balcony so it was fine. And the floor is shiny black, so we made a fake wooden floor that was retouched by paint.”

While setting the scene for trickier locations like Moulin Rouge and Place Pigalle proved to be a challenge for Seibel, it was one that paid off in the end. “It was a really nice challenge and a joy [making Midnight in Paris]. It was really making a movie: There’s no CGI, no studio, you just have to be creative,” the production designer says. Seibel also credits Allen for giving his crew creative freedom. “He just told me, in two or three sentences at the beginning, of what he wanted to achieve and he let me [have my] freedom.” So what did she think of the final product? “Woody loves Paris… It’s a very good homage to our town.”

Read more:

EW’s Oscars 2012 coverage

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  • PG-13
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