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Oz: The Great And Powerful

Oz: The Great And Powerful

The vision behind the visuals

Film3Sixty Magazine

February 2013

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When creating the gorgeous and surreal dreamscapes of Oz: The Great And Powerful, Sam Raimi relied on Oscar-winning production designer Robert Stromberg.

If you set out to tell the imaginary tale of how a circus magician from Kansas (James Franco) ended up becoming the exalted Wizard of Oz, then acclaimed director Sam Raimi (Spider-Man 1, 2 & 3) is a smart man to put on the job. And fine minds like Raimi know they require equally brilliant collaborators, which is why he recruited Robert Stromberg, the Oscar-winning production designer of Avatar and Alice In Wonderland, to help him bring the rich fantasy world of Oz to vivid, vibrant life. Using a heady mix of pixel power and old-fashioned set building, Stromberg has created a fantastical dream-land of colour-saturated vistas, spiky peaks and a village of teapots (not to mention malevolent witches, diminutive munchkins and airborne simians).

“We started with the descriptions in L. Frank Baum’s books and tried to take them to a place that was original and unique,” says Stromberg, who erected the film’s nearly 30 sets across six massive soundstages near Pontiac, Michigan. “We ended up using a lot more physical sets on Oz than we did on Alice In Wonderland. It ended up a 50-50 split on Oz between sets and computer design.” Raimi was extremely keen that his actors get to experience as many practical sets as possible. “I wanted them to have something to touch and see that was real,” says the director, who has boosted his Oz prequel with an outstanding cast: James Franco as the title character, Michelle Williams as Glinda, the Good Witch, and Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis as, respectively, Evanora, the wicked witch who rules over Emerald City, and her tormented younger sister Theodora. For her part, Williams enthuses about the effort that went into creating this enchanting fantasy-land: “It was thrilling to be on set because the magical world wasn’t just in our heads. With the Yellow Brick Road and Glinda’s castle in front of my eyes, I didn’t have to imagine my surroundings.”

As in the original, the good witch Glinda (Michelle Williams) will travel around Oz by bubble, offering a 3D bird’s-eye view of the beautiful dreamscape below. “We did so much design work beforehand so that the actors could see not only the physical sets but also what was going into the bluescreens. It gave them a tremendous sense of the bigger picture,” says Stromberg.

On his way to Emerald City, Franco’s Oz comes across a town made of porcelain which has been destroyed, bringing its sole survivor, China Girl, on his journey. “That was months of experimenting, buying actual china cups and saucers and stacking them together in different ways.”

For the landscapes, Stromberg was influenced by the work of the Hudson River School, a group of painters who travelled across America in the 19th century. “It’s somewhere between reality and surreal but I always wanted to feel like we might be in a dream. We all know what the yellow-brick road looks like. I wanted to take some of those icons that we all know and recognise, and bring in some influence from traditional painters while also mixing in a little bit of whimsy.”

In the 1939 original, Emerald City was a matte painting that Stromberg says “looked like upside-down test tubes painted green”. In Oz, The Great And Powerful, he creates a far more futuristic skyline. “I tried to make it something we would recognise in our world, and yet different.” Did any of the world’s famous skylines or towers influence the green cityscape? “There might have been a subtle influence,” laughs Stromberg.
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