It’s hard for me to imagine any film beating Hugo for Art Direction.  With the glass studio, the magical sets, the inside of the clock tower, the train station – top to bottom, a masterpiece of design. It should do battle with The Artist, Harry Potter, War Horse, J. Edgar, etc. But Hugo’s is off the hook. It should be said, along with everything else about the film, from the brilliant script by 2011’s brightest start, John Logan, to the surprisingly calm and assured direction by Scorsese, and the acting – moving, raw performance by Asa Butterfield, and the heartbreaking turn by Ben Kingsley.   The New York Times talks to Ferretti about his partnership with Scorsese and the concepts behind many of the film’s most breathtaking sets:

“Every time I work with Martin, he shows me a lot of movies,” Mr. Ferretti said by phone from Los Angeles. “Sometimes he’ll show me an entire movie just to see two shots.”

“We wanted it full of machinery, where everything moved,” Mr. Ferretti said. “Within Hugo’s walls everything became a little more magical.”

The spaces leading up to Hugo’s apartment, zigzagging hallways that include pipes bursting with steam, were also a challenge. “With these scenes I got to be more creative than the rest,” Mr. Ferretti said. “We made a labyrinth, a secret way for Hugo to reach the clocks.” The height and the depth of the spaces, along with the variety of props, looked particularly dynamic for 3-D, allowing materials to appear scattered throughout the foreground.

George Méliès’s Studio

For a flashback sequence about the filming of the 1903 “Kingdom of the Fairies” Mr. Ferretti supervised the re-creation of Méliès’s studio, built of glass, and constructed set pieces, like a giant water tank that Méliès filmed through to give the impression that the scene was taking place underwater. This mockup is from the interior of the studio looking out onto the street.

Mr. Ferretti and his team pored over old photos and used existing designs to conform the studio to the specifications of the original. “We built everything from scratch, including all the scenery used for Méliès’s film,” Mr. Ferretti said. “The only thing I didn’t build was my pencil.”

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  • Thanks for providing such an insightful interview, Sasha. I really enjoyed this article.

    I always thought Dante Ferretti’s production designs for Scorcese’s 1993 “The Age of Innocence” were simply exquisite. No one can touch him in his attention for detail and his artistic vision for a film.

    I think I first noticed this guy in a Terry Gilliam film years ago called “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” – and his vision of a naked Uma Thurman as Venus posing in the shell just blew me away.

  • Amos

    Stuart Craig FTW

  • I loved the sets in Hugo, and also in Harry Potter this year (as with every year), but my vote would go to Maria Djurkovic for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It’s tough to compare, though, as the production designs for these films are each so different.

  • Matt

    AD is probably my favourite technical category, so I love when it gets some mainstream attention.

    Production Design in Hugo was truly amazing. However, I think Potter, The Artist and War Horse will give it a run for its money. Harry Potter definitely has the “send-off” advantage, and in the event of a Slumdog-style sweep, The Artist and War Horse could squeak through.

    Like Paddy, I would love it if at least one contemporary film gets a nod. Tinker was notable, as was the less showy, but beautifully designed Midnight in Paris. I think The Help has a shot as well.

    I do think Hugo, Harry Potter, The Artist and War Horse are the closest to secure, and I can see a scenario where any 4 picks up the win.

  • Josh

    Stuart Craig FTW(2)

  • Pierre de Plume

    Ferretti’s work on Hugo is a major reason for the film’s success. He created a world that imaginatively conveys the story and meaning.

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