Filed in: Art Direction, Awards, Contender Portfolios, Featured, Film

Contender – Production Designer Eve Stewart, Les Misérables

December 21, 2012 08:59 | By

Eve Stewart

Production designer Eve Stewart’s experience on Les Misérables was a personal one. Making the film was as moving to her as the tragic and redemptive story itself. Stewart had already worked on The King’s Speech with director Tom Hooper, for which she received an Academy Award nomination along with several other projects. She has also received another nomination for her work on Topsy-Turvy in 2000. “The director and I were working on a commercial in Spain when he first heard of the project,” Stewart said. “I knew that he would bring an amazing new eye to the piece. The project involved using all our combined excitement about getting the truth of the time period across, that even though there is music, each character was stricken by the huge life and death questions that the grind of severe poverty brings. Hunger and misery caused these people’s souls to be bared through the songs.”

Inspired by the grave and beautiful story to be told, Stewart threw herself into the research. “I read the novel by Victor Hugo over and over again, it is so vividly descriptive. I then followed the actual journey that Valjean would have taken through France from Toulon to Paris and visited the Mayor’s office and museums in each town. I also found original newspapers and etchings that described the history we were re-imagining that showed the 1832 revolution.”

Samantha Banks in Les Misérables.

Stewart was recreating a Parisian world far from the image of Paris that exists now. “It was amazing to find the documents that proved Paris was nothing like the Paris of today, which wasn’t built until the 1850s. It used to be a labyrinth of filthy streets.”

It was important to Stewart to always keep the story as the focus and her designs as a backdrop for the unfolding drama. “The biggest challenge was to try and leave stuff out,” she explained. “There was so much we wanted to show but we knew we were there to support the songs with a true recreation of that world, and not to swamp the characters with overwhelming design.”

Stewart discovered just how powerful the story was in her favorite memory on set. “My best day ever was when I walked onto the construction site of the streets and all the hairy painters, tattooed carpenters and scary looking metal men all started singing I dreamed a dream to me. I could have wept with joy to see everyone so passionate about this project.” Watching the actors sing live was also a remarkable experience for the crew. “We all really did cry when Anne Hathaway broke our hearts with her amazing rendition of that song. I even saw an electrician with a tear on his cheek.”

Les Misérables was a unique project where all the art departments and construction crew utilized their skills to recreate the world from historical drawings of the time period. “We painted everything by hand, carved enormous elephants and sculpted all the original architectural pieces. It was a celebration of great crafts.”