Anyone who has seen the Disney live-action remake of Aladdin will agree that the film’s production design, costume design and an overall set design are absolutely beautiful. From the vibrant landscapes, to the picturesque scenic shots and the overall visual aesthetic of the film, it is the job of a Production designer along with their team to make a film visually appealing. Under the Art direction of Gemma Jackson, the live-action remake of Aladdin is a wonderful movie to behold. Initially, Jackson wanted to be a painter, but as fate would have it she ended up in the artistic world of theater and set design and her inner spark has been lit ever since entering into this realm of creativity.
As a Production Designer, Jackson has worked with Guy Ritchie the director of Aladdin one two other occasions as well. In the past, she has collaborated with Ritchie on the film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Jackson’s film career has earned Academy®, BAFTA and Art Directors Guild Award nominations, specifically for her work on Marc Forster’s Finding Neverland, starring Johnny Depp, and in 2008 she picked up an Australian Film Award for Best Production Design for Gillian Armstrong’s “Death Defying Acts.” Her television credits include the multi award-winning HBO series “Games of Thrones.” Jackson was production designer for seasons 1, 2 and 3. For her work on season 2 she won an Emmy® Award for Outstanding Art Direction as well as an Art Directors Guild Award. Her designs for season 3 garnered her another ADG Award and Emmy nomination. She also worked on the critically acclaimed “John Adams,” again receiving Emmy and ADG Awards, and later designed Sky’s visually stunning series “Fortitude,” for which she picked up a BAFTA Craft nomination.
In celebration of the release of the live-action adaptation of the animatic classic Aladdin on Digital on August 27th and Blu-ray on September 10th, Moms.com recently sat down with Jackson to discuss the film’s production design.
The Middle East has such a rich cultural and historical legacy. What types of books did you read or research as you prepared to depict the scenes within this film?
It's a part of the world that absolutely enchants me and it has for a very long time. I'm set to go to Iran as soon as I can very well get myself there. I love Morocco. I also have traveled much further. So all of that was kind of like, “Yes, bring it on!” I know about this world, which is the world I love and I'm very excited to present. So, um, there the touch was I had to, you know, obviously I've got loads of books and images and all the rest of it, which I, um, I took to put together for guy to some start to create the worlds to sort of see the direction we were going in and how, how it was going to look. Um, but it wasn't, um, like a big stretch for me. It's an area that I love and that I feel very comfortable in.
What were some of the set locations within the film?
We were going to shoot in Morocco, but for most of it we ended up shooting Agrabah in a studio outside of London. I spent a lot of time in Morocco, researching and thinking. The only other location that we went to was Jordan and it was quite fabulous. It was very important for the film, because we had been in the palace, we’ve been in this little town and then suddenly you get all this space with these tiny little camels going across the dessert with the kind of power and mystery. And they’re going towards the Cave of Wonders and it’s quite scary, and it’s an incredibly important part of the film. Otherwise, we built everything between two studios just outside of London.
From a historical and cultural perspective, colors have very special meanings around the world and the colors within this film are absolutely stunning. Did you research color theory and any specific textile history?
I’m sure I did, but not consciously. I've been doing this for a long time. I'm quite a cultured person. I go to lots of exhibitions. I go to a lot of theater shows, and I travel the world a lot. That's what I do for my downtime if you like. I feel quite confident in the world of textures, textiles and colors. It's not something that really frightens me particularly. And having decided to go to certain parts of the world from my research, like we're going to do this in the Middle East, we're going to use the Persian miniatures, we're going to use to Turkish beautiful paintings and wonderful tiles and all that. I’ve spent time lots of time in Morocco.
All of these experiences are interwoven and it all lends to a very colorful landscape. These countries use color, and these are hot climates and that was my guide to the use of color in the film. I used palm trees. Palm trees always give you elegance and they always make you feel fabulous. In a funny sort of way, it was all the things that I love and all the things I've looked at over the years that I was able to indulge in while preparing the production design of this film. It was a heaven sent opportunity for me to actually go in and explore the world that I really love.
What drew you to art direction as this is something that you just happen to flow into in life?
I went to art school to do painting. I thought that perhaps I was going to be the next to have a Bridget Riley or something. I was not that great. I can put paint on the campus, but I haven't got that extra thing that makes a painter a painter, which funnily enough, my sister does have and she's now a member of the Royal Academy and she's amazing. I did postgraduate in theater design and I worked in the theater for about seven or eight years, and I absolutely loved it. The moment I started in theater design my whole world went into focus.
In your own words, can you define the function of a production designer for our parenting audience so that they may share it with their children?
Basically the production designer is a really a grown up art director, which I think people understand better at some point. I've been responsible for everything really that you see on the screen other than the costumes. We are responsible for designing locations, whether it's a building or even if it's a location. If I'm building, I will be working with my lovely Art department. We make models, we draft, we draw, and we share information with the Construction department. I love working with the plasterers and the painters, and then creating these worlds. We are responsible for all the construction, everything three dimensional. Whether it's making the choice of the glass on the table, and anything in the shot. I have a supervising art director who actually kind of organizes everything in that archival world. And then I have a set decorator, and that role is crucial. My set decorator will be taking on all the kinds of fabrics and the textiles; and discussing whether something should be orange and gold. and this and that and the other. I'm at the top of the pyramid of the art department and the set decoration department.
My last question is about the music and dancing scene at the end of the movie, which was fabulous. From your perspectives as the Art Director and Production Designer, what was the inspiration behind that scene?
We shot that scene a bit later on, because it became clear that we needed much more. We needed and wanted a lovely big Lauren's endings where everyone would go out with big grins on their faces. I just wanted to kind of push everything that I'd been doing so far with the courtyards. We wanted to have fun with it. So I've got this wonderful grieves department. Oh, well, there's a lot, and we have these beautiful tree charts and then we just use all those goods of colors, give it an absolute sendoff. I just wanted to make it exuberant and glorious.
Aladdin will be available on Digital August 27 and Blu-ray September 10.
The animated classic Aladdin also joins the Walt Disney Signature Collection on 4K and Blu-ray September 10.