Almost 27 years after the original Disney animated film ‘Aladdin’ came out, its live-action version is finally here and it looks totally magical. As can be seen from the trailer, Agrabah, the story’s setting, seems to be much more detailed than the animated version’s.
But, how were the set designers able to create a set that big and realistic? Well, it’s largely thanks to the work of the film’s production design head, Gemma Jackson.
Veteran Set Designer
Jackson definitely took her experience designing sets for other giant productions like ‘Game of Thrones‘ and ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ to the ‘Aladdin’ set. While she enjoyed doing work on those period pieces, Jackson admits to feeling ‘liberated’ while designing for ‘Aladdin’ because the concept was so abstract.
You see, since the animated version focused more on the characters and the story, Agrabah wasn’t really paid much attention to. In fact, the images of the place that made it into the final cut of the 1992 classic, weren’t even detailed enough to start from.
Still, Jackson and her team tried to stay true to the original story and aesthetic origins which happens to be a mix of Chinese, Arab, and Indian cultures. While the popular story is a product of Arab literature, it was actually set somewhere in China.
Hence, director Guy Ritchie decided to run with it and have Jackson create a set with an ‘international’ appeal. Keeping everything within the confines of a magical world, the two didn’t want the sets to look like it favors one particular religion or race. They also clarified that they weren’t portraying one set time period for the film.
The experienced production designer initially envisioned Agrabah as a bustling city bursting with color and detail. To get props for the sets she was planning to make, Jackson made a trip to the north African country of Morocco to buy pieces like windows and doors. She also did some major research on Iranian architecture and had some props sent from India. This shipment from the subcontinent included lots of basketwork and pots for the film.
Since shooting on location in a place like Morocco proved to be quite logistically impossible, they had to build the fictional city and its palace on a giant soundstage in Surrey, England. Some scenes were shot in Jordan though including Cave of Wonders scene as well as the desert-set ones.
On the soundstage, Jackson paid particular attention to making the set accommodating for the large dance sequences that are in the film. She also busied herself perfecting the sultan’s palace giving it an inside-outside feel using lush plants and open-air structures.
The film premiered last week and is still showing in theaters worldwide.