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“Alice in Wonderland: A Visual Companion” will make all other making-of books green (screen) with envy

“Alice in Wonderland: A Visual Companion” will make all other making-of books green (screen) with envy

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When he was in the press room at Comic Con last July, Tim Burton talked about how “Alice in Wonderland” wasn’t actually the first film that he’d used green screen on (2007’s “Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” was). But because so many scenes for this Walt Disney Pictures release were being shot on sound stages that were covered floor-to-ceiling in green that (to quote this acclaimed director) …

“ … I always tried to give the actors something real to hang onto. A prop. A piece of furniture. Just so they could then be grounded, have something that would serve as their anchor in this sea of green when they performed.”

Disney's Alice in Wonderland - A Visual Companion book cover
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

As I sat in on this particular press conference, I wondered what Tim was referring to. But now that I’ve read Mark Salisbury’s “Alice in Wonderland: A Visual Companion" (Disney Editions, March 2010), I understand exactly the challenges that Burton was facing.

This terrific making-of book puts you right on the set of this cutting edge fantasy film, revealing many of the cinematic tricks that Tim used to bring Wonderland to life. Mind you, some of these visual effects were relatively easy to achieve (EX: shooting an upside down scene right side up in order to achieve an other-worldly look on screen) …

The effect of Alice sitting on the ceiling of a room was done with the actress sitting in an upside down room in Disney's Alice in Wonderland
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

… while still others took weeks of preparation, careful planning & rehearsal to pull off (EX: Tiny Alice’s perilous journey across the head-filled moat at the Red Queen’s castle).

Alice runs across giant green heads while crossing the moat at the Red Queen's castle in Disney's Alice in Wonderland
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Salisbury does a brilliant job of describing how Burton worked with visual effects veterans like Ken Ralston to turn bare bones, green screen-filled sound stages…

Many of Disney's Alice in Wonderland scenes were shot an entire green room.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

… into visually rich, highly detailed fantasy film environments.

A scene from the finished film - in the Red Queens's throne room, Alice next to her
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Though – to be honest – my favorite parts of this 256 page hardcover have to deal with Tim’s collaboration with Johnny Depp when it came to the character of the Mad Hatter. Given that -- over the past 20 years -- these two have worked on seven films together ... Well, Burton & Depp are now very much in sync creatively. Which is why – as they were both struggling to get a handle on this Lewis Carroll character – Tim & Johnny both did color sketches of the Hatter.

Two conept sketches of the Mad Hatter done by Tim Burton and Johnny Depp
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And – as I mentioned at the very top of this review – Burton always tried to give his actors something real to bounce off of. Be it a Cheshire Cat head –on-a-stick …

A crew member holds a Cheshire cat head on a stick for sight lines while filiming Disney's Alice in Wonderland
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

… or full-sized horse and bandersnatch rigs to ride on. Whatever it took so that Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska and Anne Hathaway could then deliver performances that would actually make audiences care about and root for Lewis Carroll’s crazy characters.

Anne Hathaway and Mia Wasikowska ride green screen blobs that will be turned into Lewis Carroll's magical creatures
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

And given that – to date – “Alice in Wonderland” has earned over $658 million at the worldwide box office … It would appear that all that extra effort Tim Burton put in on this film really paid off.

And speaking of extra effort … Salisbury obviously did his damnedest to make “Alice in Wonderland: A Visual Companion” as informative & entertaining as possible. Which is why – in addition to full page shots of pre-production art, storyboards, sculptures et el – you sometimes get some supremely silly stuff. Like the picture below, for example. Which shows Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter (in her full Red Queen costume & make-up) engaged in an on-set shoot-out with Nerf Guns.

Tim Buton and his wife, Helena Bonham Carter have a nerf gun fight on the set of Disney's Alice in Wonderland
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

If you’re a big fan of this new cinematic take on Lewis Carroll’s classic tale and/or if you’d like some insight as to how the first true blockbuster of 2010 actually came together, then you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of “Alice in Wonderland: A Visual Companion.” Which will make all of the other making-of books that are currently on the market green (screen) with envy.

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