In April 2018, a group of fellow journalists and I visited the set of Kenneth Branagh‘s adaptation of Artemis Fowl. The film, which arrives on Disney+ on June 12th, follows young Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) and his trusted Butler (Nonso Anozie) as they cross over into the world of faeries to rescue Artemis’ father (Colin Farrell).
In my years of doing set visits, Artemis Fowl is easily one of the more impressive sets I’ve ever been on because they actually built Fowl Manor. Usually, this kind of set is a collection of interiors and then they either digitally build the exterior or use a pre-built location. But for Artemis Fowl, they really built this massive house. Production Designer Jim Clay, whose previous credits include Children of Men and The Brothers Bloom, explains the challenges of trying to build a house that also has to meet the challenges of filming:
Traditionally we would build the exterior with the interior on a stage, the style of shooting, which Ken has developed over the last 10 years with his DOP, Haris Zambarloukos, Haris block is, is very much a fluid style, continuous shots moving from exterior to interior, and roaming all around whatever location we’re in, so that the house had to be designed in a particular way. And that led us to the decision to combine the interior with the exterior. So in fact, we were building a real house. I’ve been asked to make this house last for a number of years.
So we’re building a real house in the open. We had to keep the rain out. We had to insulate it. We had to heat it, and we had to accommodate all the shooting. So when we take you up to see the set later on, I think you’ll see how we’ve approached it. We’d like to think we’ve produced quite a nice bit of real estate with the facilities of a first class soundstage in the roof space.
And along with that, Haris has developed a new lighting style. A lot of the lights are new LED, fully remote control lights, which are sunken into the ceiling spaces, can descend down. But the main beauty is that they’re totally unobtrusive. So when you’re sitting in any of those rooms, you really feel as if you’re in a house, you’re not on a film set. And I think that’s a particular advantage to obviously a young cast who have not done a lot of this before, and that was a joy to Ken, because he could also plan any shots at any time of the day to roam anywhere, and Haris was pretty much set, ready to go lighting wise.
The architecture is a conscious mashup of styles as if the Fowl home had been built and rebuilt and expanded upon over the generations:
And you’ll see some of these sort of slightly Spanish influences in some of the styles of the architecture. The image here, which is one of our early concept drawings. Again, we started with the central house and then it had a rotunda on the side, and then we put a little cottage on it, and then we put the lighthouse on it. And then the dome at the top was a later eccentric addition, thinking maybe some ancient ancestor, Great Uncle Thaddeus Fowl, had built an observatory there. So we don’t feature that in this particular movie, but who knows, maybe in the future.
But Artemis Fowl also takes place far beyond the confines of Fowl Manor. There’s also Haven City to consider, which tries to blend the magic of a fairy world with a people that are technologically advanced. Clay explained how they blended the ancient with a highly developed technological society, although he acknowledge that lots of Haven City will be done digitally rather than the practical sets they used for Fowl Manor:
Ken’s brief on this one was that it should be a kind of wacky Shangri-La. It should be organic in its base and equally a high tech, highly developed technological society. So we’ve looked at, if you imagine deep ocean without the water, we’ve looked at ancient architecture and combined the two. The people move around, the little fairies can fly, they transport themselves in public transporter machines, some of which you see here, which are a bit based on insects. They travel around by magnetic force.
From a technical standpoint, Artemis Fowl is an intriguing project, and as you can see from Clay’s comments, they built a house not just because it was a cool thing to do for the production, but because they see it as a long-term investment in the franchise. If Artemis Fowl is a hit on Disney+, then I can see them returning to Fowl Manor for years to come