Diane Haithman is a contributor to AwardsLine

You might think the biggest challenge for Hugo production designer Dante Ferretti — a frequent Martin Scorsese collaborator and multiple Academy Award winner — would be realizing his first film in 3D. And it was, though he wasn’t alone in charting new ground. “It was everybody’s first time, actually,” the Italian designer says. Sure, that required some additional consideration: “For the set decoration, I had to put more stuff in different positions so you can create depth in the screen,” Ferretti explains. But putting in “more stuff,” he adds, was less daunting than the prospect of creating Paris in London. “Now I’ll tell you in this movie, everything is built on the stages in London. The movie takes place in Paris, but we shot only four days in Paris,” says Ferretti, with obvious pride. “Everything was built from scratch.”


1. This shot (above) includes perhaps the most important set created for the movie: the train station. Much of the action takes place inside the station, which represents an amalgam of elements based on the real gares, or train stations, of Paris. “We built even the exterior of the train station, not just the interior lobby,” Ferretti says. “We built the platform with the long track, and we put a real train inside.” In the movie, this is the Montparnasse train station, but Ferretti notes he “had some freedom to change some stuff, like the columns. All the old train stations in Paris like the Gare du Lyons, the Gare du Nord, there are so many, but they look all the same. They were built more or less in the same period, the same style.”

Ferretti goes on to mention other Parisian locales that were built on London stages or back lots: Georges Méliès’ studio — “it was a crystal palace, a glass house” — Papa Georges’ house, the graveyard and the secret apartment in the station where the child Hugo lives. “Only two scenes were shot in Paris: One at the end of the movie, the Georges Méliès celebration, this was shot at the Sorbonne. The other is the big library. And just one piece of the street under 50 feet long. All the rest, it’s all in London.”

2. Some of the details within the station were also built from scratch, including the giant clock and some other interior locations not visible here, including Papa Georges’ toyshop and the café. “Nothing is old, everything is new,” Ferretti says. For both the train station and the sets within the sets, Ferretti was inspired by the drawings in the book that inspired the movie, Brian Selznick’s The Invention Of Hugo Cabret.

3. While the main sets were created from the ground up, the period props, furniture and decorations, including cafe tables and lighting fixtures, were found and brought to London by Academy Award-winning set decorator Francesca LoSchiavo. “She went to Paris and to the Marché Aux Puces [flea market]. Some items are rented, other purchased at the flea market and antique shops. “When she made the decoration, everything was right,” Ferretti says.

4. While most of the items in this scene are either built or collected, the skylight is created using CGI technology. “We didn’t’ have the stage high enough to put in the skylight, so we put in a green screen, and then we made the extension using the green screen. It was impossible otherwise,” Ferretti says. Not in this shot, but another example of CGI technology, is the view of Paris from inside the clock tower where Hugo lives. This was to maintain historical accuracy: “Today, maybe you would go up in a clock tower but you would see modern stuff, modern cars,” Ferretti says.

5. One can’t miss the ever-suspicious Inspector Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen) in his bright blue uniform, a standout against the grays, beiges and greens of other characters’ clothing. The blue also recurs in the character carrying the suitcase. “The costume designer [Sandy Powell] and I, we work together,” Ferretti says. “She would make costumes that blend with the scenery.”

6. What was it like working with a dog? Well, says Ferretti, between the trainer, handler and owner, this Doberman had a bigger entourage than any other actor. And unlike a human character, generally portrayed by one actor, several canines with different skills often portray the same dog.

(Ferretti photo: Getty Images)