IN LIVING COLOR

When James Franco’s low-rent circus magician Oscar Diggs crash-lands near Emerald City, he’s stunned by outrageously colorful flowers sprouting in Whimsie Woods. Stromberg notes, "This was a tribute to going from black-and-white to Technicolor. In 1939, Wizard of Oz used this amazing three-strip Technicolor. People’s eyes were blown out because they’d never seen color like it, so we played with that concept of going (from black-and-white) to really vivid color to jar the senses."

Glinda's Forest

Trees were sculpted from foam and layers of plastic.

The wizard of Switzerland

In conjuring the gorgeous landscapes featured in Glinda’s kingdom, Stromberg recalled a trip he took to Europe. "I was in Switzerland a few years ago during the summer," he says. "The Alps were so beautiful, it became a major influence: Switzerland in the summertime." Since Glinda travels in a bubble, Stromberg included a subtle finish to her castle. "We added an iridescent, bubblelike quality to the castle. When the light hits the walls just right, you can see a rainbow pattern."

Flower Power

After creating imaginary vegetation for Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, Stromberg invented new flower species for the Land of Oz.

GRAND ENTRANCE

Stromberg says, "I pitched Sam on the idea of having Rachel Weisz’s entrance being a classic Hollywood entrance, so I designed this set with two cascading staircases that wrapped around. We just ran with that and it kept going, and it ended up being one of my favorite sets, which graphically, I think, is kind of cool."

Yellow Brick Road

Robert Stromberg combined a physical brick road set with digital vistas.

Hard-edged Emerald City

Stromberg credits 1920's Art Deco architect Hugh Ferriss as a key influence on Emerald City. "I like the way Ferriss played with cityscapes--something about the stacking of buildings, dark against light." Art Deco styling suited the backstory as well, Stromberg explains. "Emerald City was built by Glinda’s father, then hijacked by these evil witches, so there’s a tension to the air. That’s why Emerald City looks like this masculine monolith with hard angles."

Spooky Trees

Stromberg’s Oz forest was influenced by the silhouette of the trees seen in Disney’s Snow White.

Heightened Reality

Designer Stromberg deliberately crafted a surreal dreamlike look for Oz The Great and Powerful.

Monkey Business

Scene-stealing sidekick Finley travels through the ruins of China Town.

China Town

Stromberg cites Pinocchio as an influence for this porcelain village that figured in one of Frank L. Baum’s 14 Land of Oz novels.

Dust Bowl Carnies

As in the original Wizard of Oz movie, The Great and Powerful opens with black-and white-footage. "Sam wanted the beginning of the film to feel nostalgic, so we looked at the way old films were shot." Stromberg was especially influenced by Oscar-winning cinematographer James Wong Howe (Hud, The Rose Tattoo). Says Stromberg: "He used black-and-white like a painting."

Pirates Treasure

Rachel Weisz’s Queen Evanora tempts James Franco’s Oz-to-be character in the so-called "Bridge to Resplendence." Built out digitally, the treasure chamber equalled the size of a football field. Stromberg says, "When I was a kid going through Pirates of Caribbean at Disneyland, staring at those piles of gold was just fascinating to me. That was our starting point: the piles of gold from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride."

Co.Create

Design Wizard Behind "Oz The Great and Powerful" Makes It Pop

After designing planets for Avatar and dreamworlds for Alice in Wonderland, two-time Oscar winner Robert Stromberg had to go old school for Oz The Great And Powerful.

He designed planet Pandora for Avatar and helped Tim Burton retool Alice in Wonderland as a computer-generated fantasy world, so it’s not like two-time Oscar winner Robert Stromberg had to go old school for Oz The Great And Powerful. But production designer Stromberg and director Sam Raimi figured it was only fitting that their 21st century prequel to 1939's iconic Wizard of Oz movie offer a tip of the hat to the Golden Age of Hollywood spectacle.

"From day one, I pitched the notion that we remember this quality about The Wizard of Oz because it was shot on soundstages with backdrops." explains Stromberg. "It added a quality of light and sense of color that you could only do in a controlled environment. I did not want the production design to be real."

In place of the pixel-perfect photo realism pursued by most contemporary fantasy flicks, Stromberg hewed to a "heightened" storybook aesthetic by building two dozen sets on a humongous soundstage facility in Pontiac, Michigan. "It was an enormous undertaking," says Stromberg. "We must have had every carpenter and welder and plasterer in Michigan there."

Trees sculpted from huge blocks of foam were modeled after the equally fake trees showcased in Disney’s 1937 Snow White movie. Thousands of red poppies, made of silk-screened fabric, wire stems, and plastic leaves, took over a soundstage the size of a football field. And a wheezing steampunk contraption dramatizing the film’s pivotal "big head event" came together after Stromberg studied the late Walt Disney’s personal collection of turn-of-the-century zoetropes.

CHILDHOOD FASCINATION

The Disney influence seen in Oz The Great and Powerful comes as no suprise, given that Stromberg spent much of his childhood copying illustrations from a book devoted to the studio’s hand-drawn animated classics. When Pinocchio matte artist Bruce McIntyre visited Stromberg’s third-grade classroom, it further fueled the prodigy’s passion for drawing. "When I was nine years old I was doing matte paintings in my backyard," Stromberg recalls. "I was obsessed with it."

SETTING THE STAGE

Stromberg’s sumptuous visuals play a starring role in the Great and Powerful story of low-rent circus magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco), who travels via tornado-powered air balloon from dust-blown Kansas to the candy-colored Land of Oz. There, witches (Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams), dwarves, and a scene-stealing talking monkey sidekick (voiced by Zach Braff) challenge Oscar to seek his wizardly destiny.

To set the stage for this anti-hero’s journey, Stromberg and company teamed with 700 CGI artists to fabricate a dreamlike universe that fuses physical stagecraft with digital sleight of hand. Stromberg notes, "We wanted to pay tribute to people’s memories but also create something a little fresh and brand-new and open up the design so we could see around corners we couldn’t see before."

BRIGHTER THAN "WONDERLAND"

Coming off of Alice In Wonderland, Stromberg envisioned a completely different vibe for Raimi’s Oz. "There’s a similar conflict in that you have these witches that are dominating the land but Tim took Alice down to a dark place that was under the thumb of a tyrant," Stromberg says. "In Oz, Sam and I wanted to push the other direction and make a really bright film with vibrant color. It’s meant to be a happier place."

Oz The Great and Powerful, in 3-D, opens Friday.

Check out the slide show featuring concept art and production stills as Stromberg breaks down Oz The Great and Powerful's visual DNA.

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