Below the Line: Designing ‘The Danish Girl’


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Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne in “The Danish Girl.”

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Focus Features

To put the lives of two artists on film for “The Danish Girl,” the production designer used their art as inspiration.

The Oscar nominees Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne portray the married painters Gerda and Einar Wegener. Einar’s transition to Lili Elbe forms the heart of the film, which was adapted from the novel by David Ebershoff. The soft shades of 1920s Copenhagen, where the couple live and maintain their studio, is seen in their work. And that work is reflected back in the film. The director, Tom Hooper, and his Oscar-nominated production designer, Eve Stewart, aimed to tell the couple’s story sensitively, and designed it with that in mind.

“In the book, it was so spiritual,” Ms. Stewart said in a phone interview. “It was elevated into Lili’s spiritual journey to become a woman. That’s what we were trying to evoke.”

Here Ms. Stewart explains the process involved in creating the film’s look.

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The artists’ studio in “The Danish Girl.”

Credit
Focus Features

The Studio

To get the contours of this space right, Ms. Stewart said she found out where Gerda and Lili actually lived in Copenhagen and visited the block. From that trip, she came up with a roomy studio with a large source of light. She also sought out paintings and architecture in Denmark and came across the artist Vilhelm Hammershoi (1864-1916), whom she used as a reference.

“His paintings seem to run parallel with how Einar was, the soulful colors, the loneliness,” she said. “And yet they’re traditional and architecturally stuck. It wasn’t free. It was sticking to the status quo and that’s what I was trying to show.”

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An interior for “The Danish Girl.”

Credit
Focus Features

The Department Store

Late in the film, Lili gets a job in a Copenhagen department store. It is meant to be the setting for one of the happier moments in her life, a time when she was fully accepted by the other women working at the store.

“I just wanted to really celebrate the femininity of that moment and how she felt completely immersed in that world of cosmetics, perfumes, pink and fluff,” Ms. Stewart said. “She saw this as what she was entitled to as a woman.”

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Tutus in “The Danish Girl.”

Credit
Focus Features

Tutus

One of Gerda and Lili’s friends was a ballerina. She introduced the couple to the more exotic side of Danish society. To get a sense of her work life , Ms. Stewart visited the Royal Opera House in Paris and went backstage.

“I hadn’t realized this before, but in every big theater where they do classical ballet, they always hang the tutus upside down, so that they’re incredibly fluffy,” she said. “There was just this incredible image when I looked up. I took a picture and said, ‘We’ve got to use this.’”

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An image from “The Danish Girl.”

Credit
Focus Features

Painting tools

Scenes in the studio have a lived-in feel. To get that sense, Ms. Stewart said that she and her team actually painted there.

“I worked with Mike Leigh on my first set of films, so I’m really method about design,” she said. “So we made sure we really worked in the studio. There’s pencil marks, blobs of paint all over the floor. You just work in there until it looks right. You can’t really fake it.”

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Sketches used for a scene in “The Danish Girl.”

Credit
Focus Features

Drawings

Initially, the character sketches meant to be made by the film’s artists were done by a few members of the art department.

“But Tom kept saying we need more and more,” Ms. Stewart said. “So by the end, we were all doing them. We were all churning them out like a drawing factory. It was like being back at art school.”



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