Happy New Year! One of my favorite modern movies, Hugo (2011), introduced new film fans to the imagination of early cinema pioneer, Georges Méliès. The French illusionist turned filmmaker had a hand in every department when he wasn’t directing…from designing costumes, editing and even designing the sets! Méliès is credited with experimenting with color tinting, double exposure and dissolves before 1900. With modern eyes, the sets may look heavily theatrical but at the turn of the century they were a dreamy fantasy for audiences seeing a new art medium. I hope these sets will inspire and remind you that all you need to begin your art or any new project this year is your imagination and any place you can create freely in.
First here’s his studio. You can see how the building is entirely made of glass to allow sunlight in. A shed nearby served as dressing rooms and sets were built in the hangar.
Melies’s films experimented in many genres including comedies, dramas, historical period, and fairies. The latter is what he’s most known for.
Méliès made over 500 films in his entire career but less than half survive. By the early 1910s, he stopped making films for a few reasons: Bankruptcy was the biggest one. His brother Gaston, also a filmmaker, couldn’t fulfill his duties for the American branch of Star Films and sold it after losing thousands of dollars. Méliès blamed Gaston for his financial problems because of this and never spoke to his brother for the rest of Gaston’s life. During World War I, his glass studio turned into a hospital and his wife whom he had been married to for 27 years, Eugénie Génin, died in May 1913.
If you’ve seen Hugo or are familiar already with the real life story of Méliès, you’ll know that 400 of his films were burned to make heels for shoes and after he tore down his studio, he worked at a toy shop in the 1920s. It’s true that he was honored in the 1930s, shortly before his death in 1938. Méliès films represent the pivotal period where films were going from novelty to credible art form. The fantasy stories that he often told combined with his illusionist background are the epitome of the phrase that films are magical.
*If you want the complete story on Georges Méliès check out the article at Senses of Cinema or read this short article at Early Cinema, a few more sets can be found at Art Attacks and you can read this article at Creative Cow about recreating Melies’ world for Hugo that features comparison photos!