Designing the SANTA CLAUS 3 world

Magic, majesty and imagination: Designing the SANTA CLAUS 3 world

“I think one of the stars of THE SANTA CLAUSE 3 is production designer Richard J Holland,” says Judge Reinhold. “A lot of this movie came right out of his imagination, and it’s quite a wild imagination.”

On THE SANTA CLAUSE 3, Holland’s imagination had to work overtime. Only about 10 percent of the original “Santa Clause” took place in the North Pole. In “The Santa Clause 2,” about 50 percent took place there. In this instalment, about 90 percent of the story is set in the North Pole.

“It was important to me to introduce a sense of magic and majesty as well as create a beautiful, colourful world on the SANTA CLAUSE 3 set,” says Holland.

Holland drew inspiration from his own childhood experiences. “When I was a kid, my uncle used to dress up as Santa Claus – but I didn’t know it was my uncle. I thought it was really Santa Claus,” he remembers. “I would look up in the sky to see if I could get a glimpse of his sleigh. That was the kind of magic I wanted to create for THE SANTA CLAUSE 3.”

“Richard J Holland is a child in a somewhat older body,” says Brian Reilly. “He glowed at the opportunity to build the North Pole. His designs are simply fabulous.”

Within this fantastical world, Holland knew that everything had to look and feel real. He constructed models and drew illustrations to bring his concepts to life. “With the models, the filmmakers and I can communicate while looking at the 3-D world. Being able to stage a scene without being on set helped me sell my ideas.”

Holland and his team created a palette of 91 different colours that both the art department and the wardrobe department would adhere to in creating every set piece and stitch of clothing for Santa’s North Pole. Holland was fond of adding gold flourishes, which represented “majesty and sense of wealth,” he says. “This majesty sustains the magic and wonderment of the North Pole legend.

“I created a blank canvas and started to add the colour,” says Holland, who paints as a hobby. “Then I put the pieces of the puzzle together, little by little.”

The biggest North Pole set was Elfsburg Village, which took 12 weeks to build. The town was complete with an Elf Shoe Shop and Elfsburg Spa, which displayed photos of elves undergoing beauty treatments in the windows.

Hundreds of toys also decorated Elfsburg – everything from a baby ice skate to a wooden toy soldier to a hair comb. There were no plastic toys in Elfsburg – the art department hunted for traditional, finely crafted toys that, of course, matched Holland’s 91-colour palette. In fact, most of the props in THE SANTA CLAUSE 3 – from the reindeer collars and bridles to the wooden pop guns, tin drums and jacks-in-the-box in Santa’s workshop – were handcrafted or in some way unique.

Anchoring Elfsburg Village was a magnificent carousel that featured an eye-popping array of ornaments, Christmas trees, presents, and reindeer in lieu of horses. “Every medieval village has a well, which is the community hub of the town,” says Holland. “The carousel was like the well of our village.”

And, of course, what would Elfsburg Village be without snow – and lots of it. To create the winter wonderland, the special-effects department had to cover the twinkling town with an assortment of materials that, when mixed and matched, produced a suitably snowy look.

The success of this effect was particularly important to Michael Lembeck, who felt the snow in “The Santa Clause 2” was too flat. The director wanted something more billowy that didn’t look like it was made on a sound stage.

SFX co-ordinator Al Broussard was in charge of the task. On top of tons of white limestone sand, the effects department poured even more tons of Epsom salt to provide a textured base. Over 100 pounds of mica glitter flakes were then added, giving the “snow” sparkle. Thousands of square feet of white poly and cotton blanket were used to create a snowy look on rooftops, banisters, and ledges. The icicles were made out of a resin mixture that was mixed with the fake snow and moulded with different types of paper, so no two are alike.

Santa’s kitchen was another major set piece on Holland’s docket. “I had this idea that Santa’s kitchen was a magical world where the all the eggnog, cocoa and cookies are made,” says Holland. “Lembeck liked it and told me to go for it.”

Holland always felt supported by his director. “Michael lets you get completely creatively immersed,” says Holland. “Your input matters to him.”

The filmmakers didn’t want the machines in Santa’s kitchen to look like scientific laboratory equipment. “They needed to reflect a childish quality,” says Holland. “Michael wants people to have fun and the sets to have a sense of humour.”

Almost everything about the kitchen set – which is also the location of the all-important meeting of the Council of Legendary Figures – was larger than life. It featured a giant 450-gallon-capacity mixing bowl and a 24-foot-long cookie tray. Every tabletop was decorated with candy-studded gingerbread houses, hundreds of fresh-baked cookies, fluffy frosted cakes and other holiday goodies. All props – but they still would have made Martha Stewart jealous.

Another huge task for Holland and his team was creating the North Pole Resort. Having taken over for Santa and rechristened himself “Santa Frost,” Jack Frost turns the big guy’s warm, cosy and quaint North Pole into a paean to crass, commercialised excess.

Holland and Lembeck agreed that Jack Frost’s North Pole Resort should represent a 360-degree shift in aesthetics from Elfsburg Village. And it does: sweet-smelling pine Christmas trees have been replaced with fake metal versions in various metallic colours, and too-bright hues assault visitors at every turn. Garish neon lights illuminate the many kiosks – the Reindeer Petting Zoo, Santa Stills, The Nice List, Build-A-Bear, Wild Glacier’s Slippery Slides – where, for a fee, you, too, can enjoy Christmas.

Says Executive Producer William W Wilson III, “Jack Frost turns the North Pole into an amusement park. It is no longer the magical workshop of happy elves making happy toys for the children of the world.”

“The North Pole Resort is all about commercialism,” adds Holland. “Neon bulbs, cold colours – just like Frost’s cold and calculating soul. We used lots of blue tones. It wasn’t about tiny hammers, like in the traditional North Pole, but about electric drills.”

Smack in the middle of Frost’s overblown theme park is an enormous stage illuminated by an obnoxious, flashing “Santa” sign. Here, in the film’s dazzling production number, Jack belts out “North Pole, North Pole” to the tune of the famous “New York, New York,” flanked by his Elfette dancers.

“It’s a big, Broadway kind of musical number, and it’s hilarious,” says Lembeck. “At the end of it, Frost is literally kicked off the stage by our hero, Scott, who swings in and starts a fight. It’s one of those wonderful, big, burlesque scenes.”

“Jack Frost is wickedly fun. You love to hate him,” says Brian Reilly. “In this dance-number scene in particular, Martin Short really turns on the charm.”

“It was fun,” says Short of the scene. “I perform and sing on stage and on Broadway, so doing a big number like that was hilarious. You forget that you’re in prosthetics and a costume, and you just do it.

“At that point, Jack Frost is such a cheeseball,” adds Short, who comes from a theatre background. “But this is his moment.”

Frost’s dozen Elfettes were from the Irvine Dance Academy. Says choreographer Kay Cole, “Michael wanted to cast a group of girls who already had chemistry between them and the kind of interaction that you just can’t teach in a short period of time – like the Radio City Rockettes.”

Cole and Lembeck sifted through dozens of tapes of young dance troupes, looking for that something special. They found it in this group of talented Southern California ten-year-olds who had been dancing together for five years. Their leader had sent in a tape from a national dance competition they had recently won in Las Vegas.

When asked if they are excited to be in a movie, The Elfettes giggle excitedly. “We can’t wait to see ourselves on the big screen. This is the coolest thing ever to be in a movie.”

Two Santas, one Jack Frost and 23 kinds of elves: Creating the North Pole costumes

Like Holland, costume designer Ingrid Ferrin, who also designed the wardrobe for “The Santa Clause 2,” faced new challenges on this third instalment. Because so much of THE SANTA CLAUSE 3 takes place at the North Pole, Ferrin couldn’t just dust off the costumes from the second movie and roll them into the third one. The designer was presented with a whole new world, and she had to expand her vision accordingly.

“As Michael Lembeck started working in more detail on the script, he began creating new elf characters. He broke the elves down into smaller groups, like architect elves, baker elves, carpenter elves, firemen elves, naughty and nice elves, wrapping elves, and even yoga elves, to name a few,” says Ferrin. “Suddenly, it wasn’t just a workshop of elves – I had to create an entire elf community.

“But I loved that challenge,” she adds.

All told, Ferrin had 25 new characters to outfit, including Jack Frost. All of the elf costumes were handmade, necessitating a crew of up to 30 dressers, a workroom of over 12 people and a full-service tailor shop. Over three miles of fabric was needed to create all of the SANTA CLAUSE 3 costumes.

Ferrin and her team got a little help here and there. The kitchen elves wore the popular, flexible rubber shoes known as Crocs in red because the Boulder, Colorado-based company sent a special delivery of them to the wardrobe department for use in the movie. Other shoes, like the pointy elf slippers with bells, were left over from “The Santa Clause 2.”

Like the art department, Ferrin and her crew worked within the 91-colour palette (all the better, because director Michael Lembeck told Ferrin that he didn’t want to see costumes that featured the classic Christmas pairing of red and green). She and her team, including costume supervisor Pam Wise, stayed away from bright colours and began using muted tones in fabrics like velvets and cottons. The wardrobe department even had their own textile designer.

“The whole world of Santa’s North Pole is all about colour and texture, and to have the luxury of our own textile designer was incredible,” raves Ferrin. “We were able to start with a blank canvas like white velvet and create whatever we wanted. We don’t get an opportunity to design with no limits very often. But then again, that is the kind of environment that Michael Lembeck creates for his crew.”

Ferrin gave many of the textiles texture by utilizing a medieval embossing technique known as gauffrage. This technique gave items like Santa’s sleigh blanket a rich and royal look.

In addition, “I based many of my ideas on Carl Larsson’s paintings,” says Ferrin, referring to the popular Swedish artist who worked during the late 19th century. “He had eight children whom he painted and drew constantly.”

In order to create the costume for Jack Frost, Ferrin had to draw from entirely different sources. At first, the costume featured a large, luxurious cape.

“The filmmakers were experimenting with how sinister and evil Jack should look. The first look with the cape was more whimsical,” explains Martin Short. “I think they wanted a sleeker, slightly sleazier look, so they went for something that had kind of a zoot-suit feel to it. I think the second look is better.”

“I felt like Jack Frost was trying very, very hard – almost like he made this suit prior to meeting with his fellow Legendary Figures to impress them, because he knew his days were numbered,” says Ferrin of the decision to put Jack Frost in the shiny blue outfit. “He also needed to fit into the real world.”

For Ferrin, working with Martin Short was a delight. “Martin has played over 1,000 characters in his illustrious career,” she says. “He is forever discovering different things about what his character could be. He loves the process of prosthetics, hair, make-up, wardrobe and jumping into the character he is going to play.”

Ultimately, Short donned ice-blue contacts, a wig featuring a shock of blue-white hair, a facial prosthetic and fake blue-white eyebrows dotted with tiny fake ice chunks to complete the look for Jack Frost.

Then there was the “Santa Frost” costume, which made Short look so much like the real Santa that it fooled even Tim Allen.

“This guy came into my motor coach, and I just thought he was a double of me or something,” recalls Allen. “He sat there for about 15 minutes, and eventually he goes, ‘Tim, it’s me, Marty.’ I didn’t recognize him! The both of us sat there and said, ‘So this is what it’s come to – 50-year-old men dressed like elves.'”

Ferrin’s wardrobe challenges changed from set to set. The elves’ wardrobe at The North Pole Resort, for example, had to reflect Jack Frost’s commercial take on things. Prompted by an idea from Michael Lembeck, Ferrin and her team created North Pole Resort shirts and souvenirs in chilly colours like lavender, purple and blue.

“We made these ugly North Pole Resort golf shirts, and the elves wore them over their real elf costumes,” says Ferrin. “The little elves looked so sad, like they were wearing their dad’s oversized shirt, only with advertising right on the front. They are just hysterical.”

Ferrin relished designing the wardrobe for The Elfettes. “The Elfette costumes became the epitome of cheap and cheerful,” she explains. “We bought little, bright red Santa costumes from Hollywood Toy Shop and added tinsel and Christmas ribbon. Our goal was to make them feel generic, as opposed to the magical elves of the North Pole.”

Both Holland and Ferrin felt blessed that Lembeck had brought cinematographer Robbie Greenberg, ASC, on board to join the SANTA CLAUSE 3 team. “We worked closely with Robbie on the different colours and how warm or soft they should look on camera,” says Holland. “He was just as much into the detail of the sets and the costumes as Ingrid and I were.

“It was up to Robbie to complete the magic and make everything look like the beautiful winter wonderland of fairy tales.”

Fortunately, Tim Allen’s decision to don the red suit and white beard again proved to be the right one.

“I’ve had a terrific time,” he says. “There’s a great amount of love for the ‘Santa Clause’ projects shared by me, the creative team and the studio.

“The reason ‘The Santa Clause’ is successful,” he concludes, “is because we’re honest about the childlike qualities in all of us.”