Released in 2019, “Dumbo” by Tim Burton is none other than the live action adaptation of the eponymous animated feature film from Disney studios (1941), itself based on the story written by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Pearl (1939). The film was a success that grossed 353 million box office worldwide. A good score for a mocked and unloved baby elephant! Back to its design.
An elephant cheats a lot
Beyond Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter that spectators can very regularly discover in Burtonian works, there are other actors that the filmmaker Tim Burton likes to find. Three of his favorite actors are indeed part of this organized circus. After playing in Dark shadows (2012) and Miss Peregrine and the Peculiar Children (2016), Eva Green was indeed contacted by Tim Burton to play a French trapeze artist. Danny DeVito finds a role similar to that embodied in Big fish (2003) in the person of Max Medici, owner of the circus. This after playing the Penguin in Batman: The Challenge (1992) and appeared in Mars Attacks! (1996). Michael Keaton was also recalled by the filmmaker after the two collaborated in Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989) and Batman: The Challenge.
Amputated of an arm, the former horseman Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns to the circus Medici Brothers after World War I. His owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) was forced to sell the horses in his absence. Farrier then obtains the position of guardian of the elephants. The latter must more particularly watch over Madame Jumbo who is expecting a happy event. Gold “Baby Jumbo” is born with exceptionally large ears ! After a disastrous first performance and the mockery inflicted on her little one, Madame Jumbo is sold. Holt’s children Joe (Finley Hobbins) and Milly (Nico Parker) soon discover that Dumbo is able to fly.
Having heard of his extraordinary abilities, VA Vandevere (Michael Keaton), wealthy owner of an amusement park, offers Max a collaboration … And if the troupe of Medici Brothers worked for him ? Dumbo could thus fly with Colette Marchant (Eva Green), “The Queen of the Stars”…
Dumbo © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
The secrets of Dumbo’s design
Just like Madame Jumbo, the little pachyderm is a kind offully computer-generated hybrid. To design it, Tim Burton turned to the character creator Michael Kutsche. The goal was to succeed in paying homage to this famous Disney character by bringing him back to life through a film. A big step that this one so much it was necessary to have the art and the manner of keep the charm of the original character while infusing it with the dimension necessary for a character in live action. Indeed, the possibility of resorting to a live baby elephant was immediately ruled out. Kutsche says:
The essence of the graphics of the animated classic is still present in our version. We looked at the original model sheets at Disney for inspiration. The problem is, you can’t just take a realistic baby elephant and add huge ears to it; it does not work. We had to inject a bit of magic, so to speak, to get the idea of a flying elephant accepted.
The designer thus compared Dumbo to unicorns. These are not horses with a horn but quite apart creatures with a slightly different anatomy that makes them unique. A kind of “improved memory” of the image of a baby elephant was therefore designed. That being said, the shooting still required the presence of a real baby elephant. Burton then called on David White, unavoidable special effects designer and makeup artist middle. The man who, among other things, worked on Captain America: First Avenger (2011), Maleficent (2014) or again Guardians of the Galaxy the same year, he knew how to meet the director’s needs:
The team wanted to see on camera an elephant that came as close as possible to what the end result would be, so they knew how to light it up and see all the colors and textures in real time. We therefore set about designing a “real” Dumbo.
What a circus!
In order to carry out tests before the start of filming, six versions of Dumbo were finally created. They were all different from each other. The color of the eyes was slightly contrasted while the hair and texture of the skin varied. Each member of …