‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’: Designing the Immigrant Experience

Created in London, the Oscar-contending production and costume design of the "Harry Potter" standalone emphasizes New York's historical diversity.
'Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them': Designing JK Rowling's World
"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them"

For three-time Oscar winners Stuart Craig and Colleen Atwood, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” offered fascinating stylistic departures. J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” standalone takes place in New York in 1926 — a time, of course, when the immigrant experience flourished.

“New York was all about diversity, and [director] David Yates wanted [to express that],” Atwood told IndieWire. “There were people new to New York and there were people that had been there for a generation — and it was an open-minded time.”

Thus, for both production and costume design, there was great class and cultural diversity to explore in architecture and wardrobes. Although they considered shooting in New York City, that proved to be impractical, so they returned to the back lot of Leavesden Studios outside of London.

“J.K. Rowling identified particular buildings in her script, including the Gothic Woolworth [for the Magical Congress headquarters], which at that time was the largest building in the world,” Craig told IndieWire. “It has four or five basement floors and that is where the work is done. At street level, there was a huge concourse and above street level, we removed all the floors completely [in our design] and looked up into this huge cathedral of glass all the way to the top.”

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

For the seedy Blind Pig bar with the singing Goblin, Craig drew on memories of a London club he frequented in the ’60s. “It was heavily nicotine-stained, with water permeating through the molten joints in the brick, and it was as dirty as we could possibly make it,” added Craig.

The Tenement Museum proved useful as well. Because it was not restored, Craig could glimpse the structure of the building and beyond the period wallpapers where it’s torn. This became the model for the tenement where aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) lived.

“The color of the set is very dark with lots of atmospheric pollution, which they had at that time. But Jacob’s bakery, just with light blue and gray, gave it a romantic air and it was rather pretty,” Craig said.

The toughest part, however, was the suitcase owned by Newt Scamander the introverted magician played by Eddie Redmayne. Because it was fantastical with infinite space to protect his magical creatures, Craig and his team designed different environments for each creature (such as desert, snow, and forest). But that proved expensive and was eventually abandoned.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

Speaking of Scamander, when it came to designing his costume, Atwood conjured an ill-fitting suit and a turquoise coat. “The color has the vibe of some of his fantastical creatures,” she said. “But also the shape wasn’t too big so Eddie could move around quickly from sitting to standing still. So I designed it a little shorter and made it longer in the back.”

However, for Colin Farrell’s Percival Graves, president of the Magical Congress, Atwood studied footage of the legendary New York mayor, Jimmy Walker. “He was kind of my poster child for the character,” she added. “I thought it was an interesting take on the period and he was quite a dresser. He always looked smart and on the edge of style. He has a dark, flashier suit than the rest, and I gave him a coat that really pushed the period. It looks like Jimmy Walker meets Joan Crawford.”

Kowalski, by contrast, was dressed very humbly. When he goes to the bank for a loan, he wears a suit that was borrowed from a couple of friends. “He doesn’t have a coat and that makes him look vulnerable, and his clothes have little mends and patches on them that you don’t see, so he had a ’20s comic look,” Atwood said.

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