Shooting Disney's 'Aladdin'
Linda Romanello
June 27, 2019

Shooting Disney's 'Aladdin'

Since the 1992 release of Disney’s animated hit film  Aladdin , the movie has gone on to become one of the studio’s most beloved classics. The story, which takes place in the fictional Arabian city of Agrabah, revolves around a charismatic street thief Aladdin who believes he is destined for greater things. After a chance encounter with the Sultan’s daughter Princess Jasmine, who is also discontent with life inside the palace walls, and accidentally releasing a powerful and magical Genie from an oil lamp, they set out on a journey that will test them in everyway possible.

More than 25 years later, Disney and director Guy Ritchie reimagined the hit film, and has released a live-action version. Aladdin was shot from August 2017 through January 2018 on practical stages at Longcross Studios and Arborfield Studios in the U.K. and on location in Jordan, on predominantly Arri Alexa cameras.

Here, DP Alan Stewart (Mary Poppins Returns, Into the Woods, Ready Player One, Sherlock Holmes) speaks about shooting the live-action film.

How closely did you work with director Guy Ritchie on the film?

“I would say no closer or further away than on any other of Guy’s films, a few meetings at his home in London and some at his home in the country. Possibly in this case, because of the amount of visual effects shots, Guy had placed a lot of responsibility onto Chas Jarrett, VFX supervisor. The CG animals, Genie along with some sets were brilliantly put together by Chas and his team, so I had a close involvement with Chas who was providing great material from which Guy could pick his preferred options.”

Can you discuss the kind of backdrop/setting Jordan provided? 

“Jordan provided a fantastic backdrop of incredible light and mixed rich colors. The sand color changed from deep red to a rich gold in an amazing variety of shades. By traveling only a few hundred yards, it could go from one extreme of color to another. Hot hard contrast in the sunlight provided another small challenge so by picking the correct time of day and the direction of shooting, to make best of the light, was just one of the choices that helped. Location shooting in the desert had a few logistical challenges, besides the heat and the talcum powder sand dust which quickly covered the equipment, however with great local filming infrastructure and equipment, we made good use of our time there.”

What were some of the biggest challenges?

“In two words — the weather. We had such a varied schedule and shooting at the time of year we did, meant that getting dependable sunny weather in the UK would be a tall order. Exterior UK sets matching with Jordan desert and stage work was the challenge…however, I guess it always is and always will be.”

What are some of the unique shooting challenges musicals present?

“The song dictates the pace and usually if someone is singing then you want to see the singer’s face. Generally, every move is to the beat of the song, be that camera move or performer’s move. Adhering to this philosophy will put a certain amount of restrictions on what is photographed but this is open to manipulation.”

Can you discuss a few of the film’s biggest scenes?

“’Prince Ali’s Parade’ was a massive logistical challenge beside the other weather-related issues. It was a long song with many performance elements choreographed into it. It took almost half an hour to get the performers and props back to number one for the next take and by the time new instructions were passed on we were probably only getting one take every hour. Added to that…trying to get continuous sunlight throughout a take made this a tough week.

“We had rehearsal days during which time, my camera operators and myself devised a system where we could move some of our cameras efficiently to take up new positions for the next take. It was very well planned out to maximize coverage per take whenever the light was right. Much of the logistical planning of camera kit movement was down to my ‘A’ camera focus puller Dermot Hickey and key grip Guy Bennett and their teams. Without their skill and experience we would not have been able to provide so much choice to editor, James Herbert.”

How was it shooting scenes where there would later be VFX?

“Planning was everything and I have worked with Chas Jarrett on a variety of films over the years. He brings a logic and methodology to the table that makes the task feel simple. We used puppeteers at times to help the cast understand where and when the CG characters would be and to add another dynamic to their performance. Storyboarding and previs helped planning as usual, but when things changed on the day, it was good having a character like Chas around to help plan the best way forward.”