Producer Derek Frey says, “Colette’s relationship with V.A. Vandevere harkens back to the heyday of Hollywood when moguls and moneyed men walked around with a young starlet on their arm.”
Eva Green was cast to portray the high-flying circus star. But there was a small problem. “I was absolutely terrified of heights,” says Green. “It was a real phobia, and I told Tim Burton at the beginning, ‘I don’t know if I will be able to do my stunts.’ But I trained with Katharine Arnold, who is the most amazing aerialist, and Fran Jaynes, who is the choreographer, and they really helped me to gain confidence and find the physicality of the character. It’s unbelievable to swing up really high and spin and do some weird choreography. It was a real challenge, and I’m quite proud of myself on that one.”
Before Green could take flight, however, she committed to an intense training regimen. “I had to train for four or five months to build a bit of muscle, because you have to be very strong as an aerialist,” says Green. “Your arms have to be quite strong, and you need strong abs as well. It’s like dancing in the air. You try to find the right posture and the right gestures.”
According to Arnold, Green made her fears clear in the beginning. “We put her in the chandelier, which is one of the props that we use in the film,” says Arnold. “I just took her for a litle walk and she was not having it: ‘I don’t like it. Stop, stop, stop.’ Fair enough. It’s not for everybody. But we kept working, and she was amazing. She worked really hard, developed lots of core strength, lots of upper-body strength — I think that made her feel much more confident. Now, she’s really happy in the air — she’s fantastic.”
Says Green, “I had the most amazing teachers: real circus people. That really helped me to get into the circus mood. Now I am an aerialist for real!”
For the shots in which Colette flies with Dumbo, visual effects, special effects and stunt teams worked in tandem to make it possible. “We used a motion base — essentially a hydraulic round gimbal rig, which you might see as part of some theme park rides,” says visual effects supervisor Richard Stammers. “Hydraulic pistons underneath allow the whole rig to move and soar, which simulates the flying of Dumbo. Separate actuators allow the head to bob up and down, separate from the body, and it also has moving ears so that as the ears flap up and down there’s actually some lightning interactions casting shadows on her as they fly.”
As Queen of the Heavens in Vandevere’s show, Colette Marchant needed to look the part. “I took more of a silent-movie-star approach to her costumes,” says costume designer Colleen Atwood. “She’s circus glamorous, yet still set a bit apart from that world.”
When Colette is not performing, she has a brown bob, but when under the big top, she has a very vibrant auburn red wig with waves.