"The entire movie is about snow," states production designer Mayne Berke. "The main character is made of snow. Every single scene in the film, except for a few transition pieces, contains elements of snow."
In addition to the real snow conditions found on location in Lake Tahoe, California, "reel" snow was utilized on both indoor and outdoor sets in Los Angeles. Special-effects supervisor STEVE GALICH brought in different types of the cinematic white stuff for various settings. For tree and ground cover, Galich used a mixture of chipped ice, Christmas tree flocking and a paper product called K-13. To simulate falling snow on the soundstage, plastic chips were used; outdoors, it was biodegradable rice cakes. The berms were made from white foam.
The snow artistically provided the magical appeal Miller required-but technically, proved to be a challenge. "You don't shoot snow. Snow shoots you," Miller observes. "Both real and artificial, it is always changing. It melts and changes color, so you have to continuously reframe and alter your shots. With my training as a television director it wasn't too much of a problem, because I am able to make up shots as we go along and base the work on staging and environment. We built a crew that could roll with the punches. Fortunately, I have a cinematographer, Laszlo Kovacs, who wasn't afraid of it but was inspired by it."
"I liked the challenge," Kovacs says. "We're all very familiar with snow, but when you try and place it under artificial conditions, the texture becomes difficult to duplicate, whether it's falling or fresh powder on the ground. Flat lighting doesn't work. It's the direction and intensity of the light that makes the difference. For example, we used a three-quarter back light with soft lights [for interiors] and just hard sunlight outdoors, which produce light and shadows, making it come alive. You could see the particles and little sprinkles. It gives the impression of realistic snow."
Production designer Mayne Berke built three "exterior" sets inside the massive interior of the Spruce Goose Dome in Long Beach, California. The main set, the Frost house, was loosely based on a real home the production found in Truckee, California. "I remember when we first discovered it," Berke recalls. "We came down a block and rounded a corner and there was the most interesting-looking house with the horseshoe driveway we needed. I reproduced and enhanced that house and completely redesigned the interior, along with 400 feet of the street, inside the Dome."
To replicate the feeling of outdoors, Berke brought in about 200 trees from an Oregon tree farm; he reports that 1,000 tons of chipped ice plus 60 tons of flocking were used in total.
The pond, constructed 25 feet above the main stage, includes an ice skating rink, 95 feet long by 40 feet wide. Huge "snowbanks" run along the ice and 30 Ponderosa pine trees dot the landscape. The idyllic scene is complete with a frozen waterfall, sculpted of fiberglass resin.
The cabin set was built once the crew had completed the main set. "It was a major transformation, and we only had 10 working days to finish it," Berke explains. "I covered over most of the Frost neighborhood, including part of the Frost house, with framework and foam. By doing that, we were able to create the snow-covered mountain ranges. We then rolled the prefabricated cabin in on wheels, four feet off the ground, and snowed the whole thing in." A 275-foot scenic painted backing of a majestic mountain sunset completed the setting.
Building an outdoor world on a soundstage enabled the filmmakers to control the environment. Laszlo Kovacs and his camera crew were easily able to switch between cloudy-bright "daytime" and cold-bluish "nighttime." "It took about 20 minutes to change over the look. We designed a system so that every single light was on dimmers and was all computer programmed. We just pushed a button, and the setting changed to whichever time of day we required," he explains.
On the Warner Bros. backlot in June, Berke established a winter wonderland for the Shiverfest sequence. As sultry heat permeated the air, up to 200 tons of ice per day -- the most used on any film, according to Miller -- was trucked in, chipped and blown onto the set. For the town square, Berke added a real ice rink for skating and erected a 60-foot white fir, blanketed with flocking and adorned with Christmas ornaments and 4,000 twinkle lights. Faux "ice sculptures" and red-cheeked extras dressed in heavy clothing gave the illusion of a frosty chill.
In addition to its scenic appeal, the film features action sequences including an edge-of-your-seat toboggan ride as well as fast-paced ice hockey scenes. "We didn't want to see a typical ice hockey game," Kovacs explains. "We wanted to see it from inside Charlie's world and how he relates to the other players. Charlie longs for his father and is constantly looking to the stands to see if he's there. You can't see this point of view from outside the rink; you have to be in there with him.
"Troy and I experimented with some very unusual moves, and when it worked, we'd look at each other and smile. These are the wonderful moments of filmmaking."
Warner Bros. Presents An Azoff Entertainment/Canton Company Production: Michael Keaton and Kelly Preston in "Jack Frost," starring Mark Addy and Joseph Cross. The music is by Trevor Rabin; the film is edited by Lawrence Jordan; the production is designed by Mayne Berke; and the director of photography is Laszlo Kovacs, A.S.C. The executive producers are Matthew Baer, Jeff Barry, Richard Goldsmith and Michael Tadross. The film has a story by Mark Steven Johnson and a screenplay by Mark Steven Johnson and Steve Bloom & Jonathan Roberts and Jeff Cesario. "Jack Frost" is produced by Mark Canton and Irving Azoff, and directed by Troy Miller. It is distributed by Warner Bros., A Time Warner Entertainment Company.