Out of the ‘Shadows:’ Building A Manor Fit for Vampire

(L-r) Director TIM BURTON and JOHNNY DEPP on set during the production of Warner Bros. Pictures'€™ and Village Roadshow Pictures' "€œDARK SHADOWS." ©Warner Bros. Entertainment. CR: Peter Mountain.


Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—If the hilltop mansion in the new feature film “Dark Shadows” looks familiar, it should.

Production designer Rick Heinrichs, who won an Academy Award for his work on director Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow,” purposely took inspiration from the one that appeared in the 1966-71 TV series, a real house in Newport, RI.

Heinrichs and his team constructed Collinwood, home to vampire Barnabas Collins (played by Johnny Depp), to be grander than the TV show’s version, but evoke the gothic style of the original.

“We had to develop the manor for our own purposes,” he says. “Fans of the show will notice certain nods to the architecture of the original, in particular the central turret.”

The house also was designed to express all the elements of creepiness, combined with old world charm and faded glory. In the film, Barnabas has been locked away for more than 200 years, and the distant relatives that reside in the house have run into hard times, allowing it to decay.

Production designer RICK HEINRICHS (right) with a colleague in the sculpture department for Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' "DARK SHADOWS." ©Warner Bros. Entertainment. CR: Leah Gallo.

The crew built a single-story facade of Collinwood in a pine forest in Bourne Woods in Surrey, England, complete with courtyard and water fountain. The crew also built a 300-foot exterior wall around the home.

“We wanted the kind of scope to the manor that you get by shooting on location,” he says. “It was a bit of a challenge, but was well worth it, given the fact we were able to show such a vast amount of set. The rest of it was extended with visual effects.”

Besides the one-story structure, a complete Collinwood Manor, was built at one-third scale, measuring 33 feet tall.

All the interiors were constructed on soundstages at Pinewood Studios, outside London.

“We wanted it to feel like a grand house fallen on hard times,” Heinrichs says. “To achieve that we did a great deal of detail carving within the house.”

The first time Barnabas enters the house, he admires its sculptures and woodwork and comments on the craftsmanship that went into each.

“To live up to his words, we put a lot of effort into a creating a beautiful and richly detailed environment for him,” says Heinrichs.

One of the major interior sets is the grand foyer, which features a wave-like tile pattern on the floor, a magnificent chandelier and a half-dozen painted portraits of the Collins family though the centuries, including a young Barnabas and his parents.

Michelle Pfeiffer (who plays Collins matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard) found the sweeping staircase, silhouetted by huge windows, a challenge to navigate for her grand entrance.

“My first day of shooting, Tim (Burton) had me in eight-inch platform shoes walking down that treacherous staircase,” she recalls. “I wasn’t allowed to look down.”

“They didn’t look down on ‘Dynasty’ or ‘Dallas,’” quips Burton.

One room features a hidden vault, known only to Barnabas, accessible via a secret entrance hidden behind the fireplace in the drawing room, which actually worked. At the push of a button, the mantle shifts and the fireplace moves back as the hearth stones sink, forming steps down to the passageway below.

Heinrichs also designed various bedroom sets, including a hexagonal-shaped one for Carolyn (played by Chloe Grace Moretz), with shag pile carpet and purple walls lined with posters of Iggy Pop, Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin and Alice Cooper (who appears in the movie).

“Each room had to say something about the characters inhabiting it,” the designer says. “I wanted Carolyn’s bedroom to feel elevated because that was a place a teenager would want to go.”

Moretz remembers when she arrived on the set, director Burton asked her if she wanted to see her character’s room.

“I walked up the stairs and it’s this amazing attic, with wooden purple beams, yellow shag carpet, bean bags and a record player and all this amazing stuff—I wanted to live there,” she says.