Everything We Learned about ‘Aladdin’ from Insight Editions’ New Art Book

     May 2, 2019

aladdin-movie-changes-insight-editions-bookDisney’s currently enjoying quite a bit of success from Avengers: Endgame, but they’re also looking ahead to live-action adaptations of their classic animated tales. First up is Guy Ritchie‘s Aladdin, a new, kinetic take on the 1992 story that followed the title street rat on his quest to find a magical lamp, become a prince, and win the heart of Princess Jasmine. And Insight Editions has a new art and making-of book that goes behind the scenes to show off the production (and story changes) in stunning detail.

We shared the first look at the book and the movie itself just last month, but now that Insight Editions’ “The Art and Making of Aladdin” is available to buy, we wanted to bring you an in-depth review. Story elements aside, this is a fantastic coffee table book for fans of the story and cinephiles in general because the 150+ pages feature colorful concept art, incredible shots of the movie’s production, and amazing costumes designed by Oscar-nominated Michael Wilkinson and his team. There’s a lot to enjoy here!

Aladdin stars Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan KenzariNavid NegahbanNasim PedradBilly Magnussen and Numan Acar, and arrives in theaters May 24th.


Image via Insight Editions

We’ve got some trivia from the book for you below, but we’ve saved the spoilers for their own separate section, at the bottom. Enjoy!

  • Expect the core story of the animated classic to stay the same, but seen through the unique lens of director Guy Ritchie.
  • Even the musical nature of the new movie will feel familiar and traditional, but contemporary and fresh.
  • The main narrative will take place within a framing story told by a mariner to his two children.
  • This entry point for younger viewers also offers more details into Genie’s own story and hints at what happened after Aladdin freed him from the lamp.
  • Agrabah has moved from a desert locale to a place on the Silk Road, a fictional, mythological, bustling port city that exists in an undefined period of time. This location brings together cultures and peoples inspired by real-world locales like the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, India, and China.
  • New characters include: Dalia, Jasmine’s handmaid, confidant, and friend; Hakim, a palace guard; and Prince Anders, an outrageously dressed suitor for Jasmine’s hand who travels from the far North
  • Expect some underwater scenes; Mena Massoud had to undergo dive training, in addition to other rigorous physical training, for some underwater sequences.
  • This version of Jasmine, played by Naomi Scott, sees the princess aspiring to the throne to become the leader of Agrabah.
  • Marwan Kenzari’s villainous Jafar gets his own backstory this time around as that of a child on the streets of Agrabah who rose through the ranks to become the Sultan’s right-hand man, the palace vizier. His chest armor is meant to signify a self-made man with a military background who longs to rule by force and build an empire.
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    Image via Insight Editions

    Navid Negahban’s version of the Sultan is much less goofy than his cartoon counterpart and more of a world-weary war veteran who deeply cares for his people.

  • Nasim Pedrad gets to play Dalia, a funny, quick-witted companion to Princess Jasmine.
  • Billy Magnussen is dressed to the nines as Prince Anders, the ruler of the fictional Skånland, a snowy northern country. He arrives draped in furs for Agrabah’s Harvest Festival.
  • To paraphrase Magnussen’s own words, Anders is a combination of Bobcat Goldthwait doing an impression of Mike Myers’ Goldmember character, with a bit of a German accent and King Julien the lemur from That should be something to see and hear!
  • Will Smith’s Genie, who does get a spiffy blue and gold costume or two, gets to “sing, dance, rap, perform, and do comedy and drama.”
  • Don’t worry, “Big Blue” will appear in motion-capture/CGI form.
  • The team originally wanted to shoot on location in Morocco, but logistical complications forced them to build a set from scratch. The 360-degree accessible set was decorated with items from Morocco, like doors, windows, ironwork from balconies, and painted tables. A lot of “Marrakech pink” and other pink tones are used as the main color in the palette.
  • Amazingly, this set that stood in for a hot, dry, desert climate was actually shot in a rainy England parking lot, which had to be swept out and dried up every morning. “Sun guns”, massive lighting rigs, were brought in to stand in for the hot desert sun of Agrabah.
  • The bustling marketplace was designed specifically around the needs of the “One Jump Ahead” and “Prince Ali” songs and parade sequence.
  • The set also includes a tannery and a 2,000-year-old olive tree.
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    Image via Disney

    Prince Ali’s parade sequence was inspired by London’s Notting Hill Carnival, Las Vegas carnival parades, flowered floats, and Rio’s carnival celebrations.

  • Aladdin’s flowered camel boasts over 37,000 flowers.
  • The four-day parade sequence shoot, done early in production, included real-life camels and horses, along with dozens of choreographed dancers, sporting 200 unique costumes. Seven cameras were rolling to capture everything they could.
  • Aladdin’s secret hideaway, known as the “broken tower”, hides clever contraptions throughout it, like a box that transforms into a bed for Abu. His small kitchen was inspired by a cabinet from Jodhpur, India that opens to reveal a tea-making set.
  • Everything in Aladdin’s living quarters were hand-made and hand-dyed to get that irregular quality to it.
  • The Sultan’s palace is based on a monastery in Burma, with elements of Turkish and Moroccan design throughout the rooms. There is, however, no throne room and no throne under the Sultan’s rule.
  • The size of Jasmine’s bed was dictated by the size of the tiger, Raja, who might be found lying upon it.
  • Jasmine’s lived-in bedroom is full of books, maps, and art that the princess has collected. And, of course, there’s a balcony.
  • Jafar’s study takes on a darker color palette than the rest of the palace, comprised of patterned, carved stone in blues and dark reds. The designs throughout the study reflect Jafar’s obsession with sorcery and magic, as well as his ill intentions. Jafar also oversees a sub-surface dungeon…
  • For the expansive Cave of Wonders, the practical effects and the VFX teams worked together to pull off the challenging building.
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    Image via Disney

    All those piles of gold and jewels you see are actually manufactured rubber mats, augmented by blue-screen visual effects. Everything Aladdin interacts with in the cave was real; everything else is a visual effect.

  • The Agrabah desert is actually the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan. An actual rock formation in the desert serves as the lion-headed entrance to the Cave of Wonders. Helicopter shots of camels walking across the dunes in Namibia gave the desert a greater sense of scope and scale.
  • The material for Aladdin’s vests, a strong red velvet fabric from Istanbul, was such a rare antique that the production team had just enough for the eight vests needed for the shoot.
  • Aladdin’s Prince Ali transformation features an all-creamy white look that pays homage to Lawrence of Arabia. The costume has a lot of elements and layers to it, many of which are shed away as Aladdin becomes more comfortable with Princess Jasmine. Aladdin’s final look is a combination of both of his previous appearances.
  • Jasmine gets nine signature looks in this movie, all with bold, strong colors that help to highlight her personality and make her stand out among the crowd. Those she wears in the palace are corseted, restricting her, while those she wears in her room and outdoors are looser and freer.
  • Genie’s human and magical forms share the same golden bracelets, signifying both his bondage as a servant and the fact that he’s lived for thousands of years and served many different masters. (Genie would sure love to shake free of those shackles…)
  • Jafar gets to keep his signature reds, blacks, and golds, but with a more specific military history to his costume.
  • Five familiar characters—Genie’s “Big Blue” version, Abu, Carpet, Raja, and Iago—are entirely digital. Unsurprisingly, “Big Blue” proved the most difficult.
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    Image via Disney

    Disney Research developed an all-new motion-capture system they dubbed Anima. This captured high-resolution images and video of Smith’s facial performance, which was later paired with his motion-capture performance in the less restrictive Imocap suit to get his body movements. Smith also acted opposite his co-stars on set, though he was later digitally removed from the shots.

  • “Big Blue” has relatively few size and shape-changing tricks to show off throughout the movie because they were not only expensive, they were also a little creepy once animators started manipulating realistic skin, muscle, and bone. Genie’s smoky tail will appear, but it took quite a few trials to get the right look.
  • A real capuchin monkey named Fidget served as the inspiration for Abu, a digital creation. Fidget was scanned in 360 degrees using Clear Angle technology to create a 3D model from the images of over 100 cameras.
  • The ILM digital animation team also studied Fidget to see how she moved and acted around humans, in addition to researching hours of natural footage.
  • Abu gets his own outfits to pair with Aladdin’s and Prince Ali’s. A real costume was created in order to scan so it could be digitized and used to dress digital Abu. (The physical costumes also dressed a puppet version of the monkey to visualize his location on set.)
  • Iago is less of a villain’s sidekick and more of a traditional parrot this time around. Modeled on a green-winged macaw named Britain, the 3D scanned rendering had some more malicious-looking features added to it, like “evil eyes.”
  • Iago reports back to Jafar by mimicking things he’s seen and heard throughout Agrabah.
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    Image via Disney

    Raja is a more mature and regal character who has grown up with Princess Jasmine, in this version of the tale. Based on a Siberian tiger, with a little bit of extra gray added to his muzzle and beard, the visual effects team once again used reference footage and studies of live animals to get Raja’s movements right.

  • Magic Carpet, however, gets to retain the puppy-like qualities from the animated movie. The super-enthusiastic and positive character traits shine through in everything Carpet does.
  • Since the carpet has no reference anatomy the animators can pull from, they built a rig with hundreds of connected rods that allowed Carpet to fly, pitch, roll, and dive. The actors were secured to this rig for flight sequences so that they actually had ahold of a real carpet responding to the wind and reacting to its “flight.”
  • For action-packed sequences throughout the movie, expect Guy Ritchie’s style to shine through, in which he covers the action and follows the characters throughout rather than cutting away so that the sequence feels like little vignettes.
  • There was also attention paid to make sure Aladdin wasn’t “too perfect” at Parkouring his way through the marketplace, otherwise the audience wouldn’t like him as much.
  • There will indeed be a magical carpet ride for Jasmine and Aladdin, but in order to keep it feeling realistic, all of the landscape they soar over and above is practically shot from real-world locations.
  • The songs will be familiar but different, like the fact that Harlem jazz now informs Genie’s musical style. Alan Menken helped to rearrange the existing songs and develop new ones, like “Speechless.”
  • Much like Beauty and the Beast added 18th century French instruments to their music, so too did they bring the sounds of Middle Eastern instruments into the newly reworked music. They include the oud, the quanun, duduk, ney, and the rebab, as well as a lot of percussion instruments.
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    Image via Marvel Studios

    “Arabian Nights” was reworked and rewritten to evoke more of a sense of wonder at coming to Agrabah for the first time, as an outsider. It’s now twice as long as it was in the original version.

  • Smith did some beatboxing and ad-libbing for his take on “Friend Like Me.” Smith performed the recording a second time in his motion-capture getup to be digitized as Genie/Big Blue.
  • “Speechless” was written by composer Alan Menken and lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul for Naomi Scott’s Jasmine. The story of the song is that Jasmine is tired of being told she should be seen and not heard, so she’s not going to be speechless anymore.
  • Jamal Sims choreographed high-energy dance numbers to accompany the classic songs. He brought a mix of cultures and dance styles from around the world, mixed with contemporary dance.
  • Sims had to bring Massoud up to speed on Aladdin’s dance moves from scratch, imagining that Genie actually gifted Aladdin his skills as a dancer, per Ritchie’s direction.
  • Scott had a background in singing and dancing, but still had to train for this movie’s challenging sequences. She so impressed Sims and the choreographers that they added extra dance steps for her, including belly dancing.
  • The only one who picked things up more quickly than Scott was Smith himself, no surprise.

Image via Disney

Spoilers! Highlight to read:

  • The mariner takes the place of the peddler from the original film, who was intended to be revealed as the Genie at the end of the animated movie.
  • Genie gets three distinct looks in the movie: that of the mariner, whose look suggests a swashbuckler and world traveler, inspired by African and Arabic influences. (He also gets a headpiece that’s a nod to the animated Genie.)
  • Keep an eye out for Jafar’s snake motif as he transforms from vizier, to sultan, to sorcerer.
  • In an interesting departure, Genie will also start to court Dalia, as the characters get their own original love story.
  • Aladdin and Abu are banished to a frozen tundra, which was filmed indoors at England’s Milton Keynes ski center, augmented later on with snow machines on a studio soundstage. The establishing shots were done via helicopter shots of Svalbard in the Arctic Circle.
  • The sequence sees Aladdin forced to descend an icy chasm in order to rescue Abu, though the actual performance was done by stunt professionals under controlled studio conditions.
  • The costumes also trace her character’s arc, from a princess with royal responsibilities, to a ruler who blends in among her people, to a prisoner forced into marriage by a usurper. Yes, Jasmine will get a wedding garment in this movie, but it’s not a celebratory affair.
  • Aladdin and Jasmine take their flying tour of Agrabah up a notch in the thrilling final action sequence, which sees them soaring through the crowded, narrow streets of the city. But just who, or what, are they running from? You’ll have to see the movie to find out!




Image via Insight Editions


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