How The Elf Set Designers Built Santa's Workshop Around Will Ferrell

"Have you seen these toilets? They're ginormous!"

ELF, Will Ferrell, 2003, (c) New Line/courtesy Everett Collection
Alamy© New Line Cinema/Courtesy Everett Collection

Few things make me want to give Will Ferrell, AKA Buddy the Elf, a hug quite like hearing him say the words, "Have you seen these toilets? They're ginormous!" in the movie . After leaving the North Pole, passing through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly-twirly gum drops, and then walking through the Lincoln Tunnel, he finally found somewhere he could fit in...literally.

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Imagine living your whole life in the North Pole believing you're a massive elf, never actually fitting where all the other normal sized elves did, only to discover you're actually human and your father lives in New York City? Well, none of us can, but that's precisely what makes the movie's innocent comedic premise so addicting—even after 15 years.

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New Line Cinema

To celebrate the anniversary of Elf's release, chatted with some of the talented people behind the film, and they revealed exactly how they made Ferrell look disproportionately bigger than the rest of Santa's workshop and the "real" elves. Their secret to doing so without using CGI for the actors? "Forced perspective to create an optical illusion and make it appear like Ferrell towered over everyone else in the room."

In other words, in scenes like the ones where 6'3 Ferrell chats to 5'7 Bob Newhart, who played Papa Elf, Newhart would be shot several feet behind Ferrell to make it look like there was a significant height difference. This made eye contact impossible for the actors, so the onscreen magic was certainly tricky to adjust to.

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New Line Cinema
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"When fans find out I'm taller than 3 feet and 2 inches, they feel cheated," Newhart told Variety, adding, "They don't understand...They're going, 'That's not Papa Elf. He's too tall to be Papa Elf.'" Presumably, it's only children having that reaction, but hey, maybe the set designers were really that good.

Of course, forced perspective wasn't always possible in certain scenes. Newhart revealed that in the scene where Ferrell has to sit on Newhart's lap, for instance, there's actually a small child in between them. According to Variety, "the crew made a box for Ferrell to sit on so he wouldn’t crush the young actor’s legs, though Newhart joked he still doesn’t know how the little kid survived the weight."

When it came to the set itself, spilled that there were actually two sets built for the movie. One large-scale for the scenes with the actors playing elves and a smaller one for Ferrell and Santa. It looks like I'm going to have to watch Elf for the 3,982,815th time to figure out all this filmmaking magic. Who's with me?

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