'Artemis Fowl': 17 Things We Learned on Set of Disney Plus' New Fantasy Film

Eoin Colfer's beloved book series comes to life -- and ET has all the behind-the-scenes secrets.

Artemis Fowl fans have long been anxious to see the beloved book series come to life, but the waiting game is finally over. This summer, everybody will be able to visit this world of magic spells and criminal masterminds -- without ever leaving their homes.

Though Disney set out to premiere the film in theaters, amid the ongoing pandemic, it will instead arrive via streaming. "In challenging times, a 12-year-old criminal mastermind is one heck of a traveling companion," director Kenneth Branagh said. "He'll take you to new worlds, meet unforgettable characters and mix magic with mayhem. His own family is everything to him, and (although he’d never admit it), he'd be as proud as I am that families around the world will now be able to enjoy his first amazing screen adventures together, on Disney+."

Two years ago, those new characters and magical worlds were still in the process of making the leap from the page when ET visited Artemis Fowl's U.K. set in April 2018. The film stars Ferdia Shaw as the titular Artemis, who kidnaps a fairy LEPRecon officer for ransom money to fund the search for his missing father.

It's a world filled with fairies, dwarfs and more, with a cast that includes Colin Farrell as the missing senior Fowl, Dame Judi Dench as a gender-swapped elf Commander Root, Josh Gad as kleptomaniac dwarf Mulch Diggums, and Nonso Anozie as Artemis' bodyguard, Butler. (Watch the first clip of Artemis and Butler above.)

"Although there's something brilliant at the center of [author Eoin Colfer’s story], everybody knew that translating it to film was challenging," Branagh said during a break from filming. "It's taken quite some time to find the balance between humor and emotion and magic and the contemporary world."

During our visit to Longcross Film Studios, ET sat down with a number of the talented individuals working behind-the-scenes on the movie, who shared secrets of reimagining Colfer's books for the big screen. Below, everything we learned on the set of Artemis Fowl.


Small But Mighty: Casting Artemis

1. Roughly 1,200 actors auditioned for the role of Artemis. Producer Judy Hofflund joked the casting team "literally auditioned every single boy in Ireland who wanted to audition." Branagh explained, "We wanted to find someone who was Irish, because we [want] that to be a distinctive flavor here. And then we needed to find somebody who was not going to be overwhelmed or intimidated."

2. Despite no credits to his name, newcomer Ferdia Shaw captivated the Artemis Fowl team with his raw talent and landed the lead. "I kept seeing audition after audition after audition, and [Ferdia] just kept getting better and better and rising to the top of the list," Hofflund recalled, with Branagh adding, "First thing he's ever done and he's spectacular."

3. Shaw was put in a kind of "acting boot camp," where he quickly picked up on acting cues and taking direction. "He was one of the kids who could do all that," the director relayed. "Part of our goal is that while they're here, it's important that we help this be a fun experience. But it's a practical discipline as well and they've been terrific."


Building the World: Fowl Manor

4. Because the first Artemis Fowl book is "rooted in the ancestral home of the Fowl family" and because Branagh so often shoots continuous shots moving from exterior to interior or otherwise roaming about, production designer Jim Clay deemed it necessarily to build a real, livable house instead of crafting it on a soundstage.

5. It took two weeks to completely dress the house once construction was completed, according to set decorator Celia Bobak. "We did have fun finding wonderful items from the 20th century," Bobak revealed of rummaging auctions and antique fairs to obtain the manor's velvet curtains, Persian carpets and more than 12,000 books housed in the library.

6. Artemis' bedroom was designed to be "something that would catch the imagination of the young audience [and] really amuse them," said Bobak. The shelves within are lined with some of Shaw's own favorite reads. "He looked at the bookshelves and he said, 'God, I've read all of these!' [I told him], 'I know. That's why they're there!'" Branagh said.

7. The manor's portrait gallery tells the family history. The room is lined top to bottom with portraits of Fowls throughout the decades, as well as the butlers who served them. "Butlers have served the family from the very beginning," Bobak explained. "Ken wanted them to all have a sort of smile on their face."


Meet Holly Short of Haven City

8. The fairy officer Artemis kidnaps, Holly Short, is played by 16-year-old Irish actress Lara McDonnell. "Laura did a year of Matilda on the West End, so she had a bit more experience," producer Hofflund said of finding their Holly, an 84-year-old fairy who looks like a teenage girl.

9. Holly belongs to a world of magical creatures know as Haven City, which Branagh envisioned as "a kind of wacky Shangri-La." The design team looked at different images of the ocean floor and of ancient architecture, then combined the two to create their own organic but high-tech world.

10. Not every creature in Haven City is so friendly: Gad's dwarf, Mulch Diggums, boasts fearsome teeth -- all the better to tunnel underground with -- and a magical beard. "His beard comes alive," explained hair stylist Alexis Continente, which is how Mulch breaks into Fowl Manor.

11. The underground world is connected to the human world by way of lava chutes. "The entrance to the lava chutes we envisaged as a sort of big chamber which harnesses the force of a volcano," Clay explained. While that sounds fairly sulfurian, within Haven City, everyone "moves by wind power or by magnetic force."


Fairies, Dwarves and Spies, Oh My!

12. The Lower Elements Police (LEP) Recon Unit is the fairy police's headquarters. "That's the control center for their actions on Earth," Clay said. It's also where much of the movie takes place. "So we built that as a complete set, and then it is merged into the digital world [via green screen]."

13. The uniforms for LEP's officers were inspired by insects and deep-sea creatures. Their backpacks are based on a ladybug -- "The challenge was to try and create something that was big enough to carry a person when it's opened, but small enough to fit inside the backpack," costume designer Sammy Sheldon Differ said -- while their communication helmets are based on fish living in the ocean's trenches.

14. Dench's Commander Root had another unlikely influence: Her look was inspired by none other than David Bowie, Continente confirmed.

15. LEP's Neutrino Series Guns were a unique challenge, as the team tried to steer away from anything resembling an actual gun. "They don't fire anything that you see as being harmful," prop master Barry Gibbs said. For protection, fairy officers also carry a mind-wipe device if they're spotted by humans.


Take a Closer Look: Easter Eggs Galore

16. The acorn is a beloved symbol for the underground fairy world. To replenish their magic, fairies must complete "The Ritual," which involves picking an acorn from an ancient oak tree, burying it in another spot and reciting a scripture from the Book of the People. Keep your eyes peeled while watching the movie and, as Differ put it, "You'll notice there's acorns everywhere."

17. The Book of the People is written in Gnommish, the language of the fairies, so Gnommish symbols are hidden throughout many of the sets -- including Fowl Manor. "If you look carefully, we've got Gnommish symbols in a lot of the [portrait] frames, just to tie in this feeling that the family's got something to do with the fairy world for generations," Bobak teased. It's actually when Artemis discovers a copy of the Book of the People that the adventure kicks off.

"It's a huge, huge, huge, huge team effort," Branagh said of the production. "Whether they are preparing Haven City or finding our Artemis or doing all this stuff with the computer programming, or the books, or the performance, or the tone of it all, what's really exciting is to see that -- although it's risky when these worlds can mix -- it feels original."


Artemis Fowl premieres on Disney+ on June 12.