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Dan Stevens had to wear a bodysuit and perform the role on stilts, first so that the size and movements of the character were captured on set during filming, and then again for the visual-effects teams so that his face was captured and later computer-animated with the Beast’s hair and fangs.

“Ultimately we went for a fusion of technologies,” the former Downton Abbey star tells PEOPLE of what it took to make him appear and act like the huge, hirsute character. “[It was] traditional motion capture and puppeteering of a big muscle suit on stilts. I was inside this 40–lb. thing covered in gray lycra and marker dots.”

“Every couple of weeks I would go into a special booth and my face would be sprayed with about 10,000 UV dots and I would sit in what I used to call the Tron cage,” he says. “Anything I’d been doing in the previous two weeks in the scenes, whether it was eating, sleeping, roaring, waltzing, I did it again with my face, with Emma [Watson] sitting on the other side of the cage and we would capture the Beast’s face.”

“It was very important for Bill and for me in telling the story, and in portraying what’s essentially a romantic lead character, to have the sensitivity in that close-up to preserve the eyes which are the last human element of the Beast,” he says. “It’s never really been used this way before. It felt very pioneering.”

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As to the dance scene – “You’ve just got to get in ’em, start moving around!” Stevens says with a laugh. “Fortunately we had about three months of pre-production for rehearsals, learning the songs, the dances. Initially with the waltz I learned the steps on the ground and graduated to the stilts, which was slightly terrifying for me but probably more for Emma. I think she was very worried that I was going to tread on her toes in steel stilts, which could’ve ruined the movie, but I didn’t, so I’m very proud of that.”

Dan spend two hours a day practicing the moves. “I would have a studio to move around in and explore lots of different aspects of the Beast,” he says. “With the size and mass and shape of the Beast, so yeah, it was a whole combination of things — vocal exploration, dance, singing, movement, the whole package of challenges, really.”

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