Thursday 27 March 2014

Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest - Put Our Service To The Test!

Last week as I was on the train I came across an interesting article that was talking about a new Tumblr blog ‘Wes Anderson Palettes’ which takes a look at the different colour palettes that the director uses in all his films.

Wes Anderson is one of my favourite directors because I find his attention to detail is absolutely astonishing. He's a director who has definitely crafted his own instantly identifiable look and feel and his films are well known to be incredibly beautiful, highly stylised, and very precise. Judging from previous interviews it seems he also approaches designing his films in a way very similar to a theatre set designer.
With the recent release of his new film The Grand Budapest Hotel there has been a lot of interest in the director in the media recently with people wanting to take a much closer look into how he constructs each scene and designs the 'look' of all his movies.

Wes Anderson // Centered from kogonada on Vimeo.

This video highlights how he centres a lot of his scenes, helping to put together that feeling that each scene is visually perfect.There is a great interview with Wes Anderson in this months Vanity Fair Magazine if anyone is interested in reading a bit more about the director  – something that he mentioned which made me smile was that he hated travelling by planes and will go by train if he can – there’s definitely a love there that you can see cross over as trains often feature very strongly in his films. Something I’ve noticed before also is his fondness for straight lines (its even been discussed whether his characters have an inability to move any way other than in a straight line) and having things, such as trains, running across the scene. Fantastic Mr Fox is a great example of this as in the ending scene as the camera pulls away from the supermarket and shows the landscape you see both a train and a plane cross over in perfect straight lines.

However, looking at the different palettes that are used in each scene made me consider how close this was to the way we design a show.

As one of the last remaining companies that still design and build all of our scenery, I think we are definitely in a position where we can comfortably talk about the design process.
Feeling inspired by looking at the Wes Anderson colour palettes I thought it’d be an interesting idea to look at our own designs and put together some colour and inspiration boards from a few shows to show how we put our designs together and where we draw our ideas from.

One of our most successful show designs has been our set for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which was chosen for the UK Premiere.
The ‘main set’ – Beast’s Castle Interior usually remains on stage as static scenery with different areas being used for different ‘rooms’ through use of lighting and extra set pieces, such as the bookcases. We also make use of backcloths and flats etc to recreate other locations such as the village and Gaston's Tavern. Looking at the set pictures you can clearly see that we worked around a theme of purple (the colour of royalty!) to create a palette that, depending on whatever lighting, could make the castle feel cold and daunting as well as warm and inviting when wanted.

It was important to create a castle that’s impressive and opulent – reflecting Beast’s early wealth and status before he was cursed, but also be slightly off putting – this is a prison not just to Belle but to Beast and all his servants who have been transformed into household objects. We also combined lots of different styles of architecture and artefacts to give an old but ‘timeless’ feel. Who knows how long they’ve been like that? Clearly long enough for the whole town to forget about the massive castle in the woods and the disappearance of their ruler.

When it’s an enchanted castle you can take a few liberties when it comes to researching the historical accuracy, and amazingly there are many pieces online where people discuss how as it is an enchanted castle that it would therefore be 'frozen in time' and a bit outdated. Out of interest I took a look at how historically accurate the original Disney film was. Clearly, none of the films are particularly historically correct - especially the Princess ones- and the fashions are usually inspired by what was popular at the time of release rather than time of the actual story. Sleeping Beauty’s off shoulder gown is directly out of the 1950s even though its directly mentioned by Prince Philip that ‘this is the fourteenth century’.

There has been a lot of discussion about the period that Beauty and the Beast is set in and usually its pinpointed at being around the mid to late 1700’s in France. Of course this is the time of the original publication of the French tale 'La Belle et la Bete' by Gabrielle Suzanne in 1740 (although the best known version was by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont in 1756.)

In the Disney film Beast’s enchanted castle is a mixture between baroque and gothic architecture – with it later becoming much more rococo when it’s transformed. This is something we replicated in our set with the use of high pointed gothic arches and the gold gilt work.
I love that our castle has painted brickwork - I feel the bricks give it that gothic, cold edge and creates an atmosphere more akin to a prison with an intimidating atmosphere rather than being a comfortable, perfect fairytale castle. However the golds, ochres and yellows used for the window frames and the gilding also 'warm' the set up and under the right lighting the set can become very warm, cosy and inviting - like Belle's Library should be! Often when I've seen it performed the lighting technicians will gradually change from using quite harsh, cold lighting to gradually becoming more pink toned and warm to help signify the changing relationship between Belle and Beast - from captor and captive to friends.

The purples are therefore a great colour palette for this - as you can see in the photos the set can completely change colour depending on how it is lit. Purple can also go from being quite cold, dark and mysterious to very appealing and inviting - not to mention the connotations of royalty associated with purple.
In the Disney film many of the scenes at the Castle are washed with purples, greens and blues to help create an eeriness and emptiness - a direct contrast to the earthy village tones and bright country colours that scream freedom and fresh air. However, like on our set this does change throughout the film with the castle 'warming' as Belle makes friends and it steadily becomes more like a home to her.

Concept artwork for Belle's costumes in the original Disney film
A 1770's French Court Belle taken from Claire
Hummel's project on historically accurate princesses.
Have a look at her work here

When investigating the historical accuracy I also found it interesting to look at the characters costume - often a very important indicator as to where and when the story is based. Beast generally dresses straight out of the Regency period while Belle enjoys dressing in a combination of different ages. Her hooped skirt suggests French Court at the time of Marie Antoinette or even a fairly Georgian style and yet her uncovered shoulders and arms combined with the fairly low cut of her neckline would have been considered quite indecent. The low off the shoulder neckline and the long evening gloves therefore point towards Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ during the 1940s.
Beast's Regency Evening look in full swing
Thank god they are all under an enchantment because it would be a pain to try and pinpoint exactly what time period they all in if you wanted to do an exactly dead on historically accurate show - while based on the Disney film! This said when there's a much loved film involved the audiences often come in having already 'bonded' with the character and have a prior notion as to what she should be like - is Belle really Belle without her beautiful golden yellow ball gown?

As well as creating a visual concept for the show as a scenery hire company we also have other factors that we need to consider for our design and the eventual construction and use of the set.
A film has the benefit of being able to cut between hundreds of different locations – when designing the Beauty and the Beast Broadway show set designer Stan Meyer said he watched the film and noted about 50 different locations used. Any theatre – from the West End to a small community hall can of course never ever replicate this (as much as we’d like to!) simply because who has the space to store all that scenery?

Set designers for professional West End shows are able to design a show with a particular space and theatre in mind, as well as being able to collaborate with the director, cast and crew on what their overall ‘vision’ is for the show.
This is a great positive to working in professional theatre as you would know what facilities the theatre has that you can then incorporate with different features in your own set - such as being able to fly set pieces or actors in and out, or having an inbuilt revolve.
In our set there are a number of secret, hidden features that we have included that while add significantly to the set and it's design are not relying on the performance space having any special facilities. On our set the bookshelves are in fact hidden behind the panels of stonework which need only be revolved to transform the castle into a library, the rose loses its petals one by one slowly throughout the show, and to construct the magic tea trolley for Chip we even consulted the Magic Circle. It's part of our job to design something that's appropriate for any theatre or space rather than creating something that can only be used by one venue without any significant adaptation.

As we specialise in producing scenery for amateur shows or touring performances we typically have to design a show that’s going to be appealing and useful to a wide range of people and is adaptable to a huge variety of different spaces. While we do often try to collaborate with our customers if we are building a show new for their performance, we also have to consider what is going to appeal to other clients. Getting an order is usually down to whether people like your set or not (as well as the transport fee!) so it's always best to design a beautiful set with a broad range of appeal and adaptability. In fact our set for 'Beauty and the Beast' is a great example of this as our set for this show proved so popular with customers that we had to build a second, smaller version of it just to meet demand.

Another huge factor to consider is the ease of mobility and transport. 
A set is absolutely no good to us if it cannot fit into a lorry and be put up safely and easily. The majority of our sets have to be able to be moved quickly and easily by a stage crew doing the scene changes, or be constructed and put up in such a way that the production doesn't have long, tedious scene changes involving multiple pieces of heavy, hard set.
With our Beauty and the Beast set the Beast's Castle Interior has lots of different clever 'tricks' featured that can be used for lots of different scenes, while all on the same set. With an inbuilt jail for Maurice, bookshelves that revolve for Belle's Library and clever use of lighting, vignettes and trucks, as well as a host of beautiful backcloths, this set can help keep scenery changes to a minimum.

We also need to ensure that our sets meet all the safety standards, and that its well built and durable so that it can withstand the inevitable knocks it gets during transport and on stage. Of course we regularly refresh and update all our scenery in stock but it pays to make sure that its sturdy and of the highest quality from the start so that we often only need to give it a fresh coat of paint before it goes out, rather than having to totally replace it each time.

As it happens - we also have a rose that does this.
Through the years I think its safe to say we've produced some fantastic sets, and while I've managed to touch on the design process it really is only a very short summary on the extensive amount of work that goes into putting a full show in. As seen in Wes Anderson's films it's the detail that counts when putting a show together. 
If anyone is looking to perform Disney's Beauty and the Beast and would like to receive a brochure with more information on our set then please get in touch by emailing or enquiring via our website, or if course if you're passing through the area then you're always welcome to 'Be Our Guest!'
(Sorry - couldn't resist!)

Written by Tamsin

Picture Credits:
Wes Anderson Palettes
Vimeo - kogonada
Disney's Beauty and the Beast
Claire Hummel at Deviant Art

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