The Art Department is one of those departments that is usually forgotten about on lower budget films. I have worked on many projects that don’t have separate people for the department, or that don’t schedule in things like prep time for sets to be dressed. Of course a lot of this comes down to the time and resources available to you but there is something magical about the art department. They make the impossible possible and visions tangible. We were incredibly lucky for Restoration to have the incredibly experienced Lyn Bergquist as our Production Designer. In this post he delves into, in his own words, ‘the nightmare world of Art Department…’
What interested you in the project?
Lyn: I first became interested in ‘Restoration’ because it was a very ambitious short horror film with a small budget and it had some difficult challenges that needed to be resolved in order to make it work, for example, the figure in the painting moving about, the wide variety of sets or locations like the Mansion, the Art Gallery and the Artists Studio, walls moving, the ‘man’ coming out of the painting to name a few. It sounded impossible but a great art department job.
What do you like to see in terms of content and team before you take a project on?
Lyn: I had never worked with Tim before but was aware he had made a feature the previous year so was interested to talk with him about this project. He brilliantly described his concept at our first meeting, he impressed me as someone who had done both the work and had the vision of what he wanted, this convinced me to help him make his film.
How did you approach the design elements for this film?
Tim: I did spend a fair bit of time in my head imagining the film and proposing a list of ideas, from colours and textures to choice of locations. I find that locations define the look of the film tremendously. We also discussed the characters, their personalities and history, which helped us arrive at the common ground before we actually began the design.
Lyn: I enjoyed reading the script from the first reading, it is a tight piece of horror that has just the right
amount of suspense to carry the story so really, all I had to do was make it look good. I always like to work with my Art Director, Richard Cooke, on every project. Over the last twenty odd years we have worked on many projects and we have a fine understanding of working together, he and I will usually have several meetings together to shape the look of the film and as the core art department we are
usually able to produce some great results. The main thing about our job is that we know it will generally change and progress over the production period so it is important to keep talking with the Director, Producer, D.O.P. etc. so the project evolves in the best possible way.
I began this film with meetings with the Director and Producer where Tim described to me his ideal version of what he would like to see and we discussed the options of making things work for the small budget we had. I then went through the script making my own breakdown, starting with a scene by scene list of locations, scripted props and ideas from the Director, adding other props and dressings I think are needed to make the scene work, concentrating on as many details I can. Usually meetings with the D.O.P. follow and are much more informative on location surveys and follow-up meetings so we can work out elements like practical lighting etc. that will help him create the atmosphere of the production. There was, of course the odd horror film to watch as reference. There were also set drawings and plans to create for the Artist’s Studio set. Options for the effects do we use blue screen, green screen or luminance key? In the end we opted for a luminance key, as it was the simplest to create. Then of course we had two alternatives for our hero artworks, we could either create our own portrait show or try to find an artist with a collection of portraits we could use, Luckily for us, Dean Turcel had a show that had just finished and his portraits were perfect for our hero artist’s work.
Once the locations were found the props lists and location photos were assembled into my master script. Opposite each scene I then have instant reference including Props. Wardrobe, Special Effects, Location photos etc. This script was then copied and given to my Art Director with a copy available anyone else in the art department who requires one. During this time I would usually meet with the Wardrobe Designer, Make-up and in this case the Special Effects to brief them on our combined concept, this then usually then mainly becomes an email process with all parties, with many, many emails about options finally evolving into the odd meetings to see the results for each department.
What did you find most challenging with Restoration?
Lyn: Our very first set-up was to create the stills shot which was to become the hero painting, for that we used the ballroom at the historic Highwic House in Newmarket as the location for the stills shots of the painting and our man moving around the inside the painting. This involved moving most of their dressings out of the area we were using, changing the direction of the piano in the window, adding curtains and placing our own dressings for the shots. Most of their furniture is irreplaceable antiques and as such could not be used for practical purposes so extra care was needed in moving it around and returning it to its original positions.
Once the still shots were completed they were assembled into twelve versions of the painting to suit the film. The images were then printed onto stretched canvasses and delivered to a fine artist Dwayne Cameron who created the hero paintings by adding detailed brush strokes and painting effects.
The Artist’s studio location was built almost from scratch. How do you approach a location/set like that?
Lyn: Following this we concentrated on starting to create the Artists Studio set, which basically was a start from scratch set and our largest build for the film. We built the set inside a large old barn in west Auckland that was normally used as a workshop, storage and games room area for the farm. Our first focus was to clear out everything we weren’t going to use in our set and to dress our ‘studio’.
Because there were originally having moving walls in this set, it became clear that we could hide most of the stuff we weren’t using in the barn behind our new walls, thereby solving a huge storage problem elsewhere and giving us a much more interesting shaped room to dress. Once we had the clear new space we were then able to dress exactly what we wanted to create an environment that is both an artist’s studio living area and also a sinister ‘haunted-house’ at the same time.
There were a few locations that included expensive items and needed special treatment – how does this sort of thing affect your process?
Lyn: We had two other locations that contained irreplaceable items where extra care was required to be
the norm, the first being James Wallace’s house, which is packed with irreplaceable New Zealand Art and antiques, we did have some restrictions placed on us as a shooting crew the main one being that nothing was to be moved without express permission from the staff. We were constantly on the watch for anything that might have to be taken out of any danger. The other location we had where valuable items were involved was the Art Gallery who were mid exhibition at the time we used the location. We photographed the interior of the gallery made measurements and notes as to where every exhibited item was positioned, we then removed their exhibition replaced it with our own, shot our scenes and replaced their show. Every one of our locations required a high standard of care, respect and professionalism from our fantastic setting and shooting crew, which was very much appreciated by the art department.
What do you think are the most important aspects of your relationship with your production designer?
Tim: I love films with ideas, obvious and subtle. My ideal designer is someone who understands the script beyond the text and who possesses the artistic skills to render those ideas into images. It tremendously helps if the designer is also practical and experienced. Lyn was all those things and more.
Lyn: I would lastly like to thank all the Art Department people who worked on this project for being professional and expert in their fields, without you all this film would not have been possible, well done everyone.
Lyn’s been living the dream since the seventies and has lost count of how many TVCs he’s art directed but reckons it’s somewhere near 2000. He’s bashed out over a dozen feature films, a shedload of shorts, a bunch of TV, and has even managed to win himself a couple of shiny NZ Film & TV Design awards too.