BBC News makes an appearance in a Bond film.

BBC News backdrops appearing in a scene from Skyfall
BBC News backdrops appearing in a scene from Skyfall

Whilst watching Skyfall at the cinema last Autumn, I smiled when I saw (oh so briefly) my backdrops for the BBC News appear in one of the scenes. The whole BBC News set, including these digital sets are due to be retired later this month so it is nice for them to have acquired a snippet of an extended life within a Bond film.

The Ten O’clock News is always shot in studio N6, but in these grabs it appears they shot into the right side corner of TC7 instead. Both studios are located at Television Centre, but TC7 was only usually used for the six o’clock news bulletins and so this is most probably a daytime version of the backdrop passing itself off as a night time version. Aside from the screens in TC7 not being as well calibrated as those in N6, this incarnation of the daytime version was never as rich as the night version in my opinion, so it doesn’t look quite as good as it might have done, but I can live with that.

BBC TenO'clock News backdrops appear in Skyfall
BBC Ten O’Clock News (but with Six O’Clock News backdrops) appears in Skyfall

For more information on these digital backdrops, visit my company’s website – lightwell

Sketches for an unrealised maze design

Gothic catacomb stye maze design for an unrealised project.
Gothic catacomb style maze design for an unrealised project.

Not a set design, but a mirror maze. These are very polished, but still sketches nonetheless. The client loved the 3D, but decided not to proceed with the design and the project was shelved.

The appeal of steroscopic images soon faded and despite some promising test animations, I concluded it was doomed so long as the audience were required to wear glasses.

Anaglyph stereo 3D version of the maze design.
Anaglyph stereo 3D version of the maze design.


3D Printing as a Design Tool

The use of technology as a tool within the design process has always fascinated me. Over the past couple of decades, our industry has been revolutionised in ways that would have been difficult to imagine in times prior to the 1980’s – think CAD, 3D, Photoshop, scanners, digital cameras, LED lighting, laptops and justabout anything connected to the internet or requiring a charger!

Recently, 3D printing has been gaining prominence. As the powers and capabilities of the hardware and software improve, the costs become lower and the technology becomes ever more accessible. Whilst exploring a tangent on Google, I stumbled upon this wonderful video from Makerbot highlighting the work of theatre set designer, Kacie Hultgren. Kacie uses a 3D printer from Makerbot to “print” detailed scale models of props and sets for the set design models of Broadway productions she is working on.

For Kacie, a 3D printer has enabled her not only to save time, but also to plug a gap that existed in commercially available content.

A number of her designs are now available as ready printed models, or as open source downloads from Thingiverse that you print on your own 3D printer.

This ability to not only print designs for presentation, but then sell designs and models digitally suggests a paradigm shift in the way that designers work and market their work. There are downsides, not least the potential for piracy that has afflicted the music and film industry. Hopefully, designers will be quick to embrace this opportunity, but even quicker to design a means of securing their IP.

ITV News VR Newsroom

Earlier today, ITV launched an entire re-brand of its channels and programmes which included ITV News from ITN.  I worked with ITN’s in-house computer graphics department to create the virtual newsroom space that can be seen beyond the glazing of the virtual set. Although I have produced designs for VR sets before, these digital sets are probably the most integrated project that I have worked on to date and it’s been quite inspiring to explore the possibilities offered by this kind of technology.

The whole design package is very much a team effort. The VR studio/set was produced in-house by ITN, based upon designs by BDA. The VR newsroom was produced by me and designed in conjunction with BDA who produced the initial design concepts. The overall brand re-design is by Lambie Nairn.

The version shown here is for day time bulletins, there’s an alternate version for use on night time broadcasts.


Skyfall, Shanghai and Jellyfish: Bending the rules when designing architecture for the screen

Coming away from watching Skyfall last weekend, the imagery that stuck most in my mind was that of the Shanghai office interior where James Bond intercepts the assassin, Patrice. Looking at the clip below from Trailer Addict (scroll to 35s) reveals that the scene is filmed entirely on set at Pinewood Studios and comprises a stylised, partially completed office interior.

The design of this set immerses the characters within multiple layers of reflections of a set of animated lights and displays that adorn the buildings exterior. The unfinished raised floor, the frameless glass partitions and the lay-in ceiling grid all serve to reinforce and multiply the reflections. Lay-in ceiling tiles are a cheaper alternative to a clip-in ceiling tile system, and not what I would normally expect to see in a high spec office space (frameless glazing says high spec to me). Lay-in tiles do however have the benefit of an exposed aluminium grid, which is exploited to the full for its reflective and linear perspective defining properties here.

In purely architectural terms, the layout of the glass office cubicles doesn’t appear to make any sense, and it wouldn’t pass Part N of the Building Regulations (in the U.K. at least) without some sort of manifestation on the glazing. But this misses the point, as it isn’t the U.K. nor is it the real world; this is a film set and it is designed to be visually stunning on screen. The layers of reflections and lights in this scene are mesmerisingly beautiful and remind me of Bladerunner, a favourite of architecture students for decades. If I have learned one thing in designing architecture for the television, it is to start with something tangible and based upon real world criteria, but then to bend those rules to achieve something that looks great on screen*. This set epitomises this approach for me and I’m eager to soak it up once more when the Bluray of Skyfall is released.

The upcoming issue of American Cinematographer will feature the work of Roger Deakins on Skyfall, something which no other publication has sufficiently covered yet and something that I am very much looking forward to.**

Adding to the visual qualities of this set are a set of large format Shanghai backdrops by Rutters, and a pair of animated jellyfish. The choice of jellyfish is interesting not only because of it’s visual properties, but because it is a predator with no brain. A metaphor for Bond and his ’00’ status perhaps? Possible symbolism aside, I find these animated jellyfish quite beautiful. I was surprised to discover that the animation is stock imagery entitled Jellyfish Nightlights by Bass Visuals and available from iStock.

*One exception to my rule breaking that I must confess to, is that in all of my designs, the staircases comply with building regulations. There is something about this section of the rules that I can’t bring myself to break and I think it comes down to the fact that they are based upon a common sense approach that I feel always looks better and more credible on screen.

Addendum 5/12/2012

** I do now have that December 2012 issue of American Cinematographer and there is an interesting section on this scene. The scene is lit almost entirely by the spill from the large format 11m pitch LED screens which are positioned over 20m away. The story behind the Jellyfish is also interesting, Roger Deakins had this to say.

“We needed images for the monitor, and the art department found this footage of jellyfish floating through the frame. When it came time to discuss what we really want to put on those screens, Sam and I looked at each other and said, ‘Well, why don’t we just leave it as jellyfish?’ It looked interesting and it was a really deep blue, and we wanted the whole Shanghai section to feel quite cold. So thats how the jellyfish got in the film. They were just stand-ins really!”

Roger Deakins interviewed in American Cinematographer pp38, Vol 93, No 12