Hashima Island, commonly referred to as Gunkanjima, meaning “Battleship Island” in Japanese, is a former coal mining facility off the coast of south west Japan. At it’s peak in 1959, the island was home to 5,259 people. By 1974, the island’s mine had ceased to be economically viable and and the facility was abandoned.
Though it’s now a ghost island frozen in time, it’s apocalyptic appearance has inspired the production and set designs for films such as Inception*, and more recently Skyfall**. As Stu Maschwitz points out in his DV Rebels Guide, “Reference is God” and as references go, Hashima is proving to be very popular and persuasive source material. Visits to the island are possible, but access is highly restricted so it’s great to find that parts of the island are now covered by Google Streetview.
** Addendum part 2: Silva’s island hideaway was constructed as a set on Pinewood studios backlot and is acknowledged as being based on Hashima. The set was constructed over shipping containers and stood three stories high. Double Negative generated set extensions based on photography from Hashima itself. (Joe Fordham, Old Dog, New Tricks, Cinefex 133, pp47)
Thanks to Ilona Gaynor for snapping me out of my complacency an making me re-read my issues of Cinefex.
BBC News output underwent a comprehensive re-brand by Lambie Nairn in the spring of 2008. My contributions to this were the animated studio backdrops that played out in the Barco screens along three sides of the two studios. Working on the designs through my company, Lightwell and in collaboration with Jago Design (now BDA Set Design), we developed a digital environment comprising a newsroom backed by offices, galleries, control rooms and various ancillary spaces. The scene, along with animated characters, lifts and monitors was delivered in kit form and assembled by BBC News Graphics who applied the final blur effect along with the etched glass graphic effect.
The space depicted in the backdrops is almost entirely self-enclosed apart from views through to small exterior courtyard and atrium spaces on each of the three sides. We had planned to use similar lighting for both the day and night-time versions of the scene. Different times of day would be indicated by changes to the lighting in those exterior zones and by switching off lighting in parts of the interior. Studio tests immediately revealed that this only produced dark patches from certain camera angles within the studio. We also soon realised (though it seems blatantly obvious with hindsight) that our scene could never go darker than the material surface of the screens, which in turn were being hit by quantities of diffuse spill light from the ceiling light boxes and lighting grid that resulted in a grey tone in place of blacks. I was stuck for ideas and with the re-launch fast approaching, set about experimenting with different lighting levels and different coloured lighting. Nothing was working as we had planned.
By late February 2008, we were short of time and in need of inspiration when, one morning during the school half term holiday my son started watching Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers. I walked into the room just as the scenes of the night battle were beginning. There on the screen was the solution I had been searching for.
Studying this particular scene revealed a tightly controlled, silver-blue monochrome palette. The only exceptions to this came from the yellow/gold accents of the flaming torches. Borrowing this idea, I applied a similar lighting palette to the newsroom backdrops – it worked. We achieved a sufficiently well-lit interior, maintained similar levels of detail and texture to the daytime scene, but described a night-time condition throughout. Studio tests resulted in a sequence of refinements to the hue and contrast levels, but ultimately we had arrived at the final solution for our lighting design through a chance viewing of a scene from a movie being watched by a kid on his school holidays. I am a huge fan of serendipity.
The final night-time version of this digital set is below. The blue hue acquired a shade more red, whilst being slightly more saturated. The yellow/gold accents are similarly more saturated and bold.
The designs I prepared were only ever expected to last a couple of years and were to be superseded, not by an updated design, but by a whole new building, studios and headquarters at Broadcasting House in central London. In the event, this stop-gap design has, in various incarnations been in use for five years. Reports on the web suggest that on Monday 18th March, all BBC News will come from the new studios at Broadcasting House.
Lucky for me that it has lasted this long, it meant that I got a design on-screen in a James Bond film as some BBC news footage appears in a scene from Skyfall! I wrote a little more on this in an earlier post, BBC News makes an appearance in a Bond film
For more information, visit my company’s website – lightwell
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.
For more information on these digital backdrops, visit my company’s website – lightwell
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.
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.
** 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!”