Caged – Icy Set Design

For our “Caged” series we wanted to create a setting that was beautiful, yet coldly aloof and sparse. We also wanted it to seem bigger and taller than it really was.

We began by creating a flared set that was smaller in the back than it was in the front. We also chose a very monochromatic color pallet of teals and silvers to help confuse the sense of a depth.

The beginning of the set.

The beginning of the set.

We wanted the feeling of a cold tile floor, but a real tile floor would have been impractical for us to install. Instead, I chose to use large pieces of salvaged cardboard from a printer as stencils. The cardboard pieces were donated to SCRAP (a local SF re-use center) where I picked them up for about a dollar. The printer recognized the negative outlines created from their die-cut job would certainly be of use to folks like us (grin!).

Stenciling a faux tile floor with multiple metallic teals.

Stenciling a faux tile floor with multiple metallic teals. Posted from Stacey’s instagram @hld4ransom

I used three different hand mixed teal metallics and allowed the edges to be somewhat imperfect. This actually helps the floor to “feel” more real. (We’ve found that in real life nothing is perfect.)

Finished floor. View 1

Wider view of the floor.

Finished floor. View 2

Mostly finished floor.

To create the sense of grandeur, we used forced perspective to our advantage. We installed wedges on top of our set walls which raised the front of the set to 10′ while the back remained 8.’ To create the tree columns, we used sonotubes for the bases and twisted willow branches for the upper trees. Sonotubes are what contractors use to pour concrete footings. They cost about $10 each and can be found at most pro-hardware stores. We cut holes into the thick cardboard and secured the twisted willow branches with 3″ screws. The heavier, longer branches were lashed with cords to a length of metal speed rail that was out of camera view.

Adding the tree columns.

Adding the tree columns.

We wanted to have HUGE icicles hanging into frame, but it would have been nigh impossible to create real ones. Instead we used placeholder icicles made of plastic twisted around wire forms. They were very light and flexible and allowed us to hang the icicles wherever we wanted and move them once we started shooting. These served as placeholders and informed us of the proper light flow later when we were digitally painting the ice into the scene.

Finished set with snow & placeholder icicles.

Finished set with snow & placeholder icicles.

Since the set was relatively bare of furnishings, I focused on choosing pieces that were very decorative, including the wallpaper, the frames and the small decor items. All frames were hung with filament off of screws secured in the top of the set. This allowed us to move the frames around with no damage to the wall. The filament was easy to remover later in photoshop.

Left side of the "caged" set.

Left side of the “caged” set.

We try to shoot as much practically as we can (a term for shooting physical FX in camera & not using CG). The starry sky in the scene was created by punching many holes into a dark blue back drop with an awl (a tool like an ice pick). Light was bounced off of the back white wall and then it evenly shone through the holes (example shown below).

View shows practical starry sky.

View shows practical starry sky.

I created three golden “metal” birds for the shoot. The cool golden color was chosen to specifically compliment and contrast off of the teal & silver set. I covered how I made the gilded birds in this blog under “mise en scene – prop making.”

Three gilded birds created for the "Caged " series.

Three gilded birds created for the “Caged ” series. The step stool was painted to match the wallpaper.

"Released" golden bird.

“Released” golden bird.

Bird for "Gilded Promises"

Bird for “Gilded Promises”

Bird 'felled by cats"

Bird ‘felled by cats”

A few of the stunning cats that were brought to our studio by Melisande Inness-Brown, an award-winning breeder of Sphynx cats.

Some of the cats that came in for our "Caged" shoot.

Some of the cats that came in for our “Caged” shoot.

One of the more acrobatic felines of the day.

One of the more acrobatic felines of the day.

Final images created from this shoot.



"Gilded Promises"

“Gilded Promises”

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