One of the most challenging tasks designers face is outfitting one location to play another, or turning contemporary settings into a different time period. Many of the contenders vying for this year’s Emmys for production design grappled with these challenges.
To portray the English country home of the well-to-do Wilcox family, the titular location in the Starz miniseries adaptation of the E.M. Forster novel “Howards End,” set at the dawn of the 20th century, production designer Luke Hall chose Vann House, near Hambledon, England, built in 1542 and remodeled in 1907.
“We completely redressed the interior of the house,” says Hall, “but the garden was in such good shape, all we had to do was fill out the flower beds, let the grass grow a little longer and give it a bit more shape and structure so it felt more nestled into its landscape.”
For National Geographic’s “Genius: Picasso,” production designer Arvinder Grewal used the town of La Granada outside Barcelona to stage a re-creation of the 1937 bombing of Guernica that inspired Pablo Picasso’s mural of the same name. He chose La Granada because it had a small town square that afforded a view of the horizon in the distance, so they could show the approaching Nazi bombers — created in CGI. He stripped the buildings of modern elements and added market stalls and other period touches, as well as a building to be blown up by the special effects crew.
“I wanted to get the innocence of daily life and then get the violence and the savagery that happened with the bombing, and also to suggest elements within it that you would end up seeing in Picasso’s Guernica, like the horse and the mother with the baby,” says Grewal.
Production designer Mara LePere-Schloop thought she’d have to build the 1890s New York City police station for TNT’s “The Alienist” on a soundstage until she discovered an abandoned flea market hall in Budapest that she was able to renovations and transform into a period-correct multilevel practical set.
“It allowed for this organic movement and flow,” says LePere-Schloop. “Some of the most dynamic scenes are when we’re following the characters through the police station into the courtyard where the stables are.”
Production designer Martin Childs took a different approach when recreating the Royal Yacht Britannia for the second season of Netflix’s “The Crown,” constructing sets on a cliff outside Cape Town, South Africa, and atop a cargo container on a tugboat so the horizon and the sea could be seen in the background. Portions of the ship’s scenes were also shot on the Elstree Studios backlot in London and a soundstage in Cape Town and below deck on the HMS Belfast. All were augmented with a tasteful application of CGI.
“I made sure there was a little bit of overlap between each element, so when you pass through from one to the other, you hardly notice,” says Child.
(Pictured Above: “Howards End”)