Deck The Halls

Part of what makes the places that viewers see on screen during a Stargate: Atlantis adventure so believable is the amount of detail in the surroundings. The department charged with turning a set into a multi-layered space is called set decoration. Once production designer James Robbins has designed another fabulous environment and the construction department has made his drawings into a basic reality, the set is put into the care of brothers Mark and Robert Davidson, Stargate: Atlantis’ set decorators. It’s their finishing touches to a set that give it a real sense of character – and of reality.

“We’ve been the decorators since the very beginning of Stargate,” says Mark Davidson. “We’ve done 10 years on Stargate SG-1, four years on Stargate Atlantis, and we’ve also decorated the two straight-to-DVD Stargate: SG-1 movies (‘The Ark of Truth’ and ‘Continuum’). Our job is basically: anything you see behind the actors that is of a decorative nature, that’s what we’re responsible for.”

That means everything that you see, for example, on the table in Carter’s office; all of Teyla’s Athosian mementos that she keeps in her Atlantis quarters; the colors on the walls; the villages that the team visit – all of these things have been accomplished, created or sourced by Mark, Robert, and their team of set dressers. It’s a big job, and one that often takes all of the brothers’ extensive experience to pull off.

“We have quite a supply of stuff that we have built and created [over the years], as well as bought,” says Davidson. “You tend to get into a rhythm when it comes down to what the show needs, and we acquire items that we can use at the time or buy with the idea that we can use it in the future. James Robbins gets an outline of an idea, and he comes to us and fills us in with what’s going on. Then we put our vision and our thoughts into it. James is the designer, but he does give Robert and myself quite a long leash when it comes down to the creative process of what we need.”

What the show needs can sometimes mean some rather surprising components.

“It’s a lot of footwork, really,” Davidson continues. “There are a variety of different sources that are available. We take things out of context: we’ll go and buy regular stuff and we’ll change it into whatever we want it to be. There are many, many times we’ll do that. We’ve been to every second hand store, goodwill store and Salvation Army store. We’ve created things out of toys… in fact, for ‘Travellers’. Some shows, when you’re given the concept, become quite a lot of work in order to accommodate your thoughts on it. We’ll go a little further into the realm of creativity and time. In ‘Travellers’, they’ve been constantly repairing this space ship. So we literally went to every goodwill store and bought all these toys and plastic pieces and curling irons. We attached them with hosing and wires, and we made all these panels – I think we made 40 different panels. I made things out of kid’s activity centres and stuff like that. We screw and we glue and we put it all together and paint it all and what you end up with are these rather amazing looking articles. And we put them on the walls and tied them in with a bunch of stuff and it looks very good. It’s time consuming, but for that show, that’s what was necessary.”

Remember the wonderful wooden chair that formed the centrepiece for Davos’ tent in last week’s episode, ‘The Seer’? That was another invention from the minds of the Davidson brothers, and required quite a lot of effort to put together.

“That was a good one, actually,” says Mark, remembering the chair’s construction. “The Seer is sort of Nostradamus. We had to do the village and the interior of his tent – we’ve done many thrones! At the time, he wasn’t exactly in the best of health, so the idea was that we wanted him to recline. We talked to James Robbins. I suggested to him that we go with a driftwood concept. The reason I thought the driftwood would be cool was, when you marry a lot of driftwood with stuff like that, it has this interesting, earthy feel.”

Robbins liked the idea, so the next step was to find enough driftwood to create the desired effect. And that’s not just a case of looking up ‘driftwood suppliers’ on the Internet and sitting back until a truck arrives.

“I took four of my crew and we went [for] a four hour drive north of Lillooet,” Davidson explains. “Up there they have these man-made lakes that have been flooded over for maybe 80 years. What happens is that all the various trees that were there when it was flooded erode away the soil and float to the top. So you get a variety of these different roots and stuff like that. So we went and spent about 4 hours up there. It was rather a long day – I got my guys to go beachcombing,” he laughs. “I said I wanted as interesting pieces as possible. I loaded up my five-ton truck. It was maybe a 13-14 hour day, and the next day we went into work and we built the chair [from] all these different varieties of shapes and sizes. We built two hanging braziers and two side braziers out of the driftwood. The driftwood basically creates its own look because it’s all gnarly and twisted. It took about a day to put it together. You screw it and lash it and make it look like what it is.”

Even once they had created a beautiful chair out of wood that would otherwise have rotted away in the wilds of British Columbia, the Set Decoration team’s work wasn’t quite done. With so many departments working to bring an episode’s look together, it’s important to make sure that what each produces fits in with the vision of the show’s overall designer – James Robbins – and the executive producers.

“The chair that you saw was the chair that we built, basically, though the one that we [originally] built was a little bit more elaborate. We sent it over to James to take a look at, and between him and the executive producers, they took down a little bit from the back, because sometimes we don’t know when to stop,” Davison laughs. “We ended up using the rest of the driftwood to line the interior of the tent as well to make it look like it was held by this driftwood. So these people looked like they came from an area where they had this mass collection of various different woods. It ended up looking pretty good.”

So the next time you watch an episode of Stargate: Atlantis, take a moment to look at some of the detail on the walls, tables and floors of each scene. There’s a good chance that each piece has an interesting story of its own to tell.

News Article Courtesy of Mgm