Yesterday I had an exclusive opportunity to explore the depths of the sets co-created by Guillermo Del Toro and the talented design team at the YouTube Space LA.
I also had the opportunity to interview the master of horror himself, but that is deserving of it’s own place here at NMR. For now, let’s talk about these amazing sets.
First thing you should know about the garden is that it has the absolute best squeaky gate entrance ever. It’s a horror filmmaker’s dream gate. Foley effects guys need to come to this gate and record its squeakiness because it’s fantastic.
The most interesting thing about the garden, aside from its perfectly manicured nature, is that it has a backdrop. It’s one of the only sets to use one. Production designer Hillary Gurtler elaborated on the choice:
“Ethan came up with this idea of using an old hand-painted Hollywood backdrop which maybe to the eye may not seem like a lot, but if you were to snap a photo with your iPhone, it totally transcends, and you can light it really subtly so I definitely credit you (gestures to Ethan) with your old world knowledge of techniques.”
From the garden we moved into the indoor/outdoor space of the solarium. The room was small and distressed, as if it hadn’t been cared for in years. Fellow production designer Ethan Feldbau introduced the space to us as an entrance into grandeur of the larger set known as the “Great Room”.
What image did you want to create with the Solarium?
Hillary Gurtler: We kind of wanted to create a constant juxtaposition of worn down and terrifying with something really elegant and grand. So that happens in the garden, and that happens in the Solarium because it’s sort of dead and it provides a balance between here and before you enter the great room, which is extremely elegant and refined and not overly faded or dead.
Ethan Feldbau: We certainly needed some of it to be enticing. Something to draw in all of our creators, and inspire them.
Hillary Gurtler: Yeah, and this is a room too that you wouldn’t find in a modern house. That it would be specialized to a period home (garbled) So, you know, instead of a garage, instead of something you’d find in a modern place, a Solarium is something that people would not have any idea or contact with.
Did you guys take any of your cues from any classic horror films like The Haunting or Seance or anything like that?
Ethan Feldbau: Well, something about horror is that it’s centralized around architecture…We knew that there would be some classic study in these newer genres.
Hillary Gurtler: We did a lot of study in Gothic homes, the southern Gothic, and then the Biltmore estate which is an American home, which you know, compartmentalizes every major aesthetic of an old world home, but into this super-sized version.
Ethan Feldbau: I think this next space will illustrate this a little better with the sort of blending of styles and coming up with some sort of pastiche and making sure that we weren’t locking anyone into one specific time period.
Hillary Gurtler: Exactly.
Was it important to give creators a sense of openness with these sets, even though they are locked into a specific genre?
Ethan Feldbau: It was very important that the creators could come in and kind of get a sense of ‘oh antiquity’ but not feel like they would have to be governed to tell a certain story or feel like they have to create certain period costumes. That way creators could come in and they could feel like ‘oh we could quickly dress this up and make it a period piece or we could dust it down and make it look antiquated.’ Come in like present day explorers.
Hillary Gurtler: We wanted it to be detailed but not heavy handed.
The solarium also came with its own terrifying little anecdote. Another member of the production team commented that Del Toro had asked the team to ‘put a place where someone could bury their secrets’. As a result, the team hid a skull with a bullet hole in its eye socket in one of the planters in the room.
Hillary Gurtler: We tried to, you know, we tucked things in corners and made all the sets as discoverable as possible for all the collaborators and the creators that came in. So that when they came in on their open house day, maybe they were thinking of writing something specific, they are you know, inspired by something else. So we wanted there to be something, that it’s not just all laid out on the page, they can kind of come in and find it for themselves. Great Room?
From here and beneath the blessing of yet another Legendary knot, the press team entered the ‘Great Room’ set, and let me tell you, the name is definitely apropos.
The Great Room
Upon entering the ‘Great Room’ the team met the man himself, Guillermo Del Toro. Before we had a chance to ask our questions of the designers, he pointed to a familiar face above the fireplace and said:
“It’s the mixture of me and Gerard Depardieu (laughter) in ‘Green Card’!”
Yup. We see it.
Hillary Gurtler: So you’ll notice there’s a lot of places for different beats of action in this room. Back by the piano where you can play at. You’ve got the secretary desk where someone could sit, the library stacks, the telephone table, and there’s a little secret passageway through the fireplace as well which swings out where someone could exit. They have been using that to great effect.
Ethan Feldbau: This is also a great example of us blending styles, where they’ll find everything that’s Victorian, and they’ll also find a tiny little bit of art deco. We’re spanning quite a number of artistic and architectural styles. Just dividing by some classical rules and then making them fit.
Hillary Gurtler: We stuck to a very tight color palette, so when we were making each decision we could reference that language and know that even if we were crossing over to a different era it would still stay cohesive and look just lovely.
The pace quickened after this, we were moved to the next set: The Attic.
The attic set immediately reminded me of the film ‘The Orphanage’ which Del Toro had written and directed back in 2007.
However, the designers had a very different point of inspiration when creating the uber-creepy space.
Ethan Feldbau: So this is definitely the room of mystery. It’s kind of layers and layers of textures and all sorts of mysterious. We were actually surprised that a lot of filmmakers actually re-purposed this as a bedroom.
Hillary Gurtler: I think actually the attic from ‘The Little Princess’ was a little bit of a reference.
Ethan Feldbau: The motifs and themes that we see in childhood are certainly brought up here. We figured that anybody who might have been in this house maybe had a wife, maybe had children and whatever was left over from that is just kind of tucked away up here.
From here they moved us to the final room, where Guillermo Del Toro waited.
The Seance Room
The room was in and of itself incredibly lavish, and if you were looking in the right direction, you felt as though you were indeed in the great room of a powerful psychic.
Heavy drapery added to the musty scent, all of which was pulled to the center, highlighting the table with the classic crystal ball. Sitting at the center of the table was Del Toro, waiting to tell us about the worlds of horror which he created.