Disney’s recent adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods for the big screen not only performed well at the box office, it’s also poised to capture three Oscars this weekend – including nominations for Dennis Gassner, Production Designer and Anna Pinnock, Set Decorator in the category of Best Production Design of a Feature-Length Film. Being that Into the Woods is continually one of the top-ten most produced musicals in the world – we thought we’d take a closer look at some of the scenic elements of their feature film as an inspiration for your stage production.
Designing the Woods
Disney released this wonderful behind-the-scenes featurette that interviewed Gassner along with some of his fellow filmmakers, about the choices they made:
The most important quote in the featurette came from John DeLuca, one of the producers of the film: “we needed to be in the woods, but we also knew we needed to build sets and had to be inside as well. To control our world.” So, even though this was a movie and some of the shots could, and were, filmed outside, they decided to build a forest on stage – much in the same way you will if and when you decide to mount this production on your stage. Here are a few tips that will allow you to take inspiration from what the filmmakers created on H Stage at Shepperton Studios and apply them onto your stage.
See the Woods Through the Trees
The first thing you’re going to need if you’re going to create the woods is trees. Not just any trees, mind you, but trees that come to life when they’re lit and interacted with onstage. After all, the woods are just as much a character in this show as The Witch, The Baker or Jack – everyone sings about them and *spoiler alert* they even have their own traumatic death scene at the hands (feet?) of giants. So, the trees of your woods should be as lifelike as you can possibly make them. Lucky for you, we have a previous post showcasing how Peter Miller, Scenic Design Faculty at Rutgers University, uses our coating products to create three-dimensional foliage – and you can find it right here.
Mist of the Woods
According to production designer, Dennis Gassner, one of the goals of the film was to create a “heightened surreality, combining reality and fantasy.” One of the ways the filmmakers accomplished this magical surrealism in the film was to capture the beams of light streaming through the trees. Hazers, like Rosco’s new V-Hazer, are an excellent choice for adding magical mist to your set. The resulting, beam-catching haze will give your performers a visceral tool they can use to make the woods feel more otherworldly while enveloping the audience in your world of the woods.
Spirited Lighting Effects
Now that you’ve added haze in the air, let’s talk about the kind of lighting that’s entering the space. Cinematographer Dion Beebe says that he tried to create a “sense of magic in the lighting.” One of the ways you can magically bring your woods to life is to add some movement to the light streaming through the trees. Don’t go so far as to turn your stage into a forest-themed discotheque, but subtle motion created by breakup gobos and a gobo rotator or light from our X24 Effects Projector will add a kinetic breath into your scenery. Don’t be afraid to have the pace of the movement and, let’s not forget about the color of the light, change to convey the mood of the scene you’re in. A deep purple base with streaks of cyan slowly rippling through the haze of a wooded set would create a hauntingly beautiful stage image.
Bring the Whole Fogging Thing Down to the Ground
“Then in the 3rd Act we destroy the woods. What we came up with, visually, was to sort of cover it in a blanket of fog. So, suddenly you were disoriented in the space.” Dion Beebe’s right, not only do you need to find a way to build a beautiful wooded set – you also need to figure out a way to have it destroyed by giants. So, as you’re building your stunning, three-dimensional foliage, give some thought as to how you’re going to quickly and safely knock it all down. Take a cue from Mr. Beebe and obscure the destruction in a sea of fog. Machines like our new Vapour Fog Machine can fill your stage with fog quickly. You might also consider mounting a Vapour Plus Fog Machine vertically behind one of the breaking trees to create pandemonium with upward bursts of fog. In either case – make sure to use a quick-dissipating fog fluid like Stage and Studio so that you can blanket your stage in fog for the destruction, but have it clear out relatively quickly afterward.
Hopefully, these tips have served as inspiration for you and allow you to say (sing?) “I Know Things Now” – and may they help you bring your audience Into the Woods.