• Ruben

Conceptualizing ideas: Elisa’s Apartment in The Shape of Water (2017)

Reconstructing the set from reference

The first unit of my second year studying production arts is about conceptualizing ideas. The unit is built up into three parts. First, we had to make a technical drawing of the classroom. Second, we needed to pick a movie set from a movie which we could choose from a limited list. Third, we had to build a scale model of our chosen set.

The technical drawing of the classroom took us about a week. We started by measuring the classroom and sketch out some plan and elevation drawings. From there, it is helpful to cut out templates for the plan and elevations in scale. These can be used to figure out the layout on the tracing paper on which the final technical drawing is drawn. Afterwards, I went straight to drawing the room onto the tracing paper. The classroom is square and most of the walls are blank. Challenging was the elevated ceiling and stairs.

For choosing the movie set, I decided to watch a few films first. I took notes and time staps during each viewing for interesting sets and when they are on screen. I finally picked the apartment in “The Shape of Water” (2017, dir. Guillermo del Toro) as my favourite set to build. I might have taken too long for my choice, as I was already short on time for my first assessment. My first drawings and model were rushed out and it shows. The feedback I received was to only cover half of the apartment, Elisa’s rooms without the bathroom. Furthermore, I should put in some of the furniture in the kitchen. The latter I did not follow up, even in the final model, regretfully due to time constraints.

Moving on, I re-watched the film and took more screenshots in order to measure the dimensions of the room. My method is as follows. The screenshots are put into photoshop and with the ruler tool I would measure out how many pixels high or wide an object is of which I know the real dimensions. For example, the actor’s height and standard dimensions for steel beams, doors and windows can be found online. The I drew perspective lines along which I could scale my measurements. First, I thought I could use the Intercept theorem to determine dimensions along the perspective lines, but that does not work as with perspective the perceived distance between objects changes. However, a classmate showed me how to construct rectangle of equal size along perspective lines. First, two perspective lines have to be drawn. Fortunately. The set is a building and has therefore a lot of straight lines. I would take the wall I want to measure and draw two perspective lines until they intercept. This point is always on the horizon. From this point I can draw more perspective lines onto my wall. Second, I would draw a rectangle with these perspective lines around an object of which I know the dimensions, for example the fridge. Third, I construct rectangles of equal size along these perspective lines to the point I want to measure. This can be done by finding the middle of the original rectangle by connecting its corners to a cross. Drawing a perspective line through the middle of the cross traces it further through the middle of the parallel sides of the rectangle. Now, a line is drawn from one corner of the rectangle through the middle of one of its parallel sides. Where this line intersects with the perspective line, beyond the rectangle, a second line can be drawn parallel to the rectangle. This forms a second, adjacent rectangle of equal size to the first one. I used this method to determine most of my dimensions.

Behind-the-scenes footage is incredibly helpful. Another of my classmates has a behind-the-scenes book on which these photos are:

Using del Toro’s height from Imdb I could easily figure out the dimensions of this wall and the length of the entire flat, because there is very little perspective that needs to be taken into account.

Nevertheless, I would resort often to guessing and making up measurements depending on what might fit.

The last technical challenge was the arched window. The window is not just a circle, but two overlapping circles, leading to change in curvature. Also, the centre of the window not in the wall, but behind it in the room next door. First, I tried a grid pattern approach, but abandoned it for the more precise construction using circles. On is a detailed elaboration on how to construct these arches. I tried measuring the diameters and relationship of the two circles on the window, but in the end just drew them onto the technical drawing in a way that looked alright and then measure them.

It did not give the best results as can be seen in this comparison:

Before putting it all onto the tracing paper, I decided to draw everything first on regular paper, photocopy it, double check the numbers, and make adjustments in red. There was a lot of red and I’m happy went over them again.

In the end, I was really running out of time. I managed to finish the technical drawing with one day to spare for the final model. Fortunately, the drawing was accurate, and I could build the model in one day without a delay. However, I discovered that one of my doors was much too tall, a wall did not have a steel beam, and another steel beam had curve. Overall, I’m satisfied with the result. I should have managed my time better, especially for a set as complex as this. In comparison with the screenshots, it becomes evident that the arched window needs to be a bit wider. I also wish I had the time to put in furniture and buy proper scale miniatures.

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