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Video transcript
Tales from the Wild Bush – 08. Set design interview

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[intro music]

TOM BANNERMAN: Tom Bannerman, this set designer. I used to be a high school teacher, so I have retired some time ago. And I quite like working with schoolchildren. And consequently, it's been a very enjoyable experience.

One of the curious things about this show was that began with the script not ready. It wasn't finished, because I was revising it, yeah. However, I got a very good brief from the directors about what they hoped to achieve. Consequently, that afternoon, I think it was. So I immediately jumped into the model box, which is this thing and started playing with it. My preferred method of approaching stage design because-- some people use pens and pencils and computers, but I prefer working three dimensionally. And immediately, in the 1 to 25 scale.

Now, something I discovered at school, students actually struggle to understand scale. And sometimes they would be asked by the drama teachers to make a set design for a show. They'd make these sort of dollhouses with absurdly large figures. A large step sticks to little figures. And it could all have been so very different had they had explained or demonstrated scale.

So if anyone is at schools planning to do this sort of thing, I suggest they might begin by making a 1 to 25 scale figure. Which to put it in another way is a 1.8 metre tall person, which would be quite a tall person. So if we divide that by 25, you work out how big it will be on the model. It'll actually be about that big. Whatever that is.

This is a shorter person about the size of about 1.6. But if you begin with a little figure, even if it's some pathetically or sadly drawn thing like this, it makes a huge difference to you understanding. Oh, hold on, that's a really big step.

We were given a brief explanation of what's meant to happen. What I would have done at that meeting was hastily scribbled down key points. For example, the main one was that there was meant to be a transformation in the set from something which suggests an interior or the household, including the outside of the household. Which made it a little bit trickier to move into the Bush itself.

And the Bush was also-- not only was it a suggestive of a physical movement, it's as if she's leaving one reality for another reality. The little girl is-- she's not clear. She's not sure quite where she is. I planned from the outset for this to be created in a big way by the lighting people. By the lighting designers.

A big part of my job is trying to work within a budget and the budgets for this show were what you might call modest. And there's only so many things you can do with the dollars. And a good sign of a good designer frankly is that they can work within that somehow.

And I've created something which quite exciting to light. I must say that the lighting designers got a colossal arsenal of lights here. And they even used them beautifully to make that transformation for example apart from all the other things.

It happened by coincidence. About half a year ago, I was helping build the show and they were having to create trees. I usually build sets with timber and stuff. But in this instance, I suggested to the designer that you might work with large cardboard tubes, and possibly paper. That was great because I knew where to get tubes for nothing down the road. And we did some experimenting. Well, I did some experimenting, I thought, yeah, this'll work.

And then I showed him something, and then he took it further. And he basically, he did some beautiful things actually with the paperwork. And the painting of that took him quite a while, which you might say was not the case here. In the case here, this had to be painted within about one day, within-- I think we started it, I don't know, 9 o'clock or 10 o'clock or something. And it had to be finished by about 3. And Alan was working with Alex. And I can tell you, Alex did not stop. And I did all the painting but Alex had to do all the carrying. Sometimes running.

Well, to begin with, we can get around the back is this 3 mill MDF, which is just a plain board. The paper was supplied not here but in another place. It's-- I'm trying to think of what-- there's no paper quite like this at school. It's not card and it's not thin paper, it's slightly thicker. But I've got a reverse garbage for nothing. Well, $20 for these two huge rolls that were about 2.9 metres high.

So I discovered with experimentation that I needed it to be cut into strips about this wide varied, and I could do that by cutting an angle and walking along the roll like this as deep as I could. And then just ripping it all out and then pouring-- throwing it into a big tub. And the tub had glue in it with lots of water in it. Wood glue with lots of water. Really very quite watery. And plunge it in there, and then pull it out. And the dribble's all over the place and throwing it on or carefully placing it on the 3 mil MDF.

And then deliberately sculpting that. Deliberately not putting it on completely flat at all. And deliberately twisting things. And I knew that when it dries, it curls a bit more, which is what I was hoping for. So there's that to begin with. And then the other treatment was painting it here. When we were painting here, I began with the, see this darker bit with the shadow. Putting in the heavy shadow. And I've deliberately put the shadows underneath things like this, and then spray, a light spray of a light pale grey.

And then additions of white, so the lighter colour. And then going back later once it was here, we actually-- oh and of course, we had to dribble this the right way. You have to do this fast. You had to then lift it the right way around. If you go the wrong way around, it was all wrecked, so. If you look very carefully, you might find a few places were hollow. They're not quite right yet. A lot of it is hidden behind the screws underneath. Hidden behind it.

At the start, we had hoped-- I have to admit there was a hope that there would be greater use of the set with bits of it coming off and being transformed into things. I think this often happens with shows. You might start off with big ideas, but you reduce them and discover you don't need all these other bits. You actually only need a few things.

And one of the things here was the little seats wherever they are. They're deliberately made the way they are so that they can stand on top of each other to then support a tabletop. And the tabletop is meant to come from like one of these things here. In fact, it was this. See this big shape here, this was meant to come out and sit on top. But they discovered they didn't really need to do all that. All they needed to do is put the little things on top of each other and that would do.

A huge really important part of all this is being able to dare to think outside the square. To dare to try something that you haven't done before. You step into the darkness and discover that well, it turns out the water isn't cold at all. It's actually quite warm. In fact, it's actually getting hotter. Idea. And just to work with that and see where that leads.

[music playing]

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