Passing its 100th
episode this year and now shooting its 6th season, the darkly
amusing procedural BONES continues to fascinate viewers with atypical murders
solved in an atypical manner.
World renowned forensic
anthropologist & author Dr. Temperance Brennan and her team of scientists
at the Jeffersonian Institute help FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth solve
difficult crime cases— literally the bare bones of crime investigation!It’s a tortured but solid
partnership between Brennan, the brilliant logical empiricist and Booth, the
permanent sets are centered in both worlds. The state of the art Medico-Legal Lab, with its ultra-modern
girdered levels, catwalks and mezzanine, is housed within the staid museum
complex of the Jeffersonian Institute.
Segments of the more conventional FBI headquarters are revealed, from offices
to padded interrogation room. These give anchor to multiple swing sets through
each episode as the case unfolds.
Decorator Kimberly Wannop SDSA spoke with
SETDECOR about collaborating on the series with Production Designers Phil
Toolin [2005-2007] and Michael Mayer[2007-current], and their crews.
SET DECOR: Tell us about the nexus
of the show, the ultra-tech Medico-Legal
Lab set within the traditional Jeffersonian
Set Decorator Kim Wannop SDSA: The overall look established for
the Jeffersonian's lab was a
colorless, sterile, working lab. When I took over the show from Set Decorator
Beau Peterson at the start of the second season, Production Designer Phil
Toolin and I discussed additions to be made, including bringing in contrast
Lab is a high-tech environment set
within the Jeffersonian Institute’s
historic Washington DC complex. Phil designed the surrounding walls as the
traditional brick building, with a modern lab plopped in the middle. I brought
in a huge crystal chandelier that hangs in the main entry to accent a
traditional look, but then on the opposite side of the lab, our upper lounge
has modern geometric pendants.
high platform lounge gave us an opportunity to throw color into the set without
it being overwhelming. Citrus greens and oranges highlight the chrome sterile
lab below. We didn’t want the lounge to seem too homey—they are still
dissecting dead bodies below—so there are no soft fabrics, and I used molded
plastic chairs, glass tables and chrome lamps. There are some pale bricks on
the walls, but, other than that, the lab remains a steel lovers dream.
SD: How does each character’s
office define him or her?
KW: Brennan’s international
anthropologic travels are highlighted throughout her office. Skulls appear on
her desk. Backlit bookshelves show artifacts and silhouettes of statues that
she has collected. She also has a mummy standing across the room…and a built-in
iguana cage! Brennan is all about her job, she is consumed by it. There are no
family photographs or personal items. It’s a reflection of her being able to
attack situations clinically and without emotion.
FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth [David Boreanaz] –
FBI Special Agent, former Special Forces sniper & Army Ranger
KW: Booth’s office is a little peek
into his world. He’s an FBI agent, but wants to fight the establishment. His
personal effects are throughout the room, including several sports pieces:
putting green, football, a Philadelphia Flyers hockey puck as his paperweight,
even a mini Stanley cup. The large picture behind his desk has changed through
the seasons but is always a hockey photograph. Booth has a young son, so there
are also many photos with him. Booth’s furnishings are manly and simple, he‘s
the old beat-up office chair guy.
Angela Montenegro [Michaela Conlin] Forensic artist,
Brennan’s best friend
KW: Angela’s office is artsy amidst
the coldness of the lab. There’s plenty of color surrounding her. She has a
painting area, which gives me the opportunity to incorporate lots of bright
hues. The challenge in her office is the Angela-tron – a pull-down screen
reveals her 3-d facial reconstructions, which she renders holographically
through her patented computer program. When in use, the room needs to be dark
for the screen to be seen, every fixture has to dim and the room needs to fade
away. I used black-tinted glasswork tables and white Knoll chairs, which become
a beautiful grey silhouette.
Dr. Camille Saroyan [Tamara Taylor] Pathologist & Head of the
Forensic Division at the Jeffersonian Institute
KW: Dr. Saroyan’s autopsy room is
actually my favorite set in the lab. Although it is again a stainless world of
equipment, I was able to pop more color with her red desk chair, colored
specimen bottles and the bright yellow dock lamp that is used for her examining
table. The room is also designed with backlit body boxes, which are cool yet
Dr Jack Hodgins [T. J. Thyne]
Entomologist & expert on spores and minerals
KW: Hodgin’s realm, referred
to as the Ookey, is decorated as a bug lovers dream. There are a ton of framed
bugs on every wall. Insects, rodents, bats, etc. in jars—not to mention about 20
terrariums with bugs, snakes and flies in them. This room is all about the
ingenious experiments that the squints (Booth’s nickname for the scientists)
perform, under Hodgin’s jurisdiction and with his great delight. We’ve had
explosions, fires and even exploding watermelons in there.
Dr Lance Sweets [John Francis Daley] FBI psychologist
KW: The young psychologist’s office is
more of a working lounge. He’s almost able to trick the characters into
thinking that they aren’t in a shrink’s office. It’s in grey tones with subtle
furniture—no fainting couches, just a modern chair for him and a muted charcoal
loveseat for his guests. Throughout our FBI, we had a running theme of black
and white photography that showed significant moments in the FBI’s and DC’s history.
Sweet’s office has three photos of historical monuments being built—the White
House, Lincoln Memorial and the US Capitol, symbolizing the building of
something stable and lasting, like the trust of psychologist and patient.
SD: The two institutions, the
Jeffersonian and the FBI, have glass-walled offices, which give opportunities
for depth of field – looking out into public areas or across into other
offices. Tell us about this design aspect and decorating for it.
KW: It’s most effective in Angela’s
office in the lab. She has a particular artsy style but it still has to work
with the rest of the lab. It also gives me a reason to have detail elements in
the background, because there is action going on beyond the foreground scene.
Freezers, microscopes, any medical equipment that can serve as background
action, are always a plus.
In our current season, Booth is
assigned to a new FBI task unit, so Production Designer Michael Mayer has
re-designed our FBI set. The bullpen is more alive and open, the space fluent
and workable for the actors and the camera. With the addition of more work
areas, a total of 17 monitors and more circulation through the room, the FBI is
now pulsing with activity. I was able to bring in some functional elements like
huge circular binder towers, new desks and chairs. We also broke away from our
B&W photography, now there are vibrant color photos of Washington DC
The Jeffersonian has The Bone Room, plus walls of remains and halls of
remains…innumerable bones & translucent drawers! Please tell us about the
KW: Bones are a big character in the
show. Obviously it’s the main character’s nickname, but they are what tell the
story of the cases.
The Bone Room has 304 bone boxes,
which has an average of 8 bones in each so…..we got a lotta bones! Not to
mention 72 more bones boxes in Angela’s office. The human body has 206 bones,
so when you start adding up all the skeletons…!
Our dead bodies and skeletons are
made by Chris Yagher and his company. They do an amazing job—it can get pretty
gross with all the popping eyeballs and burned flesh.
From bones to high tech. Tell us about the state of the art lab
KW: They write it, we get it. It’s
amazing how much you learn about equipment, medical lingo and procedure when
working on a forensic show. The props department, headed up by Ian
Scheibel, gets to bring in most of the cool lab instruments. We deal in the
bigger equipment, including the recurring Bone Bath, which is a huge chrome
cylinder that the skeletons or limbs are dipped into to remove the flesh. The
actors also use an array of microscopes and the Mideo Macro-cam, which is a
live-feed microscope view onto one of our monitors. It gives the audience a
chance to really see what the action is.
Are the wide shots of the Medico-Legal Lab all set dressing or
KW: It’s all there. The 3 steel tables
and 2 practical light tables on the platform were made for the set. The 3 steel
tables in the autopsy room were also designed for the set. Our 2 autopsy tables
are actual morgue tables that were once really used …yep, gross. And the steel
gurneys are everywhere.
There are recurring sets that are not forensic! Please tell us about
The Founding Fathers bar.
KW: This is where our gang goes to
drink! After a long day around dead bodies, I’d want a drink, too. I joke that
I decorated this bar in a “Modern Colonial” style, which I don’t think exists.
The look of the bar has a modern feel with iconic historical images, like an
oil painting of Ben Franklin with a Restoration Hardware pendant light above
it, or a Liberty Bell ice bucket on an up-lit glass back-bar shelf. There are
Revolutionary War cartoons, busts of our founding fathers and placemats that
declare “Join or Die”. Michael Mayer designed a wonderful U-shaped bar
that gives the opportunity to shoot around the whole room. A vintage-green wall
with black trim, exposed brick walls and toile drapery lend to the feeling of
sitting down in DC for a quick drink after work.
The other “go to” place is the Royal Diner…
KW: Yes, the Royal is that East coast
dirty spoon diner. Phil Toolin and I really wanted that East coast feel. There
is an entire wall of overlapping B&W framed photos of old diner scenes.
From the chrome barstools, old tin signs on the wall and the large overhead
menu board, it’s all about walking into something comfortable, something
And there’s no place like home…at least not quite like these! What can
you tell us about Brennan’s loft and Booth’s apartment?
KW: Brennan brings her work home with
her, so there are sculptures and artifacts from around the world. She has a 9’
concrete slab table in the middle of her living room for when she needs to work
at home. Although there are these elements around, she still has a feminine
side. It’s very subtle, but the color scheme of neutrals and modest colors
convey that she’s not as hard as she seems. Michael Mayer designed beautiful blonde wood bookcases that house her
array of worldly trinkets.
Booth’s apartment is definitely my favorite set. It’s very
character-driven. The original concept for the apartment was that it was a
renovation in progress. This meant always having ladders and toolboxes
around. Michael brought in a beautiful distressed fireplace mantel and
designed an open stud look in some of the walls. The signature furnishings are
Booth’s deep blue couch and vintage leather recliner. Vintage elements are
throughout the apartment—old cameras, a record player, a 50’s cabinet bar, and
even an old boxing ring bell. Booth is into old things, the appreciation of
when things were simple and had style.
The range of swing sets is
impressive – from a Senator’s home to a huge rats’ nest in a subway tunnel! How
many swing sets per episode?
KW: We average about 6 swing sets per
episode. I am truly fortunate to work on a show with such range. For example,
our opening episode in the upcoming Season Six has an Afghan village, a Paris
rooftop, a Muluku jungle, a TV studio, sweatshop, modest apartment, and county
morgue. I love it! I love the diversity and the challenge. I’m sure one of the
biggest compliments for a decorator is someone believing that your four walls
were a real location, “Oh I thought you shot that in a real morgue!” I am truly
flattered when I get that response.
One of the most remarkable sets
was for this last season’s finale, the Hoarder’s Apartment. Please tell us
about the process involved in creating this literally many-layered set.
KW: The Hoarder’s set was an amazing
experience. Unknowingly, my buyer Ethan Goodwin and I had been doing research
for months by watching the reality series HOARDERS. We were so happy to get
this script. There were many meetings about the look and how it was going to be
constructed. The character wasn’t a trash hoarder but a collector hoarder,
which meant 6 to 10 of everything.
I was able to get literally one ton of newspaper from the LA TIMES,
and my poor crew had to hand bundle most of it to look like the hoarder had
separated it into controlled madness. Underneath all of the clutter and paper,
there was a living space. I dressed the room with the core pieces…desk…living
room furniture...kitchen, and then started to build on them until you almost
don’t know what you are looking at, and then you see, “Wow, there’s a couch
under there.” The clutter was a character. Producer/Director Ian Toynton was
very involved in how the cast, camera and crew could move thru the space. Most
of our piles were on wheels for easier camera shots, but it was very limiting
for the look not to be disturbed.
Re: the Hoarder’s apartment, Dr
Brennan observed, “This is an anthropological microcosm of this man’s life.”
That could well describe many character’s sets. Would you like to comment?
KW: Being able to make a character
come across with no words spoken…it’s not an easy job, especially by the time
the scene is edited down to the final cut.
When I first started in the art department, my goal was to be a
production designer. I was fortunate to work on the show PHILLY for its last
episodes as the art department coordinator with Paul Eads as the designer. I am
a huge fan of his work. I would go down to the sets, see them being built, see
the set design, the molding being put in, the color choices, and the aging that
went into the sets. I learned so much in that short time.
But on one set, I saw it before it was dressed—a beautiful empty room.
When I came back the next day, Mary Ann Biddle [Set Decorator Mary Ann Biddle
SDSA] and her team had transformed it. Although the bones of the room were
there, she gave the room its character, its life. Every piece of dressing
described what was going to happen and who that character was. And I thought to
myself, “Well, this is it, this is what I want to do.” It was truly
Editor’s note: Check back for more
with Set Decorator Kim Wannop SDSA about some of the unique swing sets and the
day-to-day aspects of set decorating for BONES, when the season premieres in