From visionary writer director James Mangold comes the defining chapter in the cinematic saga of one of the greatest comic book heroes ever created. LOGAN sees Academy Award®-nominated actor Hugh Jackman reprise his iconic role as The Wolverine for one final time in a raw, powerfully dramatic standalone story of sacrifice and redemption.
–20th Century Fox
We asked Set Decorator Peter Lando SDSA to describe the experience of making this gritty finale to the epic tale of the mythic yet human Wolverine.
He sent a note as candid and effective as the film, describing the desolate but starkly beautiful sets, the environments in which they were created and the thematic element of “family”...
Let him take you behind-the-scenes and within...
Set Decorator Peter Lando SDSA...
Mr. Mangold loves his “genre”. As if seeding clouds, a monitor pumps films...classic and obscure...into the air of the darkened common room connecting the offices of his creative team. I sat in this room breaking down the script to a background of muscle car road epics from the ‘60s and ‘70s, no doubt preceded by color-saturated Westerns, Noir and Post Apocalyptic depictions of the darkest night.
In that same place, I overheard him gut team members’ attempts to fall into slavish lockstep with any one tradition, including those of the Marvel universe. “Jim’s making an existential movie this outing…” Francois allowed with a conspiratorial smile. This was Production Designer François Audouy’s third project with James Mangold. I recall my skepticism. This was, after all, the third in a popular series of movies celebrating the tragic odyssey of a mutant human with adamantium claws and a propensity to dice and julienne his adversaries.
My skepticism was unfounded.
Script directions made it clear that this was a story about the human condition. Wounds cause pain and death comes with a finality. For me, this film asks the big question, “What does it mean to be human?” In this movie, our heroes recognize their humanity when they coalesce as a family, the defining social undertaking of our species.
I saw the set decoration as a medium with which to make familiar statements, using the unfamiliar vocabulary of the place and time we were depicting. If you can recognize institutions such as “the dinner table” and “the retirement home” in an unfamiliar context, you can recognize the “family” it serves.
As I worked with the designer to find a character and a history for our primary hideout, I was receiving photos daily from Philip Edgerly, a lone-gun Buyer roving the fringes of the American Rust Belt. There was a sad sense of loss in these photos of crumbling steel plants, coal crushers and smelters. The mighty engine of the American century lay rotting beyond hope and I was morbidly fascinated by its exposed bones.
In this decay, I recognized a very real analogue to the plight of the Mutant heroes in the story we were telling. Their passing would receive no notice and they would remain pariahs until that day. Populating the set dressing with industrial materials, textures and color seemed like a sympathetic fit.
We looked at building our hideout in an abandoned sawmill in southern New Mexico. The rusted beehive sawdust burner attached to that plant was an early incarnation of the pitted, rusty, water tank the designer envisioned as Charles Xavier’s refuge and containment chamber. The colors of New Mexico began to strongly figure in our palette as we studied New Mexico locations.
I wanted to take our hideout off-grid. That fiction offered our heroes a more independent existence. I envisioned the interior of their hideout textured with pipes, manifolds, exposed circuitry and banks of storage batteries fed by the solar panels we would eventually see on the exterior. However, this scheme suggested a longer period of residence than the director had in mind. Vestiges of the idea are expressed in the water tank interior where a hydroponic garden helped sustain the mind and body of its frail prisoner.
Our interiors, urban sets and agricultural sets were shot on stages and locations in and around New Orleans and Catahoula Parish, Louisiana. Leadperson Markus Wittman was familiar with the imagery of post-Katrina decay and was a great guide to the materials available. Everyone brings something to the party. Markus and his crew brought the energy of a re-built New Orleans to the creation of shelter and civility in the face of adverse conditions.
We needed one big iconic piece of machinery to establish some industrial gravitas in the hideout interior we were creating. We found it 90 minutes north of New Orleans in the Morgan City yard of M.A.R.S., a salvage recycler specializing in ripping apart oil rigs.
A 30,000 lb Waukeshaw diesel generator rested heavily on the grounds of the Morgan City compound demanding our respect and attention. Their big cranes picked it up and put it on a deck for delivery. We used one of NASA’s forklifts, best suited for a Saturn rocket, to raise this piece from the flat deck and keep it in the air long enough to weld on heavy steel casters. Eight set dressers rolled it into position once it was set down on the stage floor. It became the massive heart of our interior hideout.
We exchanged the steamy Mississippi summer for the high plains heat of New Mexico on July 4. The show of light and color on the high plains painted the derelict building Francois designed with crisis-evoking drama. Everything we added to the exterior of the hideout made this crisis more palpable. I think audiences will find the twisted steel girders and rusting hopelessness of the fallen water tower as compelling as the hollow sound of an empty canteen on the desert floor. I was very impressed with the art department’s success with this set.
I find a set decoration crew is most effective when in agreement about the narrative character of a set. We played with the fiction that this smelting plant on the outskirts of Juarez closed as the result of prolonged labor action. Perhaps it had been occupied by radicalized workers before violence and pain chained-closed the gates of its productive life. We carried this with us as we teased a little domestic hope into the bleakness of this doomed shelter.
Sunrise and sunset at this location was worth planning the day around. Intense color and cloud forms challenged the imagination. Having my Sirius radio tuned to the Grateful Dead channel gave these atmospheric events a significance that inspired further commitment.
We had more ideal sets to address as we moved north through the lands of the Tesuque to the red rocks of Abiquiu and the otherworldly region of the Ghost Ranch. A forestry lookout tower with 50 years of service alongside a log-built barracks; sets enticing enough to make one want to take on the show regardless of anything else.
I had my eye on this prize. Months of photo research offered a great range of possibilities, while certain fixtures such as the Osborne Fire Finder had to be there. Local fabricators built bunk beds, barrel stoves, and the Osborne, to give this set its deserved character. My thanks to the two Buyers who brought this stranger into their New Mexico and made its magic available—thank you Peter Stephenson and Amy Morrison.
What great crews I was blessed to work with! So much talent, diversity, humanity and ability! Aimee Huber, Adrian Segura, Chris Farmer…too many folks to name...upstanding members of their departments and the trustworthy voices in the team we formed. I extend my deepest gratitude to all.
And to the designer, François Audouy, thank you for the challenge!
There is a note of irony I would like to register, if for no other reason than to validate a prediction...
When discussing with the Director the set decoration for the bedroom in which Charles Xavier was to be killed, I presented Civil War prints featuring the battlefield deaths of great Generals. I stressed to Mr. Mangold that the death scene we were discussing was to the followers of the Marvel universe a death on a par with the epic losses depicted in the prints. “I don't give a **** what you put up there," he said. "The room will be so dark that no one will see them. However, I suppose you will be able to show off your idea when you are being interviewed about this project, so go ahead and make headlines.”
Peter Lando SDSA
Lando would also like to acknowledge the partnering
SDSA Business Members with whom he worked,
· E.C. Props
· Dapper Cadaver
· Omega|Cinema Props
· SAT / ISS
· Warner Bros Draperies
Note: Check Set Decorator Resources for more information