Set Decorator Brandi Kalish SDSA, who not only is known for cutting edge sets, but is also totally comfortable in the tech world, teamed up with Production Designer Richard Toyon for this exciting new season of the hit series. Her tech-savvy gave a great base for many huge and complicated sets. As she says, “I have been familiar with and immersed in the tech world for some time, having been a gamer since I was 9 years old—I even still have my very first Gameboy! Every year, I go to Comic-Con, and I play video games when I have time, which has been not often recently, because of the intensity of set decoration! But when I have a hiatus...
And I love going to E3—the future is exciting for tech and gaming.”
Kalish goes on to share in fascinating depth the details of making this world accessible to us! She gives the backstory for several of the season’s key sets.
Read on and enjoy...we know you will!
...from Set Decorator Brandi Kalish SDSA...
A tech POV...
First of all, it is an honor to work with Richard Toyon. His ideas are totally fresh and he’s incredibly passionate about every detail of the sets.
Our approach started with going to Tech Crunch in San Francisco. We researched a ton of startup companies, and toured many tech companies, like Dropbox, LYFT and IFTTT/IfThisThenThat.
I documented every single detail, from discovering what brand of office furniture they were using to what tech devices they worked on and how.
Once we got back to Sony Picture Studios, where we film SILICON VALLEY, we all got started on what the new Pied Piper
Pied Piper was the very first set I got started on after our first research trip to San Francisco and Palo Alto.
It was a combination of seeing those companies and meeting the wonderful people working at them that I took pieces from each experience.
The lounge area is a Modernica V-leg day bed, which I saw at the tech company IFTTT. I made it our own by making one section a tech grey and the other green to tie into Pied Piper’s
color palette. The side tables and shelving, I found at various sources. One thing we noticed right away is the use of Mid-Century furniture mixed with modern office furniture in each tech company. I added a vintage Knoll Bertoia diamond chair I found on CraigsList...the guy had had it forever and wanted it to go to a good home, so he was excited to hear it was going to be on one of our sets. Also, I found this awesome vintage George Nelson Marshmallow sofa on which we ended up smooshing stuffed animal sharks from Digital Ocean.
The posters and smalls/layers were from local companies and organizations from Palo Alto and San Francisco.
It was so fun! Our Art Dept/Set Dec offices started to get inundated with product from tech companies and local Silicon Valley businesses...and, believe me, we went through every box and used it all.
The office furniture was based on the tech world’s care regarding their employees happiness and health.
Since everyone is working at their computers they need to be comfortable and the way to do that is to be able to stand while coding/working. Varidesk helped us solve that for Pied Piper
. Their desks are what the tech world is using, so my lead man Tom Bartlett and I were lucky enough to tour their facilities in Dallas and select the newest products for Pied Piper
and our other tech company sets. We used the Prodesk Electric in Darkwood with graphite grey legs, the file cabinets in all sizes, plus Quickpro desks with various monitor arms, Varichairs and mats.The Pablo Link light in green and some silver served as our desk lights. The whiteboards I custom designed from another great company out of Dallas called Clarus Glassboards. We also used them in other sets.
The conference table I designed, also inspired by the tech company IFTTT—our amazing construction team put the veneer on the top after Rich and I chose the texture and color. The chairs are Hayworth, in Pied Piper
green, and the Halo lights are Varidesk. A great cool thing was the Cisco 4K Spark Board. It’s an interactive touchscreen next-gen whiteboard with all sorts of video capabilities.
kitchen was a deep dive into what the tech world eats on a daily basis. I noticed while in San Francisco that these companies fed their employees really well, all natural choices, tons of options, like every cereal ever made! We had a Bevi, which I saw in many companies. It’s a smart touch screen water cooler with multiple sparkling and flat all natural flavors. The coffee selection was Philz, Stumptown, and the list goes on. All sorts of drinks from coconut waters to collagen-infused Dirty Lemon—they have many choices when they are on a coding spree!
Researching and choosing the actual tech was a really fun part of set decorating this series. We worked closely with Apple, using hundreds of their products...also, Microsoft came and demonstrated their new Surface Studios, and Surface Pros laptops, which were used in Pied Piper
and many tech company sets.
We made sure to accurately show what a real coder’s desk looks like. For instance, they code with their monitor vertical, they need really good coffee, and they have personal items on their desks, like photos of their family or pets, their favorite game characters, a ton of snacks, cords, hard drives, plants, special mouse and mouse pad, post-it notes, energy drinks, and the list goes on. It is their tiny personal space that they spend more time in than at home, so we made sure that for each desk, we sat and thought about who that person is and added the layers to speak of that character.
Ben’s Loft was soooooo much fun!
He’s a Tech billionaire who’s cool yet a bit dark.
A lot of the furniture was from Warner Bros. Collection, the black sofas, the bar cart, big steamers trunks as coffee tables.
The lighting was from HD Buttercup and the geometric Etch Web Pennants are from Tom Dixon.
The art is the best part! The white and black graphic piece is from a friend, talented artist Shannon Crawford. The title is “Unplug” which I thought was very fitting for the Tech billionaire Ben. It’s important to me to use today’s artists to decorate my sets, I do use art from the prop houses, but I prefer using original art that’s helping an artist get exposure and make a living.
The location had this large section of wall that needed to be covered, roughly 20’ wide by 8’ high. I had recently gone to Mass Moca where Sol Lewitt has a standing exhibit that inspired me to have our Graphic Designer Lori West create the large geometric piece in a gradation of blues with graphic black lines. I also chose a large sculpture of paint cans hammered into a flower, from HD Buttercup.
I contacted Arbor snowboards and they loaned us three boards to hang on the wall near the Pelton Bike, which was so fitting for his character.
I thought, ‘This guy has money, he’s in San Jose/Palo Alto and he runs a huge tech company, he’s most likely into daredevil sports and is an abstract art collector. He probably works out everyday and has the finest alcohol on hand for guests, because Ben
is just naturally cool.’
condo was super special to all of us. I researched deep into his life and backstory.
A foster child throughout much of his life, he is keen to know his true background. He is known to mutter in German in his sleep, so we see references. The German Hummels by his TV are all from Sony’s Prop house. The cuckoo clock and spoon collection were a result of Rich and I brainstorming about Jared’s
family and past.
We wanted to share some personality since Jared’s
condo now was finally being seen. I took a chair from Living Spaces and had a clear vinyl custom covering sewn onto it with grandma doilies underneath the clear vinyl, as if Jared
was protecting something...or making sure it was easy to clean.
Every little detail and piece is thought out, i.e. the color palette is truly Jared
On the walls, there’s a multiple aperture photo frame that we filled with some intriguing people from Jared’s
Another piece of art was Goya’s “Saturn Devouring his Sons”, which Producer Alec Berg suggested, and I was happy to add...it was my favorite in my art school’s art history class.
K-Hole is the tech company with the
badass coders and game developers of Silicon Valley. Rich started off by saying we should put an axe into one of the columns or walls! From that comment, I took off with metal worktables from LCW Props that are meant for automotive work, and these amazing DXRacer gamer chairs from Eclipse Worldwide.
I took silver china hats from Ikea and had our paint dept. spray the insides red for a more hardcore look. We used red and orange welding screens frames from Uline to add some color yet still show the set dressing behind them.
The tech was the crazy part. My talented tech gang boss Jordan K. Paul and I worked with Corsair using their LED clear Obsidian super towers and Alienware’s Area 51 gaming tower to have the latest gear.
I added a gas-powered skateboard and Buell Motorcycle because that’s the type of transportation these coders use.
This was the last set we shot for the season, and my crewmembers and I were happy to be out in nature decorating the huge tech-savvy camping set. All of these Silicon Valley
people were camping and they had to have the hottest camping gear. That meant solar and innovative ways to camp.
The silver geometric tents are from Shiftpod, a company that is immersed in the tech culture. It takes 22 seconds to set up so everyone is using them at Burningman including myself. It has NASA-inspired technology and uses space age super fabrics to reflect the sun...and they look super cool!
Solar panels were a must. We got gear from NetZero which allows you to store the energy of the sun and charge any tech device your heart desires.
We also decorated the set with Tibetan prayer flags, tons of cool hammocks, YETI coolers, natural foods and drinks, and basically everything at Adventure 16!
Jian Yang’s apartment ...
(He was creating the bootlegged new Pied Piper
This was one of my favorite sets.
We researched Alibaba’s Jack Ma’s first startup apartment, and all things Shenzhen/Chinese.
The painting of running horses near Jian Yang’s
desk is traditional Chinese art directing success to the company.
I researched the green plants they have inside their homes, plus the tea rituals they use when guests visit.
We had candies and energy drinks shipped in from China, but also spent a lot of time shopping in Monterey Park and in Chinatown downtown Los Angeles.
It is quite a challenge to find Chinese air conditioners, Chinese water heaters, range fans! My buyers Emily Shafer and Julia Moquin were key in finding all of this super difficult set dressing.
Emily had to hand-paint many of the traditional Chinese artwork, since it was hard to clear actual pieces.
The kitchen was really fun...we had a Lazy Susan and a ton of different Chinese sauces and food. In the hallway, we had outdoor ceiling lights where we took almond skins and dumped them into the lenses so it looked like moth wings and bugs had been accumulating up there for decades.
This Shenzhen Street
was massive, it was four street corners, three stories high, then down a block basically each way from there. We found a location downtown Los Angeles and started the process of planning to turn it modern day Shenzhen, China
The Art Dept. made literally hundreds of huge signs and graphics, our prop master was able to bring a hundred yellow OFO bikes.
My team and I transformed each environment into: Chinese clothing stores, fruit and vegetable markets, Chinese restaurants, pharmacies, and the list goes on, there were over 40 stores in all. We ended up placing 15 Chinese neon signs of all sizes. I hired a Chinese translator to help us with hand-drawn signs for all our stores and vegetable markets.
To see it all come together with hundreds of extras was really amazing.
It is hard to say what set was the biggest this season but this Shenzhen Factory
set was HUGE!
We also had the Chinese Juice-bar
(which was so fun!) and Yao’s Office in this set, not to mention it flipped into the cell-phone factory area at the end.
I looked at research photos of every Shenzhen Chinese factory, i.e. what kind of stools they sat on, or if they sit at all. We needed hundreds of stools in both factory sets! I ended up buying them from IKEA, then we had the paint dept. custom paint them that typical Shenzhen factory blue that we kept finding in our research.
Then came the tools, the computer boxes (2U’s) and all the colored plastic compartments they kept their parts in for organization.
We went to metal scrap yards like APEX...we found exact air drills online and ordered hundreds, bought static-free bags and bubble sleeves...brought in work tables from LCW...
It was a big dress and I’m very proud of what my crew and I did there.
Actually, I’m very proud of what we did throughout the season on all of these wonderful sets. My crew and I worked so hard—each one is a crucial part to my success and the sets authenticity.
I would really like to acknowledge and thank my team...
Lead Tom Bartlett, On-Set Dresser Bruce Seymour, Technology Gang boss Jordan K. Paul, Buyer Emily Shafer, Buyer Julia Moquin, Set Decoration Coordinator Chase Helzer, Gang boss Terra Espinosa, Set Dresser Brahm Harper, Set Dresser Nick Rake, Set Dresser Colin Bartlett, Set Dresser Brian Potter, Set Dresser Ricky Bartlett
They are all so talented and I couldn’t have done it without them.