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Bebop spaceship...John Cho as Spike. Photo by Nicola Dove ©2021 Netflix.

COWBOY BEBOP

January 23rd, 2022 by Anneke Botha SDSA


Set Decorator Anneke Botha SDSA

Production Designers Grant Major & Gary Mackay

Netflix

We asked Set Decorator Anneke Botha SDSA to tell us about how she and Production Designers Grant Major and Gary Mackay, and their New Zealand teams, went about bringing a major neo-noir sci-fi anime series to life as a live-action series...and during the pandemic!
As she says, “It was a hell of a ride.” 
Hold on, we know you’ll enjoy this!
Karen Burg, Editor

 
...from Set Decorator Anneke Botha SDSA...
“Remaking a classic anime is never easy. We knew from the start that it was going to be a huge task. The original COWBOY BEBOP is one of the most beloved anime series of all time and there was always this invisible atmosphere of ‘fan base’ lingering above our heads” 
 
“We knew we could not compete, that the staunch BEBOP bounty hunters will be analyzing our movements and creative decisions right down to the tiny details. You can’t compete with 23 years of fandom! Like most anime remakes, we had to accept from the start that we had already lost the battle of satisfying this invisible audience. What we didn’t give up on though, and I think we did a really good job, was expanding on the creative story by layering onto the existing canvas.”

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Bebop spaceship, bridge. Photo courtesy of Netflix ©2021

“Our creative team was fortunate enough to have most of the original drawings of the show. These are immensely detailed black and white sketches, which never made it into the original. This inspired me to no end, and I wanted to re-create a lot of this material into our actual sets. It was a great advantage to have this, as well as the actual film, to keep drawing references from.”
 
“A major challenge was obviously the different world-building that takes place. How, from a small island—New Zealand—do you recreate a myriad of interplanetary cultures? Especially, when it was established from the start that most of the signature sets had to be built, which in turn meant a lot of set dec elements simply had to be fabricated, painted, aged, toned...it was a huge task, pre-pandemic and more so as time and the pandemic went on.”

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Bebop spaceship, detail. Some of Jet Black’s many bonsai plants, but equally important is the turntable for vintage vinyl records of his music and life vocabulary...Bebop jazz. Photo courtesy of Netflix ©2021

“Prior to our star John Cho tearing his ACL, we were already struggling to facilitate this enormous beast, but it was even harder after we resumed production a month later, further into the exigencies of the pandemic.”
 
“How do you deliver something like Ana’s Bar  that relies on quantities...tables, chairs, booths, practical lights...when you are basically stuck on an island with a population of 5 million and suddenly the taps to the outside world were dry. Bone dry. We couldn’t import, there was no stock on the shelves, items were limited, and some were non-existing.”

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Ana’s bar/club...Anneke notes, “Since her backstory is that she originates from Russia, Gary wanted Ana’s club to look like it was built inside a Soviet bunker.” Inset: Tamara Tunie as Ana. Photo by Geoffrey Short ©2021 Netflix.

“We couldn’t even bring stuff in from Australia. I mean, Australia is only a 3-hour flight away! There was just no guarantee that whatever we ordered would arrive in time. People were telling us over the phone that 4 bar-leaners would take approximately 3 months to get in. For the first time in my Set Decorating career, there was no outside world. What we had in the country, supply-wise, would have to suffice.”
 
“This is where I take my hat off to my team. They were incredible. We simply made EVERYTHING, and we had the most skilled individuals who could whip up anything in our workshop. Matt Bauckham was HOD Fabricator and Jack Crayford was HOD Steel. Between the two of them, we never fell short. Jen Town also transformed galvanized pipes to copper bar taps with a flick of her brush or plaster moulds into marble. These Kiwis were so resourceful and talented and so eager to get it done!”

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Ana’s bar/club, detail. Mason Alexander as bartender and other things, Gren. Photo by Geoffrey Short ©2021 Netflix.

“Worth a mention is that, for most of them, this was the biggest show they’ve been on and some of them were pushed into positions they had never done prior to BEBOP. Ami Holifield became Leadhand, and she was FANTASTIC. Holly MacPhearson, Rua Smith and Jo Larkin were my key Set Dressers. They just naturally slotted into who will run the set with enormous fabrications (Holly) and who will run sets that require copious amount of sourcing (Jo and Rua). I really lucked out in terms of great crew...I’m from South Africa so this was only my second show in New Zealand...and it was the team that kept that trawler afloat.”
 
“Speaking of boats, when I came onboard, Grant was already fleshing out the Bebop  with Art Director Helen Strevens. The spaceship was a beast, and true to the original, was based on an old shipping trawler. It roughly spanned 40mtrs in length and was about 15mtrs wide, with a ceiling height of 4.4mtrs. That was just the main cabin, bridge, kitchen and monitor room. This excluded the engine room, bathroom, crew quarters and locker room.”

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Bebop spaceship, main cabin. Photo courtesy of Netflix ©2021.

“The ship was, indeed, a BEAST! Our biggest challenge with a ship this size is that whatever we put in there, looked tiny! Even the iconic 3-seater couch... so, we created a larger couch, which was placed on a base as per the anime.” [See photo above, plus at top of page.]

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Bebop spaceship, main cabin....Bebop cowboys, aka space bounty hunters: John Cho as Spike Spiegel, Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine, and Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black. Photo by Geoffrey Short ©2021 Netflix.

“The first thing set dec got into was sourcing an old fishing trawler up for grabs. We actually found one really cheap and off we went, in overalls and with blowtorches, up to Tauranga and stripped it out. All the pipe work and machinery that we scavenged was built into the set. We stenciled the number of the boat onto the boxes and pipe work, and embroidered it onto the towels of the Bebop!  Fun fact.”

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Bebop kitchen... “The table was fabricated and fitted in, all the catering equipment was sourced from industrial kitchens and then gutted to make lighter as we had flying walls. It was a process. But fun, a lot of fun!” Photo courtesy of Netflix ©2021.

“The main creative idea behind the ship was that it belonged to Jet Black.  It was his home as well as workspace. Spike and Faye  were just strays he picked up. Due to Spike  wanting to forget who he was and hiding who he is, we hardly gave him any dressing in his crew quarters, as if he had no story to tell, as if he didn’t want to have a history…contrary to Jet.” 
 
Jet Black  was EVERYWHERE in the ship. His iconic overall emblem, the crow, was stenciled on the front of his bridge console. He had a sign as you came up saying: ‘Beware of the dog’, in reference to his nickname, The Black Dog.  Grant was all for layer upon layer and detail upon detail. Cobus van der Wal, our Assistant Set Decorator, was incredible to watch on this set."

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Bebop monitor room...“True to the anime, we had Jet’s bonsais in the monitor room. What a mission to keep those alive the whole time, but we did! Thank you, Esther, our storeroom manager and plant expert.” Photo courtesy of Netflix ©2021.

“The ship, just like Jet,  is a constant clutter of ‘to-do tasks’ a real fix-me-upper, a very tired fix-me-upper that likes to listen to a lot of jazz. Like, a lot of jazz. We always had jazz playing in the Bebop.”
 
It was in stark contrast to the world we created for Viscious.  The fish factory was a clinical, calculated, killing field. Orange was his token color, and was incorporated into the set. Set Dec did fabulous ceiling panels but I think the true beauty lay in our fish. We could obviously not use real fish, and since these were synthetic, our tuna were over 1.5mtrs each. Roger Murray did a beautiful job molding off a clay sculpt he created, which we then painted and added blood for true effect. I loved the opening shot of when we are introduced to the bad guy in his cold jungle, with the concrete floor slightly covered in ice and blood. This was one of my favorite scenes from the series. Chills."

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Syndicate Throne Room... ”This set echoed the same sentiment of Viscious’s world: Stark. Traditional. Almost ethereal, always violent. I think Gary did such an incredible job building and designing it. The entire set was a work of art, and eventually covered in blood. Our supervising Art Director Alistair Kay and I gushed for months about this set. It was breathtaking.” Photo courtesy of Netflix ©2021.

Ana  was another interesting character. She was discussed endlessly...we very much had an open-door collaboration between the Art Department, Showrunner Andre Nemec, Director Alex Garcia Lopez, Exec Producer and Director Michael Kettleman and our DOP’s. It was great to bounce ideas back and forth. What transpired eventually was that Ana was African American but hailed from Russia and was very much part of this underground activism movement around ‘Free Titan’.”

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Ana’s office. Tamara Tunie, John Cho. Image courtesy of Netflix ©2021.

“Gary wanted her club to look like it was built inside a soviet bunker. Another entire set build. For her office, we imported Russian artifacts...when we could, prior to lockdown...from the Hermitage museum in Russia. These items were exquisite and bore the double crested eagle as homage to her motherland. The club was massive. Entrance, main area, backstage and her office. All built.” 
 
“Along with the signature sets, plenty were built on our back lot as well. Three different cities for 3 different episodes. One of my favorites was Santo City,  inspired by North Africa, rooted in Morocco and Egypt.”

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Santo City. Inset: Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black and John Cho as Spike Spiegel. Photo by Geoffrey Short ©2021 Netflix.


It was a lot of fun playing with color and texture and the whole sense of, even though the world was scattered on different planets, there was still a strong sense of nostalgia for earth. We really wanted to play with this theme of nostalgia, a retro feel, as well as drawing deep references from the anime itself as if we, too, were nostalgic for BEBOP and its characters. 
 
Again, I take my hat off to the set dec bounty hunters, as this show survived pre-pandemic and post pandemic...it just could not survive the staunch anime BEBOP fans. We are all scattered across the globe right now in true BEBOP style, but in the words of a very wise bounty hunter: ‘Whatever happens…happens.’
And this won’t be the end of our creative journey together.
Not for this crew. Not by a long shot. 
 
 
 
 
 
 



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The Cathedral. Essential battle of forces. Alex Hassell as Vicious and John Cho as Spike. Photo by Geoffrey Short ©2021 Netflix.