Decorating the Future For SOLARIS

May 15th, 2004 by Kristen Toscano Messina SDSA

Main Photo
Photos by Bob Marshak, Twentieth Century Fox (©) 2002, Set Decoration, Kristen Toscano Messina

Kristen Toscano Messina
Photos by Bob Marshak provided courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox (©) 2002

Solaris was my first experience decorating “the future”. Although I had decorated other “period” projects, the thought of attempting the future was, I admit, at first somewhat intimidating. When you look to the past, you can find plenty of photographic research to assist you in your choices as well as rely on your educated sense of what a certain period looked like. But the future. That is a different story. The only research available for the future is what other people have imagined it to be and any ideas you have about what it may look like are shaped by your recollection of others attempts at creating it.

The Production Designer (Philip Messina) and I discussed how to create a look that would be both believable and as timeless as possible without being self conscious. We decided to take a naturalistic approach to the sets on earth. Assuming life 30, 40 or 50 years in the future will not be so much different from today than life 30, 40 or 50 years ago, we blended periods and styles from a seventeenth century secretary to contemporary Italian light fixtures to create an eclectic and, hopefully, timeless look. Most of us have homes that represent a blending of periods from our own personal histories. That was true of our grandparents homes as well as our parents and now our own. We added a some minor elements of technology with built in home system monitors and modified kitchen appliances, but since the path of technology seems to be becoming more integrated into the environment and invisible, we didn’t want to draw attention to it.

Space was an other matter entirely and this is where the challenge really began. Our biggest inspiration was the International Space Station. First, we downloaded photos of it from the Internet, then the entire art department and set decorating department went on a field trip to view the IMAX movie about it. Although we were trying to portray a space station several generations beyond what exists now, it was the source for many kernels of ideas.

Soon it was time to move past the theoretical and start with the design and acquisition. My crew and I combed through thousands of pages of industrial catalogs for interesting items that could be integrated into various space devices.We shopped everywhere from restaurant supply stores to KMart where we sometimes found common household items, which, taken out of context, could be
transformed into something unrecognizable. Vacuum cleaners evolved into water purification systems. Industrial trash can lids became ceiling panels. Custom car oil reservoirs assembled to become oxygen recirculators. I became enamored of salvage yards. Computer salvage, aerospace salvage, all kinds of wonderful treasures could be found for relatively small amounts of money. These parts, disassembled & modified became the basis of some wonderful constructions.

We bought truckloads of parts that became vocabulary from which we would draw the details of the interior of the space station. While time and budget wouldn’t allow us to manufacture every element of every piece of dressing, these pieces provided an exciting variety of forms and finishes as well as inspiration. Sometimes a single found part would be perfect if only we had 50 more. If they weren’t available or cost effective then we might either make a mold and cast the additional ones out of resin or have our prop shop machine them out of aluminum.

Through a somewhat linear process of computer aided design as well as a more organic sculptural approach we designed and assembled the components that would become the textural details of the ship. Gravity monitors, environmental quality control, oxygen emergency units, some pieces were based on a thread of reality, others were inspired by a wonderful found shape or texture and the desire for a repetitive element on a certain surface. A talented and creative crew of set dressers and prop makers brought all the parts together to transcend their often humble origins and become, I hope, believable elements of the space station “Prometheus”.

In the end I looked back happily enlightened that what had begun as a daunting and foreign task had in many ways been not so different from any other set. Decorating is always a matter of combining elements: shapes, textures and colors, to create an environment that is visually pleasing and incorporates the functionality that the space and the script demands. (By visually pleasing, I do not necessarily mean beautiful, but with an eye for color and composition and texture much like a painting or sculpture.) This may mean combining the right elements of furniture, say a sofa, a chair, drapes and a television to make a living room, or the right crates and industrial equipment to create a warehouse. With the “Prometheus” space station, the difference was that those elements had fewer boundaries than normal. While they had to be created rather than found, the basic visual rules remained the same. Spaces still needed textural balance, colors still needed to be coordinated, shapes still needed to placed with an eye for composition. This made for an exciting and satisfying creative experience where in many ways the constraints were fewer than usual and we were able to follow our creative impulses more freely.

Photo 3
Photos by Bob Marshak, Twentieth Century Fox (©) 2002, Set Decoration, Kristen Toscano Messina

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Photos by Bob Marshak, Twentieth Century Fox (©) 2002, Set Decoration, Kristen Toscano Messina

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Photos by Bob Marshak, Twentieth Century Fox (©) 2002, Set Decoration, Kristen Toscano Messina