By Eric Althoff
Film has always been on the forefront of establishing what the public
comes to accept as the look of the future. Without history as a guide,
the future can be anything the creative forces behind a film envision.
Interestingly, the future as envisioned by those creating it for the
big screen has evolved over time, usually reflecting the time in which
it was created.
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis while groundbreaking for
establishing an early futuristic vision, still clearly reflected it’s
era in terms of shapes and style which echoed the “new” art deco style.
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, while timeless in many ways, still reflects the
styles of the late 1960’s. The more recent a film is to us, the more
difficult it is to discern the elements that will betray it’s period,
but as soon as the styles of an era can be distilled into some basic
visual commonalities, the look of their “futures” tend to follow.
Props has had a big hand in the crafting of the vision of the future
for decades. In it’s beginning, says Mark Robinson, President, Modern
Props built mostly consoles and control panels out of a garage in
Inglewood, California. But even in it’s early days, Modern Props rented
to major films that would set the tone for the “futuristic” look of
their time; films such as Blade Runner, The Incredible Hulk, and Star
Trek to name a few. For 27 years, Modern Props has supplied modern,
contemporary, and futuristic set dressing and props for the
entertainment industry, said Sales Manager, Ken Sharp.
character of futuristic props & set dressing changes as styles and
new technology changes," Sharp said. "What may have been accepted as a
futuristic control panel or chair 10 years ago may not be viewed the
same way today."
Sharp stressed that even as futuristic trends
change, so too do the sources for finding new props. "We keep up with
the latest designs. Most of the demands of a set decorator stem from
the design world." To keep up with the offerings of contemporary
design, Modern Props attends furniture shows where the majority of new
designs brought over from Europe are unveiled. Sharp says that through
Modern Living, their subsidiary retail furniture store, his company
sends out catalogues reflecting the latest trends and styles. Many
contemporary designers are pushing the envelope far beyond tradition to
create pieces that would look at home in the year 3002.
explained that one of the most challenging aspects of trying to keep up
with what's ahead of you is working within the constraints and changes
of the industry itself. As films and television shows try to create
larger and more believeable sets for more discerning and demanding
audiences, Sharp sighs at the fact that the prep time and budgets for
decorating have shrunk. "The same look is desired [even though] the
budgets for set dressing have been slashed. It seems as if 'We want
more for less' is the new industry slogan."
Sharp also notes
that as technology has evolved, it has become that much harder to
depict the future. "What was once futuristic has become reality," he
mused. "Electronics and technology have become so small that it becomes
less interesting to watch. I was watching one of the Star Trek movies
and there was a scene with a news crew. Keep in mind, this is supposed
to be 300 years in the future, and one of the cameramen had a camera
mounted to his head with a light and long lens. I'm thinking to myself,
'We have that technology now. Even more advanced. By then they would
have an IC chip mounted in the guy's eye or something.' But how
interesting would that be to look at?" As technology becomes more and
more discreet, the challenge of portraying it becomes greater. In a
visual medium, the brilliance of “invisible” technology, leaves much to
be desired. “The future looks a lot more futuristic in the movies,”
Recently, Modern Props has rented to variations on
that theme as diverse as Terminator 3, Men In Black 2, and Solaris. And
so, for now, the question of what tomorrow will look like is answered
by the films of today. Tommorow a new group of decorators and designers
will have their chance.