Creating the World of Hannibal
This week’s blog is from Matthew Davies, Hannibal’s Production Designer.
Hannibal has standing sets that were designed at the very beginning of the show, when we only had script outlines, and they are the core sets for each of our characters. They include the world of Hannibal, which incorporates his house interior and his office, both of which were designed by my predecessor Patti Podesta. They also include the world of the FBI, which I designed, showcasing Jack Crawford’s office, the interior corridors of the FBI Quantico campus, Will’s lecture hall, and the labs and other forensic setups.
On an episodic basis, we have additional sets and locations that we have to build or find. And they have to conform to the aesthetic of the show, which has always been that of an elegant horror film.
We work very closely with the show runner, as the story is told by his own particular aesthetic, and also with individual directors to find out how they want to shoot the scenes and what tools they need in order to tell the story. For the sets we don’t build, the locations team searches for places that fit or conform to the overall look of the show.
There is a very fast turnaround in terms of getting the script, breaking it down, getting the information we need from the various departments, and then harnessing all of our resources to make sure that we’re ready for camera each day. Each episode has its own identity and independent story lines and characters that are specific to it. We have to create the context or the environment for each of those characters, and, episodically, that is a lot of work, especially in contrast to our standing studio sets - they are already part of a predefined vocabulary within the show and have been well established beforehand, requiring less input on an episodic basis. We also have to generate a lot of graphics and other key props, prosthetics, and special effects elements because every episode includes at least one or two death tableau pieces, which are carefully orchestrated beforehand.
I think the episode that Tim Hunter directed, “Fromage,” is a great example, from an art department perspective, of a lot of really fun elements. We got to film in the Roy Thomson Hall, which is Toronto’s premier performance space, and set up one of our death tableaus, which was a beautiful prosthetic in and of itself. We had to do research into the production of gut strings, using animal gut. Then we built a basement in the studio, which included a pretty painstakingly accurate rendition of how someone might butcher and prepare gut strings in their own home. We created a full music store on location in an old house interior that seemed to fit with the architectural resonance that we wanted for the basement. That was all at a very short notice, so it was a real scramble to ready the locations, get everything painted, build all the set pieces and get them to location, and find hundreds of musical instruments to fill the place. And it was a pleasure working with Tim, as he’s such a visually articulate director.