The Sci Fi Digital Press Tour report, part three
by Keith McDuffee, posted Jul 3rd 2007 10:03AM
As great as the previous two set visits were, I think to most us us they were just appetizers for the main course. Hold on tight -- it's a doozy.
A tour of the sets of Battlestar Galactica
Back to Vancouver Film Studios, where once again we'd start with a panel discussion with members of the cast before embarking on the set tours (you can see the video of the panels here and here.) Before entering the flight deck where the panel was held, we walked through a huge open set that was mostly surrounded by a black curtain with what seemed like small holes in it meant to make it look like a star field. Behind that and exposed off to each side was an enormous green screen. In the center of this room was a large rotating platform, the floor and platform totally black. I should have asked, but I assume this is where they'd occasionally place a Viper for certain scenes.Entering the flight deck was pretty strange. You think you know what to expect, yet something looks a bit ... off. There's two Viper Mark II ships and a Viper Mark VII and a Raptor; there's where they work on the ships; there are the tools, the parts. But things just seem a bit small. These sets serve multiple purposes, and via the magic of green screens they can look much larger than they appear in person. This doesn't mean that you don't recognize this place immediately, though. In fact, during the panel you could get somewhat distracted when realizing that "holy shit I'm in the Galactica flight deck!"
Following the panel, Production Designer Richard Hudolin and Art Director Doug McLean took us for a tour of the remaining sets. I can't think of a better couple of people to show us around these amazingly detailed sets. These guys know what's behind every nook and every panel, what every button doesn't do and why things are placed the way they are. They're truly masters of their craft. OK I'll stop kissing their asses now.
The first room we entered was what was, at the time, set up as the Galactica's infirmary. We were told that this room serves as many other rooms during filming, called "multipurpose rooms" (versus "standing sets"), depending on what's being called for. It was pretty closed quarters in there, but everyone in the tour was able to fit in. Within most of the Battlestar sets we visited was a nicely laid out poster board laid out with photos of the set we were in, laid out in its different forms. The infirmary, for example, serves as a ready room and a board room – up to six or seven different configurations!
The room next door was setup as a sick room which, among its different configurations, serves as the ward room, Baltar's lab, the plotting room, the enlisted head, the crew lab and the brig. The wall between these two rooms can be torn down to serve as the Cylon containment cell. They've done a lot with these sets to make the most out of the space, especially when many of those spaces are used sparingly to begin with.
An interesting note: many of the sets we went through were created without the thought that the BSG miniseries would actually got to a full-blown series.
The first standing set we arrived at was Adama's quarters. As you can imagine (and as you can see from the images), this set is fantastically detailed. Several people pointed out the Cylon War painting above the couch, there within a few feet of our faces, and I had to ask if the model ship on Adama's desk was the one infamously destroyed by Olmos in an unscripted moment. The room definitely has a nautical theme and feel, and with the grating everywhere you almost get the sense that you're in the belly of a seafaring vessel.
When asked what would happen to all of this cool gear in Adama's set once the show was through, Doug McLean joked that he was planning on putting it all up on eBay. Cha-ching!
As we walked from set to set, there was often a door or two we'd have to go through that, as you've seen from the show, looks very much like a door of a battleship or maybe a submarine. You know the one, with the big metal wheel in the middle of it? The doors themselves are not metal – they're wood or possibly some sort of composite (I didn't ask, I just touched.) The wheel, though, is a heavy steel one, simply attached to the door with a bolt. They look incredibly realistic even in person, but once you touch them or open them, you're suddenly amazed at how light they are. Ah, the magic of sound effects.
The next standing set we entered was a cramped room serving as the junior officers' quarters. At the time it was setup in a narrow configuration, though the walls and bunks could move out quite easily to get whatever shot they needed. The bed cushions were soft and each bunk had its own personality about it. Some had family pictures and books. One bunk had a whiteboard in it with "things to do" on it. Another detailed set.
As we went from set to set, besides going through the doors I mentioned earlier, we would go through those very familiar hallways you see on the show. In actuality there aren't very many of these halls, of course, so they're simply setup with different things to make them look different. For example, the same hallway could be one that leads to the brig and then by simply adding a few boards filled with photos, it's the Memorial Hallway. Sadly the hall wasn't setup with the photos at the time we tracked through.
The next set was another multipurpose set, set up at the time to be the main brig. This room also serves as the crew lounge (where we see them playing poker and drinking.) Unlike some other areas, the bars used on the cell here are made of metal. There was actually a camera setup in this room, pointing into the cell. The door to the cell was open, and inside was the cot frame and the mattress thrown onto the floor. We were told that "someone" would be in the cell in the next season but were not told who, though we were told we'd know who it was based on last season's finale. People seemed to nod in agreement to this, but I'm still not sure who they mean. Anyone?
The next juicy nugget we got to see was an area setup as a "hot set," or one that was in between shots and should not be touched or messed with. It was also a set that we were not told much about, though we could infer quite a bit out of what we could see. The room was decorated almost like a harem, with fancy pillows all over the floor and women's lingerie tossed here and there. In the center of the room was a painting of Baltar, setup almost like a shrine. Some thought maybe this meant he was going to die, but judging by the rest of the set I'd say it was more a place for Baltar's little cult to convene.
The next and most thrilling stop was the CIC (Combat Information Center), perhaps better known to some people as Galactica's bridge. Once we entered, it was obvious where we were by the telltale monitor station smack in the middle of the room. It took a little bit to get my bearings and figure out who sat where, but once that was clear, there was no feeling closer to being on the actual ship than standing in this room. All of the monitors were on and showing signs of activity. The map boards were lit and drawn on; someone had written "Help me. Aaaahhh!" on one of them, the lone "easter egg" I could find on any of the BSG sets.
As our guides answered questions, I couldn't help but take some time to explore the entire CIC with some of the others. I saw at Gaeta's station. I picked up a few of the comm phones and geekily held them to my ear. I flipped through a couple of the flight manuals laying around, all with their corners cut (an inside joke to the show) and all with actual space flight information within rather than totally meaningless text or blank pages. Out of slots in many of the consoles were printouts which, upon closer examination, seemed to be from the miniseries and just never taken out since they mentioned of attacks on Caprica (perhaps left there for a flashback scene, but doubtful.) I walked around the Tactical Station and behind Helm Control, then into the adjoining room where the old Damage Control room sat. We flipped switches ... yeah, it was a bit like a playground for a little while.
The monitor station above the center of the room can raise or lower depending on the shot needed. At the time it was set pretty low, as we could see the monitors quite clearly though the text on the screens seemed a bit garbled. This is actually done purposely, as the screens are smudged with wax to cut out glare.
Doug McLean let us in on a favorite prank the props guys liked to pull. All of those comm phones you see on the show are actual sets used on battleships and aircraft carriers and they unplug easily from the panel. When you key the phone a few times, it generates an 80 volt jolt at the other end of the wire where it plugs into the panel. The prop guys would ask someone to hold that plug end "just for a second" and then key the phone and watch the person jump a mile.
We left the CIC and headed nearby to a huge set that served as the control room for a Cylon Basestar. Strange that it's right next door to the CIC! This is the room where typically you'd have the watery control panel in the middle of the room. Of course the walls were lined with those familiar square, white lights on black. The screens used for the trickle-down water effects were laid down against a wall of the room at the time.
Down the hallway a bit (again, another familiar sight with the square white lights) was another "hot" set, which at times served as the room Baltar stayed in on the Basestar and basically any other scenes that didn't exist in the contol room. We weren't told the details of the scene in the room, and it was taped off to prevent us from entering. The entrance of the room had several large columns that were made to look shot up by heavy gunfire, with bullet holes coming out of the room and onto the wall next to us. Pieces of the columns were everywhere. Someone later said there was a script sitting in the taped off area, but I didn't see it (drat!)
We were brought over to a different stage where we were able to see a new ship for the fourth season being constructed. Over in the corner of this stage were doors that were clearly from the Pegasus, and occupying one side of the stage was a large green set piece that would exist inside the new ship. There were perhaps five people working on the set at the time, painting different areas a sort of beige color. Tacked to an outside wall was an artist's rendering of what the completed set would look like, complete with characters sitting on a table inside playing cards. Someone happened to catch the word "Demetrius" on one of the drawings, which is a ship within the existing colonial fleet. It was definitely cramped feeling and very submarine-like, which our guides explained was the feeling they were going for.
The final stop on this tour was right where we started out, in the Hangar deck. Like I said before, the use of green screens allows this room to look a lot larger on TV, and it serves multiple purposes (air lock, the bar, the courtroom, Colonial One, munitions manufacture, Dogsville refugee camp.) Interestingly we were told that they currently only have the two Mark II ships, the Mark VII and the Raptor. So essentially we were seeing the entire colonial small combat fleet.
The ships aren't at all what you'd expect when you touch them. These pieces are actually sculpted almost out of a Styrofoam-like material, then painted and coated over. It felt like someone could possibly push the whole ship over if they were determined enough.
After some photos on this part of the set, we got to talking with the costume designer. I've already mentioned the most interesting aspect of this part of the tour and I think your eyes are probably ready to bleed from putting up with this long post. I've got more personal comments of my own that I'll mention in a summary post later this week.
Check back soon for the final visit of the trip, the set of Flash Gordon!