Intitial filming is wrapping up in Germany today for Martin Koolhoven’s film Brimstone, starring Guy Pearce, Dakota Fanning and Kit Harrington. Production has released a few photos of the unfinished sets that I designed with Floris Vos, so I’m taking the liberty of putting out a few photos of my own without giving away too much.
For several months this year I made sketches, drawings and schematics of Western towns and farms, both interiors and exteriors to be built either in the Studio in Berlin or on location in the German countryside. As Supervising Art Director I went to Berlin to oversee building for a few weeks in the studio. But most credit has to go to the styling talents of Floris Vos, who as Production Designer has had to endure the slings and arrows of a typically volatile production process to get us all to this place where we can say, Gosh, that looks beautiful!
Of course you might ask, “What? A German Western?” The obvious answer is “Why not?” and technically speaking it’s a Dutch/German Western, as the director and much of the crew are Dutch.
When the film comes out I will be able to post more production shots. Enjoy.
A short video of my father, Alvin Van Hulzen, winching up the whole timber girders that are going to make the raised floor of my future cabin in Klamath County, Oregon. The beams probably weigh about a ton each, being about 26 feet long and 16 inches in diameter (800cm x 40cm). Our makeshift crane, which was anchored pretty soundly with guy-wires still can be heard creaking under the compression. Rather unnerving, to be sure, but it all went well. Hats off to Dad’s enginering instincts.
It will come as no surprise that the “we” at T. van Hulzen design is often just myself. True, working in symbiosis with Studio Louter in Amsterdam means that with each project there’s a whole team involved doing production, content, multimedia, etc. But rarely do I get around to doing a project that is just for myself. That changed this past September and October when I started building my own ‘cabin in the woods’. More specifically, it’s to be a log cabin in Klamath County, Oregon, USA, on the edge of the pine forests surrounding Fourmile Flats, one of the great seasonal moorlands of the Southern Cascades. Fourmile Flats Ranch belongs —not incidentally— to my generous parents. Granting their children land is of course a sinister ploy to spend more time with them. In their defence, it’s a magical land, volcanic and densely forested at 1300 meters above sea level (4300 ft) on the eastern flank of the Cascade Range and bounded on all sides by National Forest and designated wilderness.
There is of course an architectural concept. I couldn’t just let it be a run of the mill log cabin. Call it designer’s pride. The idea is to build a structure on top of a raised platform. This fulfills a number of wishes. One is for it to be a proper wildlife viewing station, another is to have as little impact on the landscape as possible, then there’s the wish to be raised above the elements (flooding in spring and deep snow in winter) and lastly it’s meant to improve the view of iconic Mount McLoughlin in the near distance. To this end I still have to clear 15 acres of scrub pine forest and harvestable poplars (aspen and cottonwood.)
Phase one is to build the platform. When I left on November 2, we—my father and I— had achieved the minimum of what I had wanted. This involved harvesting my own materials, clearing the landscape of scrub and burn piles, quarrying some rock, setting foundations, building piers and hoisting the main girders. We also made some beginnings on milling our own planks and beams with an Alaska sawmill we had acquired. This allows one to mill on the spot on uneven terrain.
It is obviously a project in flux. The end designs have not been determined, and I am leaving it to some degree to the many variables that enter into the equation. In that sense it’s a very organic process. The joy is in the hard work and the extraction of ones own materials. And let’s not forget the euphoria that comes from camping in the great outdoors for 5 weeks on end, cutting firewood, clearing brush, stoking campfires and cooking rough.
I was so busy I neglected to post anything about a brief stint last year as Set Designer for the Dutch feature film Bloed, Zweet & Tranen about the life of the popular blue-collar folk-hero and singer Andre Hazes. The sets were simple, under the direction of production designer and old colleague/friend Alfred Schaaf. Alfred called to see if I was interested in a bit of work, and since it had been so long since I had done proper film work as a designer, it seemed like it could be fun. We recreated an old record store, a music studio, a television studio and some older apartment buildings in the (then) working class neighborhood of Amsterdam, De Pijp. And in the end I got to do some handwork as well, painting a 3×3 meter canvas as an artistic early 60’s backdrop in a film studio.
That marvelous, terrifying moment has arrived for our project at the NEMO Science Center: the first concrete installations are taking place. No longer a design process in which to endlessly vacillate between possibilities, we now have incontrovertible real objects being installed and constructed. The exhibit furniture and elements are being constructed in Nüremburg, Germany, while the new inlaid linoleum floor is being installed on location at NEMO. Progress, people! After September 20 on view for the public in all its glory.
Another sculpture assignment I received from the production of the film “Michiel de Ruyter” was to recreate the cruelly lynched bodies of the brothers De Witt, a prominent Dutch politician from the 16th century and his brother who were attacked by an Orangist mob and lynched in the Hague. Obviously there’s a serious story here, and I won’t try to commit it to this page (read it here), but it was famous and compelling enough to make me want to take up the job.
You might ask, why not just use actors? But these corpses had to be eviscerated and lacerated to such a degree that that would be impractical. But engaging the services of one of the excellent special effects studios was budgetarily out of the question. A compromise was found: me. The production designer Ruben Schwarz and myself settled on the idea of culling various body parts from display mannequins, cutting them up and reattaching them. Then we covered them with layers of hard casting wax colored with powdered pigments (from the paint mill De Kat). This allowed us to cut into the surface skin to expose flesh. Wax is actually quite forgiving, as long as you aren’t filming in the extreme heat of the day. Using wax kept the costs down and is a rather low-threshold material to work with. We were rather pleased with the results, and so was the director.
Het Geheugenpaleis (Palace of Memory) in the National Archives in the Hague has won the award in the category “Best International Exhibition”. We jaunted off to London on a lark to be there when the winners were announced, and were totally over the moon when we heard that in spite of the steep competition, we had actually won. I say “we”, but the award truly goes to the team that conceived of it all in the first place, and that would be the folks at the National Archives themselves. So even though I like to claim the award as the chief designer and artist, it will be proudly standing on a mantle in the Hague somewhere. Congratulations especially to Nancy Hovingh at the archives who enthusiastically ferried the project through 3 years of development and production, and a big high 5 to our favourite team at Studio Louter.
“The cardboard design solution is not just sustainable, it looks remarkable too. The cardboard carries one of the central tropes of the exhibition: a memory palace created of stacked archival boxes. By stacking hundreds of boxes in an oblique bond, patterns are created that catch the coloured light in continuously changing waves. The graphic material is all printed on layered honeycomb panels. The effect is controlled and subdued, in spite of the enormous amount of information and a variety of lighting effects. It’s all tied together by that one core element: the archival box.
Our competition in the category International Award (the award is a primarily British affair) will be: The Olympic Museum in Switzerland, The Springbok Experience in South Africa, The Gemeentemuseum in the Hague, and The Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp, Belgium.
The winners will be announced in May and Todd plans to be there with our colleagues at Studio Louter and Het Nationaal Archief. A good excuse to iron the tuxedo!
A little write up –or rather a series of quotes– in the most recent issue of Vanity Fair magazine (April 2014). The story explores the ins and outs of creating reproduction artwork for films, specifically films about art. In the case of Todd van Hulzen it draws on his experience as a designer and artist for the film Girl with a Pearl Earring. For this film from 2003 Todd organized the creation of approximately 75 different painting from historical sources. Most of them were reproduced digitally, but several were painted by hand, particularly the paintings on the easels seen in various stages of development. Todd was also a hand double for Colin Firth, an instructor in the techniques of painting and grinding of historical pigments and an art-director creating the set designs of the canal-side house of the artist Vermeer.