In 2015 I worked as an art director and set designer on the Dutch Western Brimstone, starring Guy Pearce, Dakota Fanning, Kit Harrington and Carice van Houten. Now that it’s in movie theaters and the reviews are coming in (one thing everyone agrees on: it’s memorable) I thought I would share some more set shots. The film has been singled out for its dark tone and its restrained but authentic-feeling architecture. The mood was set by production designer Floris Vos, and he kept to his guns, as they say, throughout the project by making sure we kept it simple. The film was shot largely on location in Germany with a Dutch and German crew.
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.
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.
Here’s a trailer for Bloed, Zweet en Tranen.
It’s rare that I do any sculpture work anymore for film like I used to. But this particular assignment really appealed to me for reasons that have nothing to do with money: recreate the stern carvings of the royal flagship that Michiel De Ruyter seized and towed from Chatham during his great naval triumph over the English at the Raid of the Medway in 1667. It just seemed to historically interesting to ignore. The film in question is the Dutch production “Michiel de Ruyter” being filmed in Zeeland (the Dutch province) and the wharves of Lelystad. But the relevant scene concerns De Ruyter’s presentation of his trophy, the royal stern carvings, to the States General of the United Provinces, which was the republican government of the Netherlands at the time. This was being filmed in gothic city hall of Middelburg in Zeeland.
The original stern carvings, or “counter” as it’s officially called, are hanging in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in a gallery devoted to the De Ruyter era. I had to scale it down a little bit for technical reasons (the original is 2½ x 3½ meters) but even making it out of high density polyurethane foam I still had an enormous challenge of volume. With an assistant Rik and some more of the great folks in the De Ruyter art department we managed to get the still wet project in just under the wire. It was heroic! And it looked beautiful in the (artificial) late afternoon light of the location in Middleburg.
Looking forward to viewing the film when it’s released.
Here’s the trailer for the historical epic film Michiel de Ruyter for which I did some projects. Subtitles in English.
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.
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.