Break Down the Sets: The Stone Corridors
Launch Image ViewerChristopher Hobbs on the stone corridors:
The technical issues came out quite early. One of the concerns that the BBC had, or at least that Estelle had, was that Gormenghast is an odd story, and it looked like it was going to be expensive with a hundred and twenty-odd sets written into the script. Clearly, you know, that frightened a lot of people. They said, "How can you possibly do that?"

So I had to come up with a way of doing it that would work within our budget, hence everything on wheels, which was something that I'd tried on another film previously. I've actually used a very similar approach, but nothing this big. I made up these little cardboard boxes on a board and we went to all the top people at BBC and I sort of whizzed these little things round and round (laughter) saying, "Look, here's set one, set two, set three," and so on. And they all sort of looked a little bit surprised and said, "Oh, yes, yes, we see."

Christopher Hobbs on diagramming Gormenghast:
I attempted to map out Gormenghast. It didn't work... that was very much when I realized that this is the architecture of dreams. If you have a dream, there is no real sense to the architecture. You walk through a door, you turn up somewhere quite different from where you expected. And Peake knew that. I think he simply moved rooms around to make it easier to get his story going! (laughter) Which is ultimately exactly what we did with the sets. That wasn't precisely the reason why, but that's certainly true.

Estelle Daniel on the stone corridors:
... Doorways, giant blocks of wood which are intricately carved, came from a friend of Christopher, who has an antiques stall on Camden Lock... Buying a job lot of ancient doors turned out to be much cheaper than carving them out of polystyrene (the usual Hollywood solution) and they looked much better. The texture of ancient wood cannot easily be replicated... But [the walls] were designed to look like plaster on stonework which has been limewashed for hundreds of years. In fact they were done in a day by industrial sprayers using insulation foam! ... It gives an ageless effect in an instant, and it is very light, which means that huge walls can be moved around easily...

The shape of the stone lanes was almost literally made up as filming progressed. They were formed from giant slabs of insulated foam blocks on wheels. The first day we did it, both Andy (Wilson, the director) and Gavin (Finney, director of photography) were perplexed. There was nothing in the centre of the set except a series of high foam platforms like children's building blocks in a giant's playpen. Andy looked puzzled and said, 'Where are the corridors?' And Christopher said, 'Wherever you'd like them. Choose your corridor.' By tweaking the blocks to get the view, we found we could create the castle however we wanted. We even discovered how to make curved walls of corridors. It was like working in the most sophisticated Legoland!

The stone floor slabs throughout the castle are actually made of flooring felt, layered with latex, and cut into shapes of pieces of stone modeled on Nepali or Tibetan floors. It is light and very maneuverable, and almost silent, with a comforting dead acoustic. The actors like it, because it is warm and soft underfoot. We were particularly concerned that the actors should not be overwhelmed by the sets. The aim is that the backgrounds are sparse, needing the presence of the actor to complete the design. The background could be very simple, if there were elements of the set which had authentic beauty. The doorways, furniture and fabrics are real, while some of the surrounding designs are deceptively simple. Christopher has been working to this principle for many years ... For him the textures are the key. The search is always for the right textures to blend in behind the actors, so that the design is not a distraction from the action...

In Peake's Words
Steerpike had viewed with a mixture of amazement, relief and malignant amusement the dramatic cessation of Mr. Swelter's oratory. For a few moments he had gazed at the wine-spattered form of his overlord spread below him, then glancing around and finding that he was alone he had made for the door through which Mr. Flay had passed and was soon racing down the passages turning left and right as he ran in a mad effort to reach the fresh air.

He had never before been through that particular door, but he imagined that he would soon find his way into the open and to some spot where he could be on his own. Turning this way and that he found that he was lost in a labyrinth of stone corridors, lit here and there by candles sunk in their own wax and placed in niches in the walls...

-- Titus Groan, "The Stone Lanes"

For more about the stone corridors, visit:
The Producer's Diary/March 29
Analyze a Scene: Flay v. Swelter

 Set Design:
Kitchen | Fuchsia's Attic | Stone Corridors | Library | Graveyard

 Analyze a Scene | Costume Design | Set Design | Producer's Diary

Home | The Novels | Behind the Scenes | The Film | Site Map

© | WGBH | PBS

Behind the Scenes Analyze a Scene Costume Design Set Design Producer's Diary The Graveyard The Library The Stone Corridors Fuchsia's Attic The Kitchen