Showing a creative story

An interview with Shona Heath, the set designer of The Cal™ 2018

Home life Showing a creative story
Showing a creative story

How did you create the vision for the sets for this year’s calendar?
We always started with the John Tenniel illustrations, then my first port of call was to dissect what is in that scenario, what will make this a believable, sort of, tableau. And then from that, I break it down into elements and materials, we can’t obviously get a dodo so how do we create a dodo, and in the end, we actually decided to make a collage of all sorts of different pieces of dodos from stock libraries. I had a ceramic heron in my studio that we photographed and took the wing and inserted that into it, it had some sort of relevance to some of the more sculptural and architectural pieces that I put in the set. The dodo had to fit into our world, we couldn’t just get a scraggy old picture of a dodo, it had to be the best.

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What is different about your version of the Alice story?
We’d seen the story being told so many times visually, over decades, what was going to be the thing that would take our Alice somewhere different? The all black cast meant we could play with turning inside-out some of the existing elements, like the rabbit is a white rabbit normally, so he was black. Then there was a very famous scene where the card people paint their roses red in the original story, and in ours they paint red roses black. I was always trying to find something to turn on its head, question what the story meant and what was the important bit, and how far could it diversify. We’re still making a very clear message that is very true to the story, actually. 

How did you try to match the characters into the sets?
I suppose how they fit into the backgrounds was more down to the narrative and the worlds and the tableaux we wanted to create. Sometimes it wasn’t as organized as forcing somebody into a situation. We changed some of the characters around, some of the people who we thought should be a king wasn’t a king, it evolved.

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Is this the kind of job that you aspire to do?
We had the time, we had the resources, and we had a fantastic starting point, the concept was great and we’re not advertising anything, we’re just showing a creative story creatively, so this is as good as it gets as far as creative work, I would say, to work on; very lucky, yes.

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