Lighthouse

Director Simon Hunter, Producers Tim Dennison & Mark Leake - 1999

 Scale model

Scale model

 Finished set

Finished set

 Set built within a container for flooding scenes

Set built within a container for flooding scenes

The film opens on board a prisoner transport ship that hits a rock and sinks, leaving a few crew members and prisoners alive. This was built as a set in the studio where unfortunately there was no tank to fill to submerge the set. I designed the ships lower cell deck to fit partially inside a large open-ended skip (photo left). When the action reached the moment of flooding the filming was halted and the doors welded shut enabling the skip to be filled up to 8ft deep.

A sequence takes place in the Lamp Room where the main revolving light sits at the top of the lighthouse. The huge glass lenses had to be built both in specially moulded clear plastic and breakaway sugar glass for a stunt that involves the murderer falling onto the unit from the roof section above.

This was built in incredible detail from my sketches and photos from research carried out, some visits even taking my Construction Manager along to look at my desired engineering techniques, structures and textures.

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"Lighthouse" gave me an amazing opportunity to design the geography of a whole island; it's beaches, cliffs and eight storey lighthouse perched on top. As the film was set at night the whole thing was shot within the controllable environment of studios.

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The exterior 18ft base of the lighthouse built  in the studio with 70x70ft of rocky seaweed covered beach around it (left).

The ground floor Control Room (left) was built inside the exterior set (above) so that action could flow from the beach, through the front door and even on up the stairs. All surfaces were aged and broken down, as though they had been painted many times, and all original Victorian furnishings had been repaired numerous times over many years.

Plans were drawn up of each level of the lighthouse with unique curved walls. All built in furniture such as kitchen units, desks and even beds had to be built in curved sections. Each set had to be raised 6ft (2m) off the ground to accommodate the stairs running down to the floor below, and also have a practical ceiling for the stairs running up to the floor above.

Built in units dressed following rough sketches done after my research visits to real lighthouses, some still manned. An opportunity came with this project to incorporate some real character dressing of the lighthouse keepers as the amount of possessions they had here were limited. Collections of pipes, decoration on shells, oiling and mending of clocks, drawing sea birds were all used on shelves and around their beds.

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A pivotal scene takes place in the bathroom level of the lighthouse where one of the characters is killed. The Director Simon Hunter wanted to film the arrival of the murderer overhead, so the layout of this set was designed with that one shot in mind.

This scene needed to be bleak, a cold stark place to die.The floor, walls and tiles were white, perfect to show up the deep red of blood splattered over them.

Due to budget, time and stage space available I had only built two round sets that were successfully revamped into five of the eight floors. Each had their own atmosphere, working with the mood of the action that takes place in them.

The two survivors kill the murderer at the end of the film by blowing up the top part of the lighthouse. A model was designed for this and other earlier establishing shots, as well as a full-sized set (below) that was blown up and applied to the model in post production to avoid the fire and explosion looking wrong to the audience in miniature. Two models of the lighthouse were built, one at 4ft (1.2m) and one at 16ft (4.8m) high. The smaller composited into stock sea shots as establishing wide shots, and  the larger model used as a perspective  model in the full-sized beach set, complete  with revolving light!