A room with a view: Creating the film set exterior views for Marvel’s Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones
Making a film set believable requires the successful collaboration of numerous artists and craftsmen but what we see outside the window of our favourite movie houses and film sets isn’t something that viewers generally may pay much attention to. We spend a lot of time here at Film and Furniture fixated on the furniture and decor in the interior of a film scene, but the view to the world beyond also goes a long way in telling us the story. It helps us consciously, or subconsciously understand the geography and location of the scene on a wider scale.
The view isn’t always real of course as many scenes will be filmed in a studio or sound stage. So how do our movie wizards create the world beyond? Toni Barton, Art Director for the Marvel Netflix series (Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil) tells us “One of the biggest challenges involving art direction and cinematography, is trying to erase the line between what is scenery and what is reality. Our film sets are often static builds on a sound stage and it’s not until you ‘look out of a window’ and see the outlook of that set that you understand it’s location and sense of place”.
Very early on in the process for Netflix Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Production Designer Loren Weeks began scouting for the locations we would see ‘out the windows’ for Alias Investigations, Trish’s Apartment and Hogarth’s Office. Previous to this (including for Daredevil Season One) backdrops were photographed, composited and printed onto a vinyl day/night material.
Below we see the actual cityscape backdrop used for the view out of Trish Walker’s apartment in Netflix Marvel’s Jessica Jones, photographed by Phil Greenstreet of Rosco.
Barton, who learned the ropes as an assistant art director on Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Homes continues: “Technology has recently moved on a lot and now allows for oversized drops printed onto a cotton material which softens the look out the windows. This change has in turn required a change in lighting techniques, which was addressed wonderfully by Cinematographer Manuel Billeter. He spent a great deal of time assessing photographs, blur options and fabric samples to determine the correct combination for each set/location”.
“This challenge grew for Luke Cage. Pop’s Barbershop is located at street level but is in fact a set built on a sound stage on location in Harlem. What you see outside the barbershop windows is crucial – we see this view many times and it is in fact four times the distance that we had on the sound stage”.
The talented photographer Phil Greenstreet from Rosco, calculated the exact distance to scale down the backdrop to match the location beautifully. Cinematographer Manuel Billeter lit both the interior set and the exterior location in a manner that truly blurs the line.
For Iron Fist Toni Barton and her team spent even more time deciding on the correct locations and backdrops to achieve exactly the right look. The story chronicles billionaire heir Danny Rand, who has been presumed dead for fifteen years and his return to New York City, and his attempt to regain control of his father’s company and defeat sinister forces that have infiltrated the city and Rand Corporations.
The Rand offices are an important part of the story, as are the views outside the window which contextualize the building (read more about the actual locations at Untapped Cities).
Barton worked again with cinematographer with Manual Billeter and photographer Phil Greenstreet to create the Rand office “views” seen below.
Barton has recently been working on the upcoming superhero team-up The Defenders where Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist Danny Rand realise they might be stronger when working together.
Finally, we share possibly one of the most important views out of a window in cinema: Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) in which a wheelchair-bound photographer (James Stewart) spies on his neighbours from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder.