Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson of Rome
HBO’s Rome Epic
From the beginning, Rome 's creators intended to portray the ancient city in a way that's never been done before - to leave behind the stereotypical "Holly-Rome" visions of a pristine, white marble, patrician city for the reality of a gritty, crowded, vibrant and cosmopolitan metropolis of a million residents, from senators to slaves. Also setting
In September 2003, production designer Joseph Bennett began with a blank slate and the first three scripts, working with the producers to determine the main areas of focus - the patrician villas, the Suburra and the Forum. He had six months to go from bare backlots to readiness for the first day of shooting in March 2004.
"The sense of the script, and the whole storyline, is to make this as realistic as possible, a living, breathing place. The buildings had color, the streets were dirty, there were masses of multi-racial people living in very close quarters, and it's not what you're used to seeing," says Bennett. "We combined the academic research of what
"It's also a pre-Christian world we're dealing with. There's polytheism, different gods and cults, and it's all mixed up together in everyday life. It's not like the Western world today, where people have church on Sunday, but Monday to Saturday is secular. Modern-day
With the help of the executive producers and historical consultant Jonathan Stamp, Bennett and his team set about designing the Suburra, a part of
Because production was initially scheduled for at least nine months, Bennett notes, "The sets had to be built to higher specifications than a normal feature shoot, where you'd tear it down after two months. So we used more inert materials like fiberglass, concrete, resins and plastics than usual. But as to the finishing, we've used techniques and styles that are true to the times as far as decorative painting, frescoes, fabrics and that sort of thing, goes."
An international crew of about 350 started work in November 2003 on the five acres of backlot and six soundstages that make up the
"The biggest headache has been just getting the thing done on time," adds Bennett. "It's such an enormous amount of wall space to build and paint and age. And the aging's the key, because what makes a place look real is when things change over the years, like a doorway's bricked up and the plaster doesn't quite match, or something's been broken and repaired, or a torch leaves scorch marks on the wall, and all that just takes time. The tenements were always falling down so they used to prop them back up again and nothing's plumb and square - that has to be built in from the start. We were literally still finishing the first coat of paint in places as they began shooting.
"The production hiatus after the first three episodes was a blessing because it gave us weeks of extra time to finish things properly, like encourage grass to grow between the cobblestones, age the exteriors and allow birds to colonize the outdoor spaces. It's become a living thing over the months." Adding to the texture of the set is the production rule that whatever drops is left where it falls - vegetation, wood scraps, food, dirt and debris.
Working in close concert with Bennett is set decorator Cristina Onori, who transforms his structures into livable spaces. "To give life to this set I think it's important to focus on the tools as one way to tell the story and represent life at that time," she says. "There was no industrial production, yet Roman society was a consumer society, and there had to be tools to enable the way of life. Pieces ranging from woodwork to all consumer objects - pottery, furniture, whatever you would have around a space that people are living or working in. I believe very much in objects, in artifacts. The fabrics are simply to show the subsequent stratifications of life.
"Color plays a large role in character identification. For example, the wealthier people could afford brighter, more vibrant colors in their fabrics, so their homes are filled with color. The Suburra has a much more limited palette. And for each character there are key colors - deep reds for Caesar to highlight his masculine or warrior aspects, water colors such as pale greens and blues for Servilia, because she is elegant and refined, and her nature is cooler and more elusive than Atia, who is brash and passionate. Atia's villa is all in shades of red, black and gold.
"Much of our fabrics come from
A Roman herself, Onori takes pride in working on a project set in her hometown, and her research has opened her eyes to links to the past that still exist but are easily overlooked. "Now, when I walk the streets, especially the small ones, I notice something that I may have seen all my life but I now realize it's actually from a long time ago. It's almost like regaining a lost memory, a lost connection, and makes living in this reality richer."
Bennett agrees that