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The Magic Is In Their Hands: Props And Illustrations For “Land Of The Lost”

A degree in macro economics.  Formal art training by a Franciscan monk.  Three years as a chef in France.  Repairing frescos as a 16th century art curator.  This is the combined training of “Land of the Lost’s” prop master Scott Macginnis and illustrator Mauro Borrelli.

“I received a degree in macro economics,” said Macginnis. “I then moved to France for three years where I cooked in restaurants.   When I returned to America, I wanted to get into film, and through a strange circumstance some friends needed help and I became their on set dresser.  I can pretty much track whatever job I’ve worked on back to that one.”

The Property Master

After working for a year as a set dresser, Macginniss moved into properties which generally refers to any physical object that a character would carry along with them.

”Props is kind of interesting in that I have a cross over with the set decorator, with special effects, and a big cross-over with costumes,” said Macginnis.  “Sometimes I’ll do rings, sometimes there’s a special necklace that I will make, if we have a police person, costumes will do the uniform and I’ll do the badges, belts and the guns.”

When Macginnis acquires the script for a project, he first determines what items will definitely be props.  Then he meets with the director and the production designer to discuss ideas.  For “Land of the Lost,” Macginnis not only met with director Brad Silberling and production designer Bo Welch, he went back to the 1970s series.

“We definitely did watch some of the old TV shows,” said Macginnis.  “We actually had a bit of dealings with Sid and Marty Croft as well, who originally created the series.  There were a number of things that we tried to keep in the same vein, or step up a notch.”

One item fans of the series will recognize is the rubber raft that strands the characters.

“You can still get basically the same raft,” said Macginnis.  “In our version, it’s a real river rafting raft that we updated and made some adjustments to.    Anyone who knows the TV series will know that it’s a nod to the show.”

In addition to constructing and acquiring props, Macginnis works on prepping for location shoots.

“Basically my travel bag is a 53’ trailer crammed full of all sorts of things: wallets, face masks, glasses, rings and watches, things like that,” said Macginnis.  “At the beginning of the shoot we sort through material and pull out what we need for the specific movie. We put it on the trailer, and that gets dragged around with us.  We also have a lot of tools, kits and materials for making graphics because sometimes you’ll have to make something on the spot.”

Being prepared comes in handy especially for a film like ‘Land of the Lost,’ which was shot in the desert several miles outside of Los Angeles.  Macginnis took into consideration the effects the environment would have on props.  Cans of compressed air and other cleaning supplies were needed to remove sand and grime after each take.

“There’s the creative part, and there’s the logistic part,” said Macginnis.  “When we were making ‘Land of the Lost,’ we were three to four miles away from anything so we had to really plan.  You have to assume that something will go wrong.  For instance, we made five trackeon meters, the main prop in the movie.  If the first one broke and the second one was dropped and the third one was slimed on during a scene, I could sleep at night because I knew there’s another one I could hand to Will so production wasn’t slowed down while I fixed it on the trailer.”

A big part of Macginnis’ role is finding ways to balance budget while keeping the production flowing smoothly.

“Let’s say somebody’s going to break their cell phone by throwing it on the ground,” said Macginnis.  “I’ll literally get 200 of them because you never know how many takes there’ll be and what they might decide to change.  Then, you work backwards.  If we slow down production, it’s going to cost $20,000.  You then figure how much the props costs, and you can justify the extra purchases or fabrications by the amount of time they’d be wasting waiting on you.”

In addition to creating, purchasing and manipulating props, Macginnis is also responsible for hiring crew to assist him.

“I can have up to 20 people working plus people building and fabricating things,” said Macginnis.  “At any given time on ‘Land of the Lost,’ I’d have 2-3 people plus myself on stage.  The more actors that are working, the more people I’ll have with me.”

“I’m almost always there to open up the scene and ensure that everything is in its place and being used correctly.  Then I’ll go either out in the field, work on fabrication, or move onto the next set.  Delegating is a huge thing; knowing when to jump in and do it yourself, and knowing when you just have to let it go and trust that the other people you hired will do a good job with it.”

Macginnis has held a variety of production roles, including set decorator, writer, and director.  With every experience he’s absorbed as much information as possible.  “There’s always something new to learn,” said Macginnis.  “Technology keeps on changing, and every creative person has a slightly different way of doing things.”

Rapid proto-typing is one of those advancements that Macginnis applies to prop fabrication.

“Let’s say I need something made out of metal,” said Macginnis.  “If it‘s something symmetrical, I would have somebody make the wax mold of the piece, and then you’d mold it and pour it.  Now, you have your illustrator design it, you make a few adjustments and through a computer you input the drawing into a CMC machine. You put in your material and, using a computer program, it cuts it to the shape.  After you get the approval from the director on the prototype, I can make 100 of them exactly the same because it’s a computer program.”

Mauro Borrelli has also seen many advancements in his professional career.  He was taught classical painting by a Franciscan monk, and became a curator of 16th century art.  When he wasn’t painting himself, he was restoring frescos in the churches of Verona, Italy.

The Illustrator

While resuming classical painting studies in Rome, Borrelli was approached by a film maker interested in his work.

“Frances Ford Coppola saw me as a fine artist and wanted to speak with me,” said Borrelli.  “He liked my work, and wanted to bring me into ‘The Godfather.’  He was working in electronic cinema, and was the first to use previsualization.”  This technique was applied to Borrelli’s storyboard.

Previsualization is a process where the storyboard is fed into a computer and is run together as a loosely animated sequence.  Dialogue, sounds and music can be added to give the director a sense of how to build the scenes, and where to put the camera.  With current advancements in computer programs, previsualization is generally 3-D, however, “The Godfather” was made at a time when previsualization rendering could only accommodate 2-D.

Although Borrelli has worked as a storyboard artist in the past, he created illustrations for “Land of the Lost.”  The two disciplines provide unique resources on a film set.

“An illustration is like a keyframe,” said Borrelli.  “They are a very specific and time consuming piece.”  He works the closest with the production designer but also collaborates with the director.  “Sometimes the two will work with me together.”

As with Macginnis, Borrelli has also modified his style as film technology has changed.

“In the beginning I created illustrations in a very Italian tradition,” said Borrelli.  “I worked with large pieces of paper, at least 20” by 14”.  I would create the drawings with pastels on a dark paper.”  Moving into the Hollywood system, Borrelli began drafting with washes and pencil.  “This was very popular around ’94 or ’95.  The drawings were done on vellum, and this style did allow for a lot of mood to be captured in the drawing.”

As computer programs advanced, wash was no longer used.  A pencil drawing was scanned and color was added on the computer.  “Photoshop is what we use now to create the illustrations,” said Borrelli.  “We start with a 3-D model rendering, and then paint over the model with the Photoshop program.”

Once the illustration has been discussed with the production designer and is approved, it is then delivered to the construction manager.  “This person understands what the fabrication will cost,” said Borrelli.  “This person helps the director decide if the idea is better suited to be built as part of the set, or to be added as a visual effect.”

While working on the illustrations for “Land of the Lost,” Borrelli kept several basic concepts in mind. “I tried to be naive in the drawing, and allow for room to change.  I used a lot of very vivid, primary colors, like a child.  I made everything very bright.”

When Borrelli saw the trailer for “Land of the Lost,” he felt a great sense of satisfaction.  “The image from the trailer looked exactly like my illustration!  Sometimes, the illustrations are more of a reference point, and the final shot will look quite different.  This was so much the same!”

Macginnis also had a moment that was equally gratifying to him regarding his development of giant plaster crab legs filled with “crab meat.”  Due to the expense of their construction and their minimal use, extra legs were not made.

“That’s just one of those things that, after a number of years you realize, not arriving with the proper item is not an option.  You just have to do the absolute best you can under the circumstances, and it usually works out.  It was one of those times where the wind was blowing and we were running around and the sun was going down and we had to cram fake meat into these crab legs.  We had no idea how we pulled it off but it happened, it worked out.”

Working on “Land of the Lost” allowed both Borrelli and Macginnis to work in their favorite genre: the realm of fantasy and adventure.

“I like movies with a sense of exploring,” said Borrelli.

“I tend to be more interested in working on movies where you know it’s not real, that you’re watching a movie,” said Macginnis.  “You want to get the audience to a place where they don’t care that it’s not able to happen.  It’s fun to try to accomplish that and see how far you can push it and have people stay and want to go on that ride with you.”