Period Authenticity With Exodus: Gods And Kings Set Decorator Celia Bobak
Period authenticity was always a priority to set decorator Celia Bobak in creating sets for Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” However certain liberties had to be taken. For instance, Egyptian tables were low to the ground, a point Bobak notes a contemporary audience would find ludicrous.
“It’s important to remember we’re not making a documentary,” said Bobak. “This is our take on that world.”
After being selected by Scott’s frequent production designer Arthur Max, Bobak researched the project by inspecting exhibits at the Cairo Museum, studying Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian archeology archives of furniture and daily use object illustrations, and reviewing nineteenth century orientalist painters and Dutch painter Alma-Tadema’s work – imagery Scott particularly loves that influenced the furniture and set decoration for the Egyptian palaces. Once Max and Bobak established the look of each set, a crew of prop makers, graphic designers, carpenters and many others were employed to create the material that brought each set to life.
“I had a wonderful team under me. My assistant set decorator, Abi Groves, and several assistants in charge of hand props, flags, and horse dressings were invaluable,” said Bobak. “All the furniture for the Egyptian palaces was designed by art directors working for the Set Decoration department and made by our prop making department. The materials for these were anything but authentic, however we had wonderful painters and much of the surface decoration on the furniture was designed and applied.”
Hieroglyphics seen on ceilings, columns and furniture was a surface decoration that proved a challenging hurdle. Team member Jonathan Houlding used a computer program that supplied an ornate stencil. The stencil was applied to the surfaces then sealed with a glaze. Stencils were also used on fabric wall panels. Tables with ornate emblems such as lion heads and lotus flowers were crafted by building steel frames that a fast cast material was applied to allowing prop makers greater flexibility in molding and shaping them.
“If we had to carve them out of wood, we would still be carving them right now,” said Bobak.
To enhance the warm, golden color palette, cinematographer Dariusz Wolski requested silks and Roman blind window dressing. While linen and wools were more period specific, Bobak felt the fabric texture worked to great effect. She also utilized African skins and flowers to replace needed local material that lacked quality or freshness.
Due to the enormous scope of the project, Bobak had a counterpart, Pilar Revuelta, for the scenes shot in Almeria, Spain. Revuelta dressed the Egyptian town, the slums, the brickfields, quarry, Moses’s guerrilla hideout in the hills and the Battle of Kadesh. Bobak spent a week on the Almeria set to ensure all was on track. While shooting occurred in Almeria, Bobak dressed the sets in Fuertaventura including the slaves’ exodus from Egypt, their travels through the countryside, the encampment on the beach and the crossing of the Red Sea. Bobak also dressed the scholar’s hut, the royal palaces and royal stables at Pinewood Studios in London, the Viceroy’s villa shot in Spain, and the Median village.
Period films are not a new experience for Bobak. She has been the set decorator on “Love’s Labour’s Lost”, “The Magic Flute” and “The Phantom of the Opera” for which she earned an Oscar nomination. This was her first time working with ancient Egypt, however, and she was astounded by the things she learned about the ancient civilization.
“They were astonishingly forward thinking and such a sophisticated, amazing race,” said Bobak. “The tools they used haven’t changed in thousands of years.”
Up next, Bobak reteams with production designer Arthur Max on Ridley Scott’s upcoming sci-fi production, “The Martian”, currently in production in Hungary.
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