Derek McLane's Scenic Designs

  • Category: Art,
  • Words: 826 Pages: 4
  • Published: 15 March 2021
  • Copied: 171

My favorite design of Derek McLane is his Moulin Rouge set or The Night in Iguana set. The Moulin Rouge set is dazzling and pleasing, but still professional and not overwhelming. The Night in Iguana set is the direct opposite of the Moulin Rouge set: it is simple and calm, yet somehow so vivid and full of character. Mclane upholds balances like these so perfectly, and does it often.  

I chose Derek McLane because of his Moulin Rouge set, and after viewing his work on plays such as Rafta, Rafta, and Two Gentlemen of Verona, my original thoughts on his set design remain true. His incorporation of lighting is brilliant, as he blends it with his set well. Every piece of the set is enhanced by the lighting design, such as the chairs and carpets in The Voysey Inheritance. These pieces of furniture and tapestry are coated in subtle colored lighting, which makes them and the rest of the set much more vivid. Besides the lighting, he is fantastic at the set layout. There is so much going on, but it is done in a way that adds to the experience, rather than distracting you. However, one of my favorite parts of McLanes’s scenic design qualities is his artistic range. He makes massive, stunning, and bright stages, such as the Moulin Rouge set. But he can also take everything I have praised him for and fit into a casual room in a house, or a simple stage with an American flag background. It is truly incredible how he can broadcast his style of design across all genres and types of plays.

I assume Mclane thinks very hard about lighting when creating these sets, more so than others. He designs the set to be enhanced with the lighting. I’m sure his process is mostly similar to that of other directors, other than a focus on strong lighting and more focus on the finer details of the set. Through some research, I have found information on how Derek McLane develops plays using modern technology. He begins like most others, with notebook sketches. Often from the audience or bird's-eye view, these sketches lay the groundwork for planning and design purposes. Then, he uses software like photoshop to render and edit the stage. This isn’t to replace set models, as he still creates models. However, both for documentation and planning, he also submits them digitally. He does his photoshop renders in layers, where each layer adds new details and designs to the set. The use of layers is likely how he can fit so many unique details on stage.

The Aesthetic I get from Derek McLane is a Holywood aesthetic. What I mean is a very judicial use of lighting and eye-catching flashy details without ruining the overall idea of the play. These are instead used as fuel for the real action of a story to take place. Hollywood is what came to my mind to describe his work: Professional, yet fun. Bright, but not overwhelming. These are the best ways I can summarize Mclane’s work, but he could probably fit into more aesthetics, due to his wide range and impressive ability to adapt his sets to fit other tones and moods. 

While looking over Derek’s work, one thing catches my attention: His talent at filling a room. In all of his sets that utilize home and room looks, he has managed to make them perfect. Every detail fits into the room, and nothing on its own usually stands out. He puts furniture, windows, open doors that lead to other rooms, coat hangers, and more to give the room a lived-in feel. The best part is that he does it all without overcrowding the stage, which is a pretty great thing. I imagine the struggle of balancing emptiness and overcrowding is one of the more difficult aspects of set design, and he does it with seemingly no problem. 

Another thing I notice about his work is his range. He can make many scenes and sets for different scripts and genres. He has made fancy homes, clubs, and mind-bending stages such as those in Two Gentlemen in Verona. That stage, which is almost surrounded by pieces of flat and crumpled up pieces of paper, differs greatly from sets such as those in China Doll or The Best Man. However, you still know that they are all his pieces of work, through style and the amount of detail present. 

Speaking of detail, the last thing I notice about most of the work Mclane does is his use of details. He uses details in more ways than just hiding a secret for viewers to find. He also uses them to fill a room. For example, in The Voysey Residents, my eyes were focused on the furniture and how the lighting plays on it. However, I noticed that the room felt small, though not in a bad way, and just in general everything felt closer together. I eventually realized that this was due to the walls being covered top to bottom in portraits. I hadn’t even noticed, but all the portraits subconsciously made the room less empty. It is things like this that truly set Derek McLane apart from other set designers as his work shows an understanding of not just scenic design, but lighting and prop design as well.

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