Building a world for the camera

 By Rick Taylor, Soap Opera Magazine, 1992

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Santa Barbara's veteran art director Richard Harvey reveals the fascinating behind-the-scenes process that goes into creating the show's stunning sets.

How do you go about creating a set ?

It begins with meetings between George Beckett, Santa Barbara's production designer, and the executive producer, Paul Rauch, about the set's concept. Once they agree what they want to do, George's design - a blend of art and architecture - is then integrated into the storyline.

What's next ?

The set has to be constructed. All the elements it takes to complete a set - from the props to the furniture - must be purchased, rented or manufactured either in-house or outside.

How many people are involved in creating all those sets ?

Teams of assistant art directors, carpenters, electricians, painters, lighting technicians, drapery experts, special effects experts, etc. While it's hard to put numbers on all the individuals involved, there's a long list of talented technicians and artists who are involved in putting it all together.

What makes daytime so different from television or feature films ?

Daytime TV is so fast, you don't have the luxury of time. We run a 24-hour operation. After each day's work, the night crew tears down and assembles all the sets we'll need for the next day. By 9:30 each morning, the sets must be decorated completely - right down to the toothpicks.

With such hair-raising deadlines, have you ever had any close calls ?

Sure. There are those moments when you don't think you're going to make it, but it always seems to come together. While recently remodeling the Oasis Hotel and Restaurant, we were having 36 chairs custom-made by a furniture finisher. With four days left before taping, I inspected the chairs. I couldn't believe it; the finishes were totally wrong. When I came back the next day, they were still unusable. I found another refinisher who was able to get it done right - with no time to spare.

How many sets does Santa Barbara have ?

Over 600. Many of these are temporary, or what we call "swing" sets. They'll only be used a few times, or even just once, if that's all the script calls for. But we have about 75 permanent sets, including the many rooms in the Capwell mansion, the Capwell yacht and corporate offices, the Oasis Hotel and Restaurant, the Lockridge estate, Cruz's residence and the newspaper office. These are the sets the audience sees most often.

What was involved in remodeling the Capwell mansion ?

It was a massive effort. The entire structure was changed because the executive producer wanted to enlarge and lighten the look of the mansion. The furniture was all custom-designed, the wood frames and fabric were selected for proper coloration and texture as were the draperies and carpets. Every accessory from the chandeliers to the candelabras were all specially selected.

Any specific anecdotes about the remodeling project ?

Even with budget constraints, we take great pains to make sure our standards are the highest. The chairs in the dining room were imported specially from Spain because they worked so well with the custom-made table. The beautiful Steinway grand piano in the Capwell living room used to be an old beat-up, pitted NBC rehearsal piano. But we saved a Fortune refinishing it and the transformation was amazing.

Are Santa Barbara 's sets designed with the show's characters in mind ?

Absolutely. In the developmental process, the storylines and qualities of the character are central. When we redesigned the Capwell mansion, we wanted to create an elaborate home, fitting for the richest man in Santa Barbara - C.C. Capwell. We wanted this set to make a statement about him.

Have you ever modified a set based on a character ?

The original wine cellar in C.C.'s home was completely redesigned. It wasn't appropriate for his character. The cellar was small and musty. It is now much more elaborate and spacious. Jed Allan was helpful in offering his own thoughts in the redesign - he believed the original cellar didn't behoove the stature of C.C..

What new sets have been designed for all the new characters ?

So far, we've designed a university classroom and Lily's dormitory room. We wanted her dorm room to reflect Lily's character and her past. Because Gina gave Lily up as a child and she had to fend for herself, her dorm furnishings are an eclectic collection of things she's just picked up along the way. The furniture - a chair and desk - are multicolored with dripped paint and there are some bizarre posters, including one of a car plunging into a swimming-pool.

What are some of the newer sets you've been involved with designing ?

We recently completed Mason and Julia's new home, which was a wedding present to Julia. The elaborate new mansion is in contrast to Julia's old home and clearly reflects Mason's character and the manner in which he grew up. Julia and Mason are newlyweds, so we kept their bed the same size as we found it - a relatively small double bed. We explored the possibility of obtaining a king-sized bed, but decided against it as this makes a statement about the status of their relationship. Other new sets include: the high school reunion set, which viewers recently saw, and Minx's bedroom which is just beautiful.