Designing An Amazing Week On The Street
From stunts and storms to underground scenes and explosions, discover all the behind the scenes secrets of Coronation Street's supremely talented design team.
We spoke to Rosie Mullins-Hoyle (Head of Production Design) and Chris Kay (Art Director)
We’ve had the sinkhole in the Platts back garden for a while now, have you been waiting for something huge to happen with the sinkhole?
Rosie - I kept asking the question ‘when can we fill it in’, we were getting really twitchy about putting it right as we had this massive pile of earth waiting to go back in, then we got told you won’t be filling it in as it’s going to be part of a massive storyline.
Obviously you knew super soap week was coming but due to the ongoing Covid pandemic were you surprised by the scale of what the editorial team had planned?
Rosie - yes and no, it feels like we’ve been working so carefully to stick to all the Covid protocols to keep everyone safe but at the same time we’ve been wanting to do our job and get stuck into the exciting stuff. So although it’s a massive storyline and it’s pushed every single one of us, I think we were all completely ready for it. There’s an amazing range of skills in the team and something like this brings out the best in everyone and pushes them to another level.
How did you feel when you were told about the scale of the storyline? Were you excited having gone so long without a big set piece?
Chris - We’ve been really busy since we came back, constantly adjusting the sets to make them safe for Covid, there’s a whole element of extra work going through the scripts and working out what we can and can’t do. Then we got this document and it was a case of how can we create what you want and how can we create it safely to shoot for Covid. It’s a whole extra layer you wouldn’t have had to think about prior to this.
Rosie - It can feel overwhelming when you look at it as a whole but it was about dividing and conquering, breaking it down into areas that felt achievable. Chris did a lot of background research, getting photos and drawings of sewer systems and then applying it practically to what would be realistic under Coronation Street for the sort of era it was built. We wanted it to feel as real as possible.
Chris - Secondly it was a case of where the hell are we going to film this, normally you’d go somewhere with a tank but we needed more than just that so we used Space Studios where we hired portable swimming pools and suspended the sets into the pools. We couldn’t put any weight onto the floor, it was a whole new world of engineering for us and we didn’t know if it would work until we tried it.
Rosie: Then you’re asking cast the sizes for their wet suits and they’re thinking what on earth are they about to ask us to do! But everyone has been so excited to be working on it.
How did the cast react when they arrived at the studio and saw exactly what you had planned for them?
Chris: There was a real buzz from the actors, they got fully immersed into it.
Did you enjoy getting to create something off site again as we’ve been quite restricted in the last 20 months to where we can work?
Rosie: It was good to have that variety again, we haven’t been able to film in locations until recently and we’ve missed that. It was great to get off site and do some massive builds again.
Did Covid bring extra challenges to the project?
Chris: The logistics of building parts of the set in our workshop then transporting them were challenging, that’s when Covid kicked in again because you couldn’t have people using the same vehicles etc. Also we had to make sets slightly bigger to give everyone that distance.
Rosie: Like other parts of the building industry at times we’ve struggled to get materials, so we had to really take that into account with our targets then throw into the mix keeping everyone distanced at 2 metres while working, having people wearing masks etc. It means all shots have to be very carefully planned, you can’t just have the same size crew that you would have had in the past so it had to be very co-ordinated. Also we were in water, the long pipe set was all on an electronic pulley system so safety wise we could lift it up if we needed to get someone out quickly and so we could raise and drop the set to make it look like the water levels were rising and the characters were losing the space and air pockets in it.
Now that you're starting to see the episodes, are you pleased with how the set design looks, do you think you pulled it off despite all the extra challenges?
Chris: We’re really pleased with it, hats off to all the team, I think they nailed it.
Rosie: We’re so excited for people to see it and very proud of the work everyone has put into it. It’s pulled upon a massive range of skill sets to achieve this and we’re so happy. I’m looking forward to watching it as a viewer and seeing all the sequences come together because we had scenes shot on the street, in our studio, over at Space Studios and on location and it’s exciting to see them all come together. There were parts built in different locations; the House of Horrors on the street, the sinkhole in studio, the crash on location which all had to be pieced together but hopefully it will be seamless when you watch as a viewer.
Did you use any special effects to help with the design?
Chris: We could only actually dig down 70cms on the street for the sinkhole so we had to create a platform and the edges of the hole again so we could see people looking down, then we used CGI to give it that extra depth.
Rosie: We worked with visual effects, special effects and then a combination of builds to be able to get everything that was needed.
Chris: It enabled us to give the suggestion that the tunnel goes on further than it does. We also had an effects team with pumps on set pouring more water into the pools to make the water flow and give the impression of more water flooding in.
How long have you been working on this?
Chris: We started in March.
Rosie: Yes it was 5 months of planning before we started filming, we saw the first drafts of scripts then worked with editorial on what we could and couldn’t do, and where we could make it even bigger.
Do you have any interesting facts and figures about what was involved?
Chris: The biggest consideration was the water, we got the pools but then we had to speak to Space Studios to say is it safe to hold that much water in a studio. There were five full tanker loads of water and it took over two days to fill all of the pools. It took us about two months to build the set from start to finish, before that it was all the design process.
You’ve done a lot of big set pieces for storylines over the years, how do you think this one ranks for scale, considering we also had covid to take into account?
Rosie: It’s right up at the top, I think the last time we did anything on this scale was the 50th anniversary with the tram crash! Then you throw into the mix a pandemic and the constraints that come with it, which when you watch it I don’t think anyone would be aware of.
Chris: There were four crews all filming at once with four different directors and we had to make the link between those units seamless, whereas before covid one director would have overseen all those episodes. Communication was so important and hopefully you’ll see it all came together.
Alongside the sink hole and the flood there was also a car crash, a criminal on the loose with a gun and the House of Horrors to contend with. How did it all come together?
Rosie: The thing I love about these episodes is there’s not just one thing going on, there’s like six things all happening at once. It’s so fast paced, just reading the scripts I was completely drawn into it. From the rushes I’ve seen so far I wasn’t even looking at our backgrounds because the performances are so good. But I know that because those backgrounds are so good that’s what’s helped the cast get into character and make it look so real. We smashed up a prison van, blew up Dev’s car, collapsed a sinkhole, then just at the end when you think things might be calming down there’s a load more on the street, it’s action packed throughout. There are so many different elements, it’s been a really full on few months.
How did you feel when you read those scripts for the first time and realised how many things you were going to have to do to bring them to life?
Chris: The first time we read it there was that surprise then it was a case of divide and conquer, splitting sections between the team.
Rosie: It’s the bit of the job that we thrive on, when it does get crazy and there are so many elements to work on, that’s why you do the job. It’s the exciting times, where you get stuck in and everyone just loves it, the pace of it has been incredible.
Chris: But once a year is enough!