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Production Design And Art Direction Teams of "Band of Brothers"
Recreate The Look And Feel Of Wartime Europe

Band of Brothers

Easy Company’s story begins in the United States and spans Europe from England to Austria, with action taking place in 11 towns and villages. The mammoth undertaking of recreating the look and feel of these many locations for the HBO miniseries "Band Of Brothers" fell to the talented team of location supervisor Nick Daubeny, production designer Anthony Pratt and senior art director Alan Tomkins. For co-executive producer Tony To, there was no question that the project had to be shot in Europe, rather than on the back lots of Los Angeles. "On a heavy day, there are as many as 700 cast and crew members on set, and it would be cost-prohibitive to take that many people for an extended time to somewhere in Northern California, where the topography and vegetation vaguely resemble Europe. Also, most of the 1940s equipment – tanks, vehicles, weaponry, etc. – is already in Europe, because after the war ended, it was too expensive to ship it back to America." Daubeny and Pratt took a whirlwind tour of Europe, visiting actual battlefields and villages. Locations in England, Ireland and the Czech Republic were all candidates for production headquarters.

Seen as a highly prestigious project that would bring many economic benefits to the host country, the governments of all three countries competitively wooed the producers. England had an advantage because, says To, "the best craftsmen in the industry outside of Los Angeles are there," and going anywhere else would have meant bringing the entire crew along. However, Britain had a complex and antiquated sales lease-back law that would have made it difficult to do business. After meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chris Smith, then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, both of whom recognized the need to update the law, the British Parliament passed a change that made it easier for foreign companies to make films in the UK – not just for "Band Of Brothers," but for all future films. Between the change in the law and the enthusiastic support of the British military for the production, England won out.

When searching for a suitable location, Daubeny stresses that "it’s very important to not underestimate the impact that the production will have on the surrounding community, especially when filming war scenes involving tank battles and explosions." The sheer size of the production staff that will be taking up residence for an extended time is of concern to the local residents as well, so it’s important to have a good relationship with the neighbors.

Working out agreements with local government officials also fell to Daubeny. Having determined that it would be too expensive to travel all over England to find forests, dykes, hedgerows and other sites, the location had to provide all of that within 30 miles of London. The Hatfield Aerodrome in Hertfordshire, previously host to part of the "Saving Private Ryan" shoot, became the principal location, and sets of the English, Dutch and French sites, including a river and massive dykes, were created there. Shooting also took place on location in other parts of England and Switzerland. Originally an airfield where British Aerospace built and tested new aircraft, Hatfield offered 1000 acres of open space as well as empty airplane hangars – perfect for indoor sets and construction needs – as well as office space. Daubeny found that the neighbors have been "very cooperative about the occasional noise and disruption, partly because of the prestige of the project, and also out of memory of the war years and gratitude for the assistance of American soldiers in the '40's."

Once the location was settled, production designer Anthony Pratt began to visualize the various sets – first, "what it should be, then what it can be because of budget and other restrictions.” To solve the problem of recreating 11 villages, Pratt used basic building frames that could be revamped with different details – windows, gates, doors, etc. – and serve multiple purposes. For example, the factory in Neunen became a church in Bastogne by grafting new external traits on to the existing architecture. The biggest challenge Pratt faced was changing one town into another very quickly, as well as keeping track of what towns were in which episode, when those episodes would be shot, and in what condition the towns needed to be for each episode – pristine or bombed-out. If one episode ran behind schedule, he had to find a way to keep the sets for other episodes’ shooting schedules on track. To plan the logistics, a scale set model was built to work out physically where to put everything and demonstrate how a structure changes from one use to another. Then, Pratt’s talented crew of 15 draftsmen and nearly 200 construction workers made the model a reality. The model was helpful to the directors as a visual guide for what had been done and what was possible to do, and also demonstrated consistency in the sets from episode to episode. Many of the directors became involved after the majority of the set work was done, so Pratt and To had to anticipate what the directors’ needs would be.

Once the sets were in place, senior art director Alan Tomkins stepped in to provide the hardware – all of the tanks, planes, boats, jeeps and trucks were his domain. Drawing on a lifelong hobby, Tomkins’ expertise in building and refurbishing tanks was invaluable to the production. He and his team scoured Europe for tanks and vehicles of the era, and built whatever they couldn’t find. Stripped-down Russian T-34 tanks from the war era were rebuilt as American Tiger tanks, and modern Army Personnel Carriers (APCs) from the British military were the foundation for the German Panzer tanks. Each tank took about 12 weeks to complete, but the effort was well worth it, because building their own allowed "total freedom to blow them up" – something not possible with borrowed tanks. As with every other aspect of the production, authenticity was of utmost importance, and careful attention to detail ensured that these tanks were just like the originals.

Besides building villages and vehicles, the art department recreated the Bois Jacques, a forest outside of Bastogne, Belgium, where the Battle of the Bulge took place in the dead of winter. Inside one of Hatfield’s empty hangars, the construction department drilled hundreds of holes in the concrete floor, filled them with real trees, as well as 250 trees created by the special effects department, led by Joss Williams, and then backfilled the entire set with five feet of earth. Head snowman David Crownshaw and his team from Snow Business then created tons of "snow" by mixing cellulose with polymers and plastics, with varieties ranging from fine powder to wet, heavy slush. It took four weeks to dress the forest set, individually dressing every tree and laying snow a foot and a half deep on the ground.

Though a daunting task, the combined efforts of Daubeny, Pratt and Tomkins and their crews brought to life nearly a dozen villages of a different time, ensuring an authentic look and feel for the locations in which the heroic story of Easy Company could be told.

Band of Brothers

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