This article is presented by Paramount Pictures.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves features many beautiful sets, from a prison in Icewind Dale to the fiery Underdark to the splendid city of Neverwinter. Den of Geek magazine welcomed production designer Ray Chan to take us through how he brought all these beloved settings to the big screen.
This was a real fun set that I’d designed where our heroes had to first navigate through the silent army of gnomes in an area in the gnomish city of Dolblunde that is filled with terracotta-style statues before climbing the steep Hill of Bones. The bones were made by our in-house prop-making team using conventional molding and casting techniques. All of the bones were cast in soft foam, making sure that if anyone fell, they would essentially land on a soft, bouncy surface. At the very top of the hill, where Themberchaud sleeps, most of the bones (human and creature) were still recognizable, but towards the bottom 1/3 of the hill, we used crushed sea shells instead; the concept was to mimic bones that had been there for millennia, almost turning into dust. By the end of the first week of filming, we started to get complaints because of the smell; however, the actors thought this was very amusing.
The side walls were all hand carved by our sculpting team, and my idea was to run the basalt rocks horizontally (as opposed to, say, the basalt rocks at Giant’s Causeway). The idea being that the horizontal tectonic plates in the Underdark were always in force with each other, forcing the weaker plates upwards in the valley.
This was another fun set that was originally conceived to be excavated within a natural rock formation; many are found around the globe, often nicknamed “Sea Stacks.”
I designed this set whilst looking at rock color formations in Australia, whereby the strong reds and deep oranges (from iron) were the key signatures. The sequence tells the backstory of Edgin and the guys secretly entering Korrin’s Keep, stealing as much treasure as possible before getting caught. For this visual, I designed a long catwalk/runway that started at the main entranceway and ran almost to the other side of the room. This catwalk became not only a super long table for the treasures but also something that the stunt team could run at speed or hide under whilst under attack from above.
The alarm system was a really cool element too. If the alarm was ever triggered, a flame would ignite a pool of oil that was held in a metal tray. So two lines of flames would trace around the room in a split second. Our Set Decorating team and SFX team really enjoyed making this as a practical in-camera effect. The set walls were made to withstand high heat and flame, making it really safe to film in.
This scene used a small part of the original set from Game of Thrones. Much of the King’s Landing set was destroyed for their last episode, but I’d found a little pocket where small staircases and a narrow, tight alleyway suited this execution scene. I took inspiration from the Medinas in Morocco, where you’d often see old timber beams spanning across the alleyways. Added to that, we made tattered reed shades acting as cover from the hot sun, giving the alley dynamic shadows on the tar-painted walls. Much of this fun scene highlighted Holga’s fighting skills and Edgin’s lack thereof.
This is where we find our heroes battling Sofina in the City of Neverwinter. I designed the plaza from many memories of working in Spain and the Mediterranean. Inspiration came from Alhambra, warm sandstone walls [and] beautiful luscious greenery that would provide shade in the heat. Delicate hand-painted tiles would adorn the tops of the columns, adding a splash of color now and again.
I had so much fun designing this plaza which also had a front façade to a huge amphitheater. The walls leading to the stadium were all handmade glazed tiles just like the Ishtar Gate, Turkey. I had this idea that we could introduce a fun element where dragons and beasts could be integrated into the tiles, almost like a modern-day poster advertising a sports event. Rivals do battle!
Instead of gravel, dirt, or stone pavers in the main plaza, I wanted to use soft round cobbles. My construction team made several “models” which they then molded to form several large molds. The clever part is pouring a concrete mix into small sections of the floor, and whilst it’s still soft, the team would press the molds into it, like a stamp. The entire set was made this way and looked incredible.
In the lore, Neverwinter was famed for its warm climate but, most of all, known for its talented gardeners. So I set about with my Greens team, making sure that every plant, every tree, even the large living wall conveyed that story. A further deep dive into the lore revealed Neverwinter artisans were highly skilled at making water clocks. My Set Decorating and Prop team made a fully functioning water clock that would feature in the town square opposite the living wall.
This is another scene in the movie where we see armies coming under attack from a Black dragon. We found a location called Clandiboye estate where we were allowed to excavate and dig into the landscape, basically creating a large scar. This was then dressed with the darkest soil and peat mix. Vegetable-based dyes were used on the green grass to simulate a burnt and decimated appearance. Once we dressed large chunks of coal and charcoal, the entire trench would become the “after-effect” of the Black dragon acid attack.
In this scene, Xenk meets his rival in Dralas and both duel amongst the silent army of gnomes. This was one of the first sets I designed, and I had this idea that deep within the bowels of the Underdark, an entire silent army of gnomes would either stand or kneel, all bearing gifts to Themberchaud.
Each gnome was built in four sections like a Greek column and stood at almost nine feet tall. I imagined that each gnome would carry a lotus leaf bowl, and within the bowl would be offerings of precious gems, food, and wine. However, Xenk had also hidden a magic relic in one of the bowls, and he was the only person that would know exactly which gnome, which bowl. For me, this idea played into the game and fun element; the relic was always there, hidden in plain sight, except it was only Xenk who knew.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves opens in theaters on March 31.