An Australian film found a unique way to save time and money while shooting at Docklands Studios Melbourne – making some of the sets from cardboard.
Like most indie productions, the sci-fi action feature, The Wheel sought a big look on a limited budget. The challenge was to build a 15-metre-long concrete corridor for the story about a paraplegic inmate who becomes a ‘lab rat’ in a scientific experiment.
The corridor had to match the concrete interior of the Hoppers Crossing Pumping Station outside Melbourne, where other scenes were being filmed. The producers flinched at quotes for building the set with the usual materials such as plywood, steel or cement, and even considered omitting the corridor scenes.
Enter Liam McLachlan – the 20-year-old son of the movie’s Director Dee McLachlan – who knows a thing or two about cardboard. Since age 13, Liam has been obsessed with Boxwars, a hobby where people construct elaborate costumes and props for themed battles in public parks.
Having built armour, weapons and four-wheeled vehicles from cardboard, designing a corridor was all in a day’s fun for Liam. Under the direction of production designer Robert Webb, Liam used an open source computer program called Blender to create a 3D-model where he could place a virtual camera inside the world of the set.
“Everyone was incredibly sceptical that it would ever work. I think we slowly convinced them, and once we did a trial day, which showed them what it would look like, Rob, the designer was instantly sold. He loved it,” Mclachlan said.
The build took less than two weeks, with McLachlan working alongside close friends and fellow Boxwars enthusiasts, Will Burgin Stevenson and Noah Burdekin. A hot glue gun was used to put the panels together. “That stuff is amazing, it dries in about 30 seconds, and it’s cheap!” Scenic artists then came in to complete the concrete bunker effect.
The cardboard is recyclable and surprisingly strong, according to McLachlan. “If you put it vertically it holds a lot of weight as long as you have the correct angle. So every sheet of cardboard is one and a half metres wide and you have four triangle struts at right angles, and the roof sat on top of that.”
Naturally there are limits to the amount of pressure cardboard can withstand. Three other sets for the movie – a board room, a control room and a ‘steel’ room – were built from timber, steel and plywood or a combination of these materials.
The cost of cardboard is a fraction – Liam estimates around one tenth – of other commonly used building materials. Other cost savings were found by shooting at Docklands Studios, according to The Wheel producers Veronica Sive and Silvio Salom. “Regardless of the external conditions, in the stage we could shoot 10 hour days on the various sets. With two cameras rolling on one particular day we managed 88 set ups,” said Sive.
As for the cardboard sets, McLachlan might have just stumbled on a winning business idea. Completing a Bachelor of Science at Melbourne University majoring, not surprisingly, in physics, McLachlan has already been contacted by at least one other screen production, while the producers of The Wheel hope to use his skills in their next movie later this year.
McLachlan concedes The Wheel may not be the first time cardboard have appeared on screen – the long-running TV series Doctor Who comes to mind. But he adds, “some of those sets looked so cheap and obviously made out of cardboard. This is the first time it’s been done well!”
The Wheel is produced by Veronica Sive and Silvio Salom of SunJive Studios and directed by Dee McLachlan (Out of the Shadows, The Jammed). It stars David Arquette (Scream) alongside Jackson Gallagher (Patrick, Home and Away) and Kendal Rae (Out of the Shadows, The Shannara Chronicles).
It tells the story of a paraplegic inmate (Jackson’s Matt Mills) forced to take part in a scientific experiment that will give him use of his legs. Dr Emmett Snyder (Arquette) along with Dr Allison Turner (Rae) push Mills to breaking point, as he fights off a succession of assailants, mysteriously becoming stronger.
You can see more of Liam McLachlan’s work at: https://pictank.wixsite.com/mysite-1