Tuesday, August 1, 1989


I attended Graduate school at Carnegie Mellon, in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. I had a double major: Costume design and Scenic design, in the Theater department.

Before graduation in 1989 I had to do my THESIS PROJECTS. For me, as a double theater major, this meant doing all the designs for a fictitious production, as if it had an unlimited budget. Unlike the rest of the students, I was uninterested in doing a play, musical or opera. Instead, I wanted to do a MOVIE!!!

This was a problem because movie design wasn't part of our education, although I did design a television set for a special project. My professor, Cletus Anderson, was a movie production designer who worked primarily for George Romero, and I figured he'd be well qualified to advise and judge my work. Well, to make a long story short, I eventually wore him down and he let me do the project. He came up with an assignment:

Pick a short story.
Turn it into an outline or treatment to show how it would be a movie.
Do production paintings of all the major sets.
Do detailed design drawings and color boards for one of those sets.
Do costume designs with fabric swatches for all the costumes in the movie.
Do storyboards for enough scenes to identify all the necessary sets and movie scope.

Cletus knew that even a small movie is extremely complex, so he hoped I'd pick a simple story to keep the number of sets down.

Instead, I picked an EPIC short story: RAY BRADBURY'S LOST CITY OF MARS.

Why this story? I have no idea now, so many years later. But I was looking for something totally 'out there', and this story features a voyage into a completely alien city, and I loved the idea of inventing my own idea of architecture, without having to rely on historic architecture, which I've never had that much interest in.

I worked at it for months, drawing, sketching, planning... It was fun! I never did quite complete the assignment, because it was true that the project was way more complex than I thought at first. In the end, what I came up with was more of a movie proposal than a full-blown design. However, I did so many drawings and designs, far more than any of my fellow students, that Cletus passed me based solely on sheer amount of work done (it was strictly a pass/fail type of thing).

After I graduated I occasionally thought perhaps I ought to do something with the project. At the very minimum, I thought it would be fun to show it to Ray Bradbury. But ultimately I got a job at Walt Disney Imagineering and got so caught up in my career that I completely left my movie design plans behind.

Fast forward to October, 2007. I received an invitation to attend a special celebration at Club 33 at Disneyland, where Ray Bradbury was to be the guest of honor! He was being honored for his longtime work with Disney. 32 years previous he had published his book "The Halloween Tree" and now Disneyland had decided to add a Halloween Tree to Disneyland, with a commemorative plaque, which every year on Halloween will be decorated and embellished. Basically giving Ray a place in Disneyland forever!

So it occurred to me that I could cut together all that artwork and create a proposal that I could hand to Ray! Not necessarily to turn it into an actual project, but as a commemoration of my own, a thanks to him for his inspirational work. Lately Ray, who is very old, is traveling the world receiving honors and attending new theatrical productions based on his work.

So I put together these pages, and bound them together into a book and Tony Baxter, the Imagineer who organized the event, introduced me to Ray so I could hand it to him. He's a bit hard of hearing, and I wasn't entirely sure he understood what it was. But a little while later I took him MY copy of the proposal so he could sign it. Inside the first page he wrote "A+! Ray Bradbury". Yay!

I have no idea if Ray has ever looked through this proposal, or if he likes it or hates it. He's a pretty persnickety dude, and I wouldn't be suprised if he didn't like it, but hey, I did it a long time ago.

DESIGN NOTES: I changed the plot slightly from the original story, but not that much. Mostly to add elements that would make more scientific sense, as well as elements in the end to give a more happy ending to the story. The short story ends in such a way that it feels quite bleak and bizarre, but I thought it needed something more romantic, or at least more conventionally romantic.

MOTIFS: The main motif I used throughout was the shape of an eye. This is due to a theme of 'observation' found throughout the story. The astronauts are observing distant planets, and the Martian city observes the occupants. Therefore I worked a lot of eye shapes into the martian scenery, mirrored by the eye shaped telescope of the astronaut's space telescope.

HUMAN STYLE: The colonists are recently arrived on Mars, so their equipment is mostly functional and kludged together. But some of the characters are very rich, so their private weapons and vehicles show a swooping, elegant design. The costumes I specifically designed to appear unrelated to modern dress, as if this story takes place far into the future. One of my pet peeves in most sci-fi movies is that they usually keep modern clothing basics, such as buttons, collars, shoe shapes, skirts for girls, pants for men etc... which I believe will disappear eventually. So I came up with a completely different way to shape collars, generally pointy and asymmetrical. And I made the shoes have a strange bridge over the top of the foot, primarily because its one of those arbitrary style things that people adopt to create a silhouette, not for any practical reason.

SCIENCE: I designed this as if Mars is being terraformed, and is to the point where people can walk and breathe freely, but they need small blowers in front of their faces to get enough oxygen. Also they need to wear clothing that will cut out the UV radiation from the sun. So each character has some sort of hood or had incorporating red transparent materials to eliminate UV in addition to red being the color of style on Mars.

MARTIAN STYLE: to contrast with the Human world, I tried to make the architecture mostly sculptural, avoiding human things like symmetry and geometry, and structures like arches and columns. Inside the city itself the technology is so advanced that the structure is completely hidden, so vast buildings can be entirely sculptural, without even the smallest hint of the mechanical systems that support them.

I doubt this project will ever become a movie, particularly because its a pretty obscure piece and there are a lot more famous Bradbury stories that would be made first. But if there were a movie version of the Lost City of Mars, I like to think it would look something like this.

Chuck Ballew