“Da Vinci’s Demons” is a tempting choice for Emmy voters deciding best production design for TV drama series. The Starz show is not only rich in the kind of period detail that often gets rewarded (ornate Italian palaces and churches of 15th-century Florence), but it’s full of wildly imaginative elements too (flying machines, Inca enchantings).
“Da Vinci’s Demons” production designer Ed Thomas calls the combo “Renaissance punk,” adding, “We’re not making a documentary. It’s a historical drama fantasy.”
To create those scenes, he builds 22 sets at a six-acre studio in Swansea, Wales, in the U.K. His team includes 350 people who work on fabrication, props, set dressing and more. The operations are so vast that it takes him two hours just to walk around the studio and check in with everybody on shooting days.
“Having a set that big means you can shoot two or more things at the same time,” he says in our video chat below. “You can be on the streets of Rome or Florence. They can interact with each other as deep background sets. If you pull in 300 extras to be on one set in the morning, you can move them to another one in the afternoon. Everything’s indoors protected from the weather. For high-end television, it really is the way to do stuff.”
Thomas has done of lot of other stuff in his notable career, including production design on more than 70 episodes of “Doctor Who.” He chuckles when I ask him if he thinks Leonardo Da Vinci could figure out how to fly the Tardis, Doctor Who’s infamous flying police call box.
“I think if you looked into DaVinci’s notes you’ll find that he designed the Tardis,” he says. “If you look closely in DaVinci’s studio in our show, you’ll see a drawing of the Tardis in the background.”