Lucien is the director at Factory Settings, a scenic construction company, based in East London.
For us at Factory Settings, constructing
strange imaginings is our stock-in-trade. Unfortunately, most of the more
outlandish enquiries never get to the production stage. It's an all-too
familiar conversation these days when we get a call, for example, asking "Can
you make us several dinosaurs to be installed around London?"
Of course the short answer is yes,
but when that is the entire brief for the job, it is an indicator of a pretty
spurious project or, at best, a very difficult one. If the client, and in
particular the designer, have not yet written a detailed brief or come up with
drawings to indicate more or less what they want, it is a bad indicator. And it happens a lot.
It was with a slightly wary mind-set
then, that I took the receiver from Jon in our office as he said, "It's someone
wanting a giant polar bear…".
Happily for me, Chris Kelly, the
designer of Aurora the
giant polar bear, had considerably more information for us to discuss. I think it is fair to say that he was as wary as I was in terms of
checking out our credentials and our previous work, and most importantly,
discussing at length his requirements for the project in practical as well as
After a few meetings, we had mapped
out a timescale (short), a method of construction, and the required finishes
for the piece. Hannah, who oversaw the Aurora project for Greenpeace, then
gave us the green light to proceed, and so began a rather compressed build
process involving various disciplines of fabricators, sculptors, painters,
engineers, seamstresses and sundry volunteers.
It was a constant push to keep them
all supplied with the right information and materials, in order to keep the
build moving with the speed it required. Having Chris with us in the workshop
for much of the build was invaluable. Having a designer on site can be
difficult - there can be a tendency to obsess over details or want to re-work
or even re-design elements that are finished. With Chris however, it was
simply a pleasure to feel like we were collaborating to realise his designs.
I got into this business because I
love making things, but these days I am mostly office-bound. Every now
and then I sneak back into the workshop if I feel a project is special or needs
a bit of a push. Aurora was both, and I ended up spending the last week
of the build period in the workshop working on her.
Inevitably, as the deadline
approached it got even busier in the workshop. In the last few (very
long) days, all the elements finally came together, which was good because I
was starting to feel a bit delirious.
It was hard to begrudge the hours
though. Normally on a late-night workshop session to hit a deadline,
there is an uncomfortable feeling as if one's professionalism and the will to
keep working are fighting against the fatigue and the feelings of pressure
about the deadline. The former always wins out, but it can be an
unpleasant process, particularly when mistakes occur.
With Aurora it was very different. Every time I felt a bit weary I would end up looking up at her and
feeling excited and enthused again. It was simply a very special build,
and exactly the sort of thing I got into this industry to do. All of our
projects are important to us, but in the eight years of Factory Settings, she
is definitely my favourite.
On Monday morning we loaded Aurora
onto two trucks and sent her off for the puppeteers to rehearse with. If
anyone noticed a bit of moisture on my face it must have been dust in my eye...
Find out how you can walk
with Aurora through central London on 15 September.