Ochre domes characterize the desert village in 'Bagani'
The sand dunes of Paoay was where Leeroy New and his team built the desert village set
The initial design for the desert village
A fishing village set against the Pangil rock formations
A sketch from which the fishing village was based
The boat-like houses in the fishing village
Tree houses in the forest village
The tree house village of the forest region
One of Leeroy New's sets for 'Bagani'
Sketch of the trade village set
The port for the trade city
MANILA -- The worlds the artist Leeroy New create are never of the here and now. They are fantastical visions even as their building blocks are mined not far from the real-life environments these worlds stand on.
The post-apocalyptic sculpture park in the Paoay sand dunes come to mind, with its mammoth bamboo spaceship, and water tanks made out of Ilocano junk. The Psychopomp Reef he built on BGC grounds in 2011, made mainly of plastic tubes and cables, was a bright orange garden of overgrown alien corals on manicured grass—or what looks like someone’s acid trip come to life.
The sets New created for the just-premiered ABS-CBN fantasy series "Bagani" fits right in with the abovementioned company. Except the serye’s island universe had big network money.
New got the call for Bagani in mid-2016. “The head writer, Mark Angos, first introduced me to this alternative mythological Philippines he was writing via a Skype meeting,” says the artist. “At that point the visual descriptions were still very open and that’s where I was to come in.”
New, who has designed sets for the stage, for the APEC, and a “floating island” on the Pasig River, was then in the thick of a residency program but wasted no time and quickly enjoined the services of his comrades: his associate designer, Georjanno Abenoja, and associate production designer, Veronica San Antonio. The group started creating a visual guide, “a design bible of sorts” which included everything from the series architecture to costumes and weaponry.
"Bagani," which stars Enrique Gil, Matteo Guidicelli, Sofia Andres, Makisig Morales and Liza Soberano, is about five young individuals given mythological powers to protect their world against evil forces. While imbued with elements of Filipino folklore, it is set in the fictional milieu of Sansinukob, which is divided into five groups: farmers, fishermen, forest dwellers, traders and desert people. The narrative’s struggles and conflicts arise from their differences.
Each group inhabit a village of their own. New developed the designs for each perusing the initial script, welcoming the creative space that the early visual descriptions allowed him.
“I pretty much had a lot of control over the visualization of the worlds with due consideration to what has already been written. I was pleasantly surprised at how open they were with the designs we’ve made,” the artist says.
To be sure, he pulled from many troves of inspiration. “But I think at this point it’s just hard to pinpoint exactly one source since after having grown up voraciously consuming sci-fi, horror, and fantasy narratives, it has become intuitive at this point.”
The bigger challenge was how to physically translate the ideas, and set new construction strategies within the limits of the production.
From the trailer alone, "Bagani" looks like an epic undertaking. New’s team completed the sets for the four villages in a little over a month in Ilocos, out of the six villages that made up the Bagani world in early 2017. There were four separate teams composed of eight to 12 people who worked on every village. There were separate teams, too, in charge of costumes, props and weaponry.
“Another major challenge were the extreme locations of every village that came with an assortment of physical obstacles, from ‘desert’ heat to strong winds to rough, jagged terrain,” recalls New, who also designed special sets for the just-concluded "La Luna Sangre."
“The challenge always is that our ambitions far exceed the conditions and the systems we work in,” the artist adds. “There aren’t too many artists, designers, and skilled craftsmen interested or working in local production design, mainly because our local productions have not allowed for this crucial aspect of filmmaking to develop itself as much, and when you’re in the business of designing worlds with such epic potential as 'Bagani,' one or two or even 10 artists or designers are not enough. My OC self would have wanted to make sure every little detail was on point, which is impossible given our current production capacities.
“But I do believe we’d made some breakthroughs in local TV design and the team is ecstatic with the results so for us it’s a victory worth celebrating.”