Friday, November 01, 2019

Thesis_Part 7_The North

In Lyra’s world, stories of the north are recounted in books and conversations but not many have actually ventured there. Thus, the idea of North and Arctic exploration provide the possibility for enchantment and adventure into the unknown.  Winters are brutal and bleak but there is magic in the skies.  My overall research included exploratory instruments from the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Landscape research for mood started with auroras and winter scapes from Lapland and Svalbard. 


Trollesund is the first town Lyra and the Gyptians reach on their journey north.  It is a port town made up of a diverse group of townspeople and travelers.  The people are taciturn and wary of those asking too many questions.  The winter paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder really encapsulate my initial impression of Trollesund.  Somewhat industrial, a little bleak, not incredibly welcoming, but won’t give you any trouble if you do what you have to do and move on.  It’s all a little transient and given the mix of cultures. With the threat of Mrs. Coulter’s General Oblation Board, no one knows who they can or cannot trust. While the Trollesund in our world is in the southern part of Sweden, I decided to shift the regional costumes a little further north in Lyra’s World in order to provide greater differentiation of setting.

Costume designs for Trollesund are pulled from the traditional dress of various groups in the Arctic region between Lapland and Siberia as well as Arctic exploration furs from the Western Victorian and Edwardian Eras.  Native tribes include the Nenets, Nganasan, and Evenki. The risk of cultural appropriation was again present with this group as I was only able to do a broad stroke research into the dress of so many of these tribes and groups.  I do not have extensive knowledge on the nuances and history of each tribe, but as Trollesund is a town for travelers, the mix of costumes allow for greater diversity and representation.  In addition to this inclusion, the patterns and varying silhouettes provide the audience greater visual interest in terms of stage picture.  I realized very quickly that dressing everyone like Roald Amundsen just makes the Trollesunders look like a boring mass of moving fur.


Bolvangar is the facility owned by the General Oblation Board that experiment on kidnapped children. It is a bleak prison-like building located in the middle of the Arctic surrounded by fencing and guards.  According to The Golden Compass, Bolvangar means “Fields of Evil.” From the research I was able to do on the etymology of this name, I believe it is derived from old Norse. 
I’ve always imagined Bolvangar as a very sterile place devoid of character or liveliness.  My research into thes costumes come from early hospitals. Since organized medicine and research were still so new, a lot of experimental protocols were a necessity and ethical issues still blurred.  Everyone is in uniform, devoid of individuality, foreshadowing and reflecting the severance between human and dæmon.  

Svalbard and Panserbjørn

Svalbard is the northernmost setting in Lyra’s world, the land of the Panserbjørn. The brutal cold and ice of Svalbard conjures up many stark and severe visuals.  I pulled my visual research from the Svalbard islands of our world along with cold landscapes of ice.

The Panserbjørn, also known as the armored bears are different than bears in our world, they are conscious beings and masters of metalwork.  The Panserbjørn represent the instinctual and truest form of the self and cannot be deceived or lied to unless they go against their nature and pretend to be what they aren’t.  Ruled by King Iofur Raknison who usurped the throne from Iorek Byrnison, the bears live in an ice castle built in an attempt to gain favor with Mrs. Coulter. Raknison’s efforts to become more human-like blinds him to his own true nature of the bears and he is eventually overthrown by Iorek with Lyra’s help.  Like the armored bears, when Lyra went against her nature and tried to act in accordance with London Society, she found it stifling and horrifying as she discovers her direct connection with the General Oblation Board and Mrs. Coulter.  

Research for the armored bears was twofold: technical and stylistic.  I needed to first figure out how to create a silhouette for a performer that would read as a bear to the audience.  Apart from the dæmons, Iorek Byrnison is the first fantastical character the audience sees.  Luckily, the general anatomy of a standing bear is very similar to that of a human.  I just needed to extend the proportions in the right directions to make it work.  My research took me through costumes from The Lion King on Broadway to various additional puppetry by Michael Curry, and lion dancing. 
For the visual design, I began looking into bear and polar bear mythology.  I read up on Berserkers of the Norse, stories about Ursa Major and Ursa Minor constellations, and folktales from various indigenous tribes. 
 Eventually, I focused on the indigenous tribes in Lapland and Scandanavia with Polar bear mythology.  The Saami people stood out as one tribe with a strong cultural and religious connection to the polar bears.  Saami traditional dress designs vary according to region, class, gender, and occasion.  As with the people of Trollesund, the Panserbjørn are dressed in costumes from various regions of the Saami tribes. 


Jopari is a shaman, and Will’s father who inadvertently travels from our world into Lyra’s world through a window cut by the Subtle Knife.  He and Lee Scoresby journey through the north to warn the bearer of the knife of the dangers ahead and to heal his hand.  After researching various shamans from the Arctic regions and beyond, I decided to base Jopari on the shaman of the Nganasan.


The witches were a hard group to design simply because there are so many visual meanings to the word “witch.” The Lapland Witches are women archers who fly on cloudpine branches with dæmons who are able to travel much greater distances away from their humans than regular mortals.  They are attuned to nature and the energies of the earth and live hundreds of years.  In contrast to Mrs. Coulter, who uses her power within the confines of Western Society to seduce and manipulate others to get what she wants, the feminine power and sexuality of the witches are much more free and natural.     

My initial research covered visuals from the occult, nature, folktales, fairytales, and mythology.  My challenges with the witches were much like that of my other characters.  Since they are more fantastical and less rooted in historical accuracy like those of Oxford and London Society, I could be a little more conceptual with their designs.  My first two designs still read a little too Western as I pulled from a lot of medieval influences, Pre-Raphaelite paintings, and the fantasy illustrations of Edward Rackham and Kay Neilsen.   While Pullman described the general clothing of the witches to be strips of black silk, I also struggled with textile choice and what I could use that would draw focus and also convey to the audience that these witches are not exactly a part of Western Civilization. 
Design Concept  001

Design Concept 2

Design Concepts 3

Ultimately I stripped down the concepts and really just looked at the shape language of nature itself.  I drew from Lapland landscapes and tree branches during the winter.

Final Concepts

As Lyra crosses the threshold into the new worlds, the overall look of the people will shift to reflect these different places.

Until then,
[Part 1]
[Part 2]
[Part 3]

[Part 4]
[Part 5]
[Part 6]
[Part 7]

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