By Isabella Beals, dramaturg
Escape From Planet Death is a labor of love by many. This unprecedented style merges three key concepts that are not usually seen together onstage: voice actors in costume, projected illustrations, and live foley. For a deeper look into each one of these components, blast off with us into a conversation with our master-mind creators.
Costumes: Rachel Olsen
Rachel first joined the project in 2019. She requested to design the costumes for this show because of her love and respect for the directors. “I love Tom and Courtney Russell and I would do anything for them because they are my favorite people!” Rachel caught the directors’ vision right away and brought her talent for detail into the design of every costume. “I really just wanted to keep true to the director’s concept mostly, and he really wanted a B-movie feeling.”
One great example of Rachel’s concept is Harry’s costume (pictured). Rachel purposefully designed the coverings on Harry’s knees to be made from kneepads with yellow paint. This idea reinforces the vision of committed fans trying to recreate a B-rated sci-fi series using household supplies. “One of the biggest things that I wanted to make sure that I did was making it look like a B-movie, a little bit cheap, and those movies where they’re so stupid but they’re so fun that you just wonder, ‘Who made this? Somebody had to put effort into this and it still came out this way?’ So I wanted to be the person who put in so much effort that it felt like ‘art.’”
Rachel was commissioned to design the costumes during her senior year as a Media Arts Major at BYU. After the show was delayed because of COVID, she continued to offer her support for the project even after she had already graduated. Although she didn’t get to be a part of the costume-making process, all of her original designs were still used as the base for the costumes that you see onstage today. (And it’s not hard to see why!) Check out more of her amazing original renderings below! And see what other details from Rachel’s design that you notice in Escape From Planet Death!
Illustrations: Kollin Van Why
Kollin also joined the project back in early 2019. He has been working on the illustrations for the past three years. After becoming acquainted with Tom and Courtney on a different project back in 2018, Kollin was commissioned to design the world of the play using his talent in illustrations. “Tom just told me that he wanted something to look like a 1950s kinda comic book.” Although he was given the 50s comic concept as his premise, and would often check-in with Tom and Courtney during the process, the directors ultimately left many of the details and creative construction of the world up to Kollin. “The creative freedom was really nice. [Tom and Courtney] had this vision for how they wanted the scene to go, but as far as the visuals in the design of the show, interior design, the planet, different details like that was kinda left up to me.” Kollin eventually merged the 50s comic design with some ideas based on 70s cartoon characters, such as Scooby-Doo, for his inspiration. The final illustrations for the show reflect elements of both styles and add an incredible artistic layer to this group of meddling kids and their bot!
Kollin used many different tools to create the masterpieces we see onstage. He is self-taught on the graphics program Procreate (although he credits much of his learning to YouTube tutorials,) and he used the program as the base for his designs. To add some diversity, Kollin also incorporated some paper textures from a company named True Grit Texture Supply and some brushes from RetroSupply. He also worked a lot with Rachel at the beginning of the process so that the illustrations could correlate with the costume designs. The duo would sometimes go through up to four designs before getting the perfect look for each character.
Out of all the methods Kollin employed to create the world of Escape From Planet Death!, one particular method has a bigger piece of his heart than any other – well, at least a bigger piece of him more than any other. As he began his sketches for character movements, Kollin would often use figure drawings as models or try to find pictures of other people in the correct pose that he could reference. But it was often difficult to find the exact positions he was looking for. So, Kollin would often be his own model by taking pictures of himself as his own model! “Most of the time I just took pictures of myself. So a lot of the drawings is my own body posing just because it’s easier to do that. I would set up the iPad with the front-facing camera, I would click record, and then I would just kinda do different poses and try out different adjustments and stuff until I got the pose right.” Kollin posed for everyone in the show, from Analyn to Harry to Nick! He added that one of the harder but funnier shots to pose for was the scene when many of the characters are running and jumping to escape the collapsing cave. “I had to run and do multiple jumps. So it was just me running, jumping, and then kinda circling back and jumping to really get it!” Kollin’s hard work, both on and off camera, certainly paid off to create the beautiful illustrations featured in the show! Check out more of his great work throughout Escape From Planet Death!
Foley: Josh Romney
Josh was originally summoned to the world of Escape From Planet Death! when he auditioned for the role of Nick in the original podcast! Josh recognized Tom at auditions as his former screenwriting professor and kept in touch with Tom about the project afterwards. When the stage version of the show was proposed, Tom reached out to Josh, who was studying sound effects for school. He also already had previous experience working in live foley for a theatre in Philadelphia as well as on some radio shows. He was the perfect man for our production!
After the show was delayed because of COVID, however, Josh moved out to North Carolina for a graduate program in documentary film. But not even moving across the country was going to keep Josh from working on this project! He asked for permission from his school to come back and work on the show as both the foley effects artist AND the documentary producer for Escape From Planet Death! “So this is not only a live foley thing, it’s also part of my thesis project for my MFA. People were just very interested back in North Carolina about this idea of creating the sound effects for the show.” Josh’s main influence for his project is a documentary entitled Sing Faster: The Stagehands’ Ring Cycle. It tells the story of a production of Wagner’s The Ring Cycle from the viewpoint of the stagehands. “The stagehands are explaining the parts of this really highbrow opera, but it’s very blue collar explanations of it. It was brilliant. I was really inspired by it. So I’m trying to do something of the same vein with Escape From Planet Death!” Josh has been recording the process of creating live foley sound effects for the show since the beginning of this past summer and he has continued shooting throughout tech week. He plans to complete the documentary before May so that he can graduate next year!
As far as the foley itself is concerned, Josh has been a diligent part of every single sound. The process began as a solo act as he attended production meetings, discussed some thoughts with the sound designer Stephen Jarvis, and began to come up with possible ideas for sound effects. He would look at each sound cue in the script and just start experimenting with his best ideas. One of his favorite sound evolutions was the choice to go from throwing a dummy on the ground to having Josh become the body that is thrown onto the ground. “I am the dummy!” he said. After hours of sound testing each of the 130 cues, Josh assembled his crack team of foley artists and began rehearsals. The group’s precise timing has surely achieved nothing short of creative and hilarious greatness to produce the five-star sounds in Escape From Planet Death!
We now return to our show in progress! Be sure to keep an eye out for all of the passionate and genius work created by our production team as you launch into your adventure in Escape From Planet Death!