Season Two of the hit STARZ series, Outlander, took Jamie and Claire Fraser away from the lush green wild of the Scottish Highlands, into the decadent and opulent world of pre-Revolution 18th Century aristocratic French society. That meant a whole new look for the show, and a new playground for Production Designer Jon Gary Steele, and Costume Designer, Terry Dresbach. In a Presentation and Panel celebrating the launch of the ‘Artistry of Outlander’ Exhibit at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, in front of their fellow Production and Costume Designers, Steele and Dresbach talked a little about the challenges of bringing this world to life on a moderate Television budget.
“It’s fun to get to do that sort of stuff,” says Steele of the joy of jumping into this new world, “You don’t get to do that very often, obviously. I mean there’s not that many period pieces in America.” In fact, Steele and Dresbach, longtime best friends and collaborators, admitted that 18th century France has been a dream of theirs throughout their careers. Dresbach admitted that she only took the job at the prodding of her husband, Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore’s request because she knew that as long as the show moved beyond the first book in the series, she’d eventually get to tackle the French setting.
Of course, the work proved a bigger challenge than either expected. “Oh, you’ll rent it all,” Dresbach relates as advice she was given before the series began. Only, there apparently aren’t that many costume rental shops in Scotland where you can get piles of 18th Century Scottish or French garb. Yes, even with all those BBC dramas. Her team had to start from scratch. The team grew from 8 to 75 from Season 1 to 2, but it still wasn’t enough to make up for the fact that there just weren’t enough embroidery machines on hand to create those elaborate costumes. So what do you do when you run out of machinery to create your stitching? “We started painting fabrics,” says Dresbach.
For Steele, filming in Scotland meant location shoots for France would be nearly impossible, and he and his team were challenged to build their sets from scratch, repurposing sets for use in multiple scenes and settings. Apparently his Scottish crew had a hard time believing the sets were accurate. He shared an anecdote from early in Season 2 filming, “I walked in and they were doing one of the rooms, they were already prepainted, and I heard the carpenters going. ‘Geez, look at all this gold, it’s like Liberace’. And I go, “Have you guys ever been to Paris?”
The world the pair created is the all important backdrop for the ever-expanding drama surrounding Claire and James Fraser as the story of Diana Gabaldon’s “Dragonfly in Amber” translates into the second season of Outlander. And with the recent renewal of the series for another two years, they’ll have their hands cut out for them as the show expands its visual palette with moves to Jamaica, and even the New World, a pre-Revolutionary United States.
Fans in and around Los Angeles can visit an exhibit featuring Dresbach’s amazing costumes, and models of Steele’s sets at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills. The exhibit hours are Wednesday to Sunday from 12:00 – 5:00 pm PT, and will run through August.
Season 2 of Outlander continues Saturdays on STARZ, and you can check out photos from the exhibit below, along with our interviews with Steele, Moore, and stars Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe below.