Royal Kingdom Set Design


A castle in Davis, CA? You bet! And an oversize 3D throne too!

A project I got to work on the last few months involved converting a church into a full-size castle.

University Covenant Church in Davis, CA, holds a summer day camp for kids (formerly known as Vacation Bible School) that is known throughout the city and often sells out quickly. Every year I help design their graphics as well as their 3D sets.

This year’s theme was “Breakaway to the Royal Kingdom,” and the direction they gave me was they wanted to make a large castle in the front of the church.

I created the logo by working from an image of a castle that was purchased from Envato Elements and creating other elements to make a logo. This logo was going to be used on the web, in print, and on banners, T-shirts and CDs, so it had to be versatile. The leaders I worked with wanted it to be colorful.

I used to do a lot of logo work from scratch, but nowadays there are many subscription services that provide templates and artwork that may be integrated into designs. I have found this saves a lot of time, reduces cost for the client, and allows me to focus more on the parts I really like, which is the set and stage design.

This was the final logo they selected.

This logo was eventually turned into a large 24-foot long street banner…

…name tags, and other items. (I like to use long first names in my templates for name tags so that other names can fit more easily.)

The real fun for me was going 3D. I created a 3D castle set for the front of the church.

This is the front elevation in color.  The new approach this year was to extend the set above the central arch. Usually sets fall below the arch because it is a lot of work to go above it. I drew this in Illustrator to get an idea of scale.

After that I moved to Google Sketchup. Sketchup is really great for envisioning 3D elements, though sometimes it can be a little funky with skewed angles. However, using it allowed me to show what this castle would look like in the space from an eye-level perspective.

When I capture screen shots, I always try to get them from eye-level view so the client can see what it might look like from the perspective on someone standing there.

After that, it was time for all the dimensioning. This was a complicated set to create so I had to do elevations, ground plans, and section cuts.

Part of the camp is to have a live drama every day. The story was complicated because it involved being in different settings. The stage does not have fly space to lift up sets, so everything had to be changed by hand, which meant it had to be light and portable.

In addition, one requirement was to have a platform for dancers to be on a second story.

The first scene was in a castle courtyard, so I created three gates with some castle towers in the back. The arches allowed there to be a dancing platform on top.

The second day, this set had to transform into a village.

From the top view, you can see the platforms for dancing. Each one is a little over 3 feet wide and 11 feet long.

I designed it so Styrofoam flats could be placed in front. The center buildling had to be tall enough to cover the castle tower in the back. (The two side towers could easily be removed because they would be made of Styrofoam.)

After painting, it would have the feel of a village.

The next set was a spooky forest and cave. The idea was to drape the background in black fabric (the church does not have any curtains in front) and create a small cave on the side that had a hidden entrance in the back.

All designs were approved, and construction began.

The master carpenter for this job was my brother-in-law, Steve Haffly. I’m so thankful my sister Corrie was there taking pictures of the entire process otherwise it would have been very difficult to write this post since I was in Illinois when they were building!

Steve and his helpers did the framing and rough construction and after that headed off to a mission trip. The rest of the finish work was handled by the UCC crew.

It was a ton of work. I was a bit concerned at the complexity of the set because of angles, and later they found out it was a lot of additional work. Good to keep in mind for next time. It did look really cool though!

Here’s Steve with one of the side towers for the front of the building.

Multiple people helped out. Here you can see teams working on parts simultaneously. The wood provided support and the front white parts are Styrofoam.

The whole worship center is taken over by construction pieces everywhere!

Bill Krause, the on-site inventor, rigged up a handy setup for cutting Styrofoam, using two folding tapes. Genius! Here’s a video to show how it works.

Here’s the framing for the central tower in the stage design.

This thing was so big once they tilted it up!

There were painters helping out too.

Construction on the stage began. I love this picture because the heads of my three little nephews pop up above the set. Haha!

The tower sat behind the arches because there is a platform above the arches for the dancers.

There were secret stairs in the back so they could get to the platforms.

Here they are practicing on the half-finished set.

photo by Corrie Haffly

The outside appeared to be a massive undertaking.

Corrie texted me that it was really stressful trying to get the tower up above the arch. She sent me some videos of their lifting the piece up high. It looked like a delicate operation.

After the framing, Corrie and Steve headed off to a missions a trip, so Corrie wasn’t around to take pictures of the finished set. But there were some event photographers who got shots, so these show the gist of what the completed sets looked like.

Here’s the completed castle from the outside. They later put the logo on the towers on either side.

Inside the front gate is a long wall that goes to the front door.

Here is a photo showing them constructing the walls, once again made of styrofoam.

photos from ucov smugmug

Notice above on the stone wall there is a dragon head. This is a cardboard dragon assembled and spray painted gold. The model is available from Amazon.

The castle courtyard looks really great with the lighting they put on it!

Here’s the set with the dancers on top and in front.

This shows the 3D view so you can see the angle.

Here’s how the village ended up looking. They went with shorter buildings on either side, probably because the taller buildings would obscure the dancers, I think?

They did a good job with creating a forest. This scene had a fence.

The spooky forest scene was greatly simplified. 

Glen told me that he found some clearance black curtains on Rosebrand, which they used to cover up the set in back.

Great job, Breakaway team!

Photo credits: Corrie Haffly and University Covenant Church Smugmug site

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