Norfolk set designer for stage and screen
PUBLISHED: 17:03 29 February 2016 | UPDATED: 17:03 29 February 2016
Ian Westbrook’s creative skills have transformed stages all over the world - from the West End and Broadway to television and film sets
FROM spectacular stage shows to the world tours of international renowned musicians and bands, Ian Westbrook’s extraordinary work brings the visions of artists and directors to life - and all from his studios in Gorleston.
The company which he set up 30 years ago – 3D Creations – creates stage sets and props for stage, film, television and corporate events and his acclaimed artistic and engineering skills have ensured an enviable international client list – ranging from Iron Maiden, Blur and Robbie Williams to theatres and venues all over the world.
“I get inspiration from pretty much everywhere and love walking round my home town of Great Yarmouth, seeing the lights of the arcades, looking at shop window displays or architecture or the landscape. I have got bits of paper strewn everywhere filled with sketches and notes as well as clippings from magazines, newspapers and books,” he says.
He knew at a very young age that he wanted to be involved in the theatre and began getting experience at local venues.
“I started moving scenes back stage at the Britannia Theatre when I was a teenager and spent summers painting scenery. My father was a carpenter so I think that also helped with the practical side of things.”
After graduating from Nottingham Trent University, he worked at various theatres before returning home to Yarmouth to set up his own businesses and he says their work is as much about clever engineering as it is being an excellent artist.
“You have to think about the whole package – what it will look like, how it will be made and how it will actually work – like the flying carpet we created which had to fly over the audience with performers on it. If you are doing a touring show, you might have only a few hours to get the entire set built and operational.
“When we did the Cat Stevens world tour everything was transported by air, which creates major technical constraints. The whole set had to be dismantled and fitted into 10ft by 4ft by 2ft crates to get on the plane. He wanted an 1850s railway station complete with props. It was not only a major artistic challenge, but clever engineering was absolutely key.”
His latest work was on show in Norwich this February, when the new musical Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, starring David Hasselhoff, came to the Theatre Royal. His company is also in discussion with the makers of Game of Thrones to make more props for the hit television show, something he has done in the past.
“Working on film and television requires very different skills and not just in terms of technology. In theatre, everything has to work live and you have to remember the audience are seeing it all. With television and film, you are only concerned with what the camera and director can see. On a show like Game of Thrones, you might only need to make the doorway of the castle as it might only be a close up, or if needed the rest can be added in with CGI, whereas on stage you need to create the whole castle.”
Ian and his team not only design and build the sets, they also install everything.
“We are usually a team of 10 but sometimes there are 16 of us. The first day at the venue is always nerve-wracking; even after 30 years, you always worry something won’t work or fit properly. I tend to watch the technical and dress rehearsal and opening night but no matter how great it looks, I am always looking at ways I could have done things better and can improve.”
While Ian and his team might have worked in venues all over the world, some of his favourite commissions are a lot closer to home.
“The stage at Cromer’s Pavilion Theatre is so tiny yet it is amazing what you can achieve and how ambitious you can be - from a biplane for a wing-walking routine to Singing In The Rain with real water. Some of the magic we have created in this wonderful little theatre has been a real highlight.”