DAVE MADE HIS MAZE with A LOT of help from Art Director Jeff White

Last month's Other Worlds Orbiter title DAVE MADE A MAZE was a sellout screening and a huge hit with the crowd. Today it's being released on demand and in limited theaters! 

Our Outreach Director Tessa Morrison is a dedicated maker herself, so she reached out to the film's Art Director, Jeff White, to learn more about the cardboard world they built.  Dumpsters, origami, and Dad's leaf blower were all involved at some point...

Tessa Morrison: Where did you get all that cardboardy goodness? And how much cardboard would you say you used for the entire film?
Jeff White: Well we got cardboard literally everywhere, no stone left un-turned and no dumpster left un-dived. Much of it was donated at first, but as the build moved along it became evident that we where going to have to hit the streets, and more to the point, the dumpsters. We were lucky enough to have a solar panel distributor next to the studio, so each morning began with a trip to their loading dock to pick up supplies. As for how much cardboard we used, I'm not entirely sure. I know our producer John C. Meyer made an estimate at one point but i don't recall the square footage. All I know is that we used enough cardboard to give me PTSD  at the very sight of a pizza box these days.

The DAVE MADE A MAZE core art department! (Jeff White is at the top right)

The DAVE MADE A MAZE core art department! (Jeff White is at the top right)

TM: How long did it generally take to build a set? Which set took the longest to build? Which set was the most painful to let go of when you had to breakdown for the next one?
JW: The set build time varied dramatically from set to set: Some sets we would start from scratch in the early morning with a blank slate, build it, then shoot it in the late morning and tear it down in the afternoon to make way for the next one. In fact, that's how a lot of the smaller sets would be done day in and day out. However, the apartment interior which took the most time to construct was built in such a way that when we were done with the apartment scenes we could, bit by bit, dismantle it to create other locations in the maze. For example: the living room became the origami room and the bed room became the mini maze, the kitchen became the marjoram room and so on.  I don't recall a room that I was so attached to that we couldn't tear it down. In fact, I think tearing them down was as much fun as putting them up.

TM: What did you do with it all when you were done? Were there any set pieces you kept intact? 
JW: I'm proud to say that we recycled! And any of the walls that we made for structure got donated to a local theater. We did keep a few choice bits for display, like the giant head in the origami room.

TM: The McGuffin piece at the end was pretty rad. I don't want to give too much away here for those who haven't seen it, but I want to know, was it stop-motion? Digital? Or did you just spin it to get the effect you got? 
JW: Right, not to give anything away! The "McGruffin piece," as you call it, is completely practical with no stop motion and no digital effects. It was a completely functional zoetrope timed cleverly by our DP (Jon Boal) to the frame rate of the camera to give the objects the illusion of forward movement.  It was a little like magic and amazing to watch even on the shoot day - it blew our minds. But shhh, that's enough about that, we want to give our audience something to look forward to.

TM: I enjoyed the usage of the corrugated texture by ripping the top layer off the sheets of cardboard. I've seen that done with great effect to make tree bark texturing. What other techniques or shortcuts did you use that you found super effective?
JW: Well, as our lead sculptor Mike Murnane might say, when it comes to cardboard, janky is where it's at. As you might notice in the film, the Maze evolves throughout the story, both in its construction and its complexity. We as a build team mirrored that evolution with our build style. We were constantly learning new and interesting ways to manipulate the medium to get new and exciting effects.

TM: I also loved the blood yarn and confetti! How did you get that to shoot up?
JW: Our practical effects supervisor Chris Covel was the mastermind behind the propulsion of all the bloody bits. Many different devices were used to try to get the effect, but I think the the tool that saved the day more times than not was a good old fashioned leaf blower that I stole from my Dad's garage. By the way Dad, I owe you a leaf blower.

TM: The minotaur mask was really cool, tell us a little about it! And were there any other creatures that were pitched or even created that didn't make it to the final papery cut?
JW: That Minotaur mask was all about Mike Murnane's insane talent as a cardboard artist. From day one of reading the script and seeing John Sumner's sketches, Mike had a plan cooked up in his head and when he was done we were all just blown away by it. As I recall, that was the one and only creature ever brought to the table. But that was creature enough in my book.

TM: In the keyboard room how did you get those narrow doorways that pitch black? Was that done digitally or did you get a hold of that super pure black paint I've been hearing about? 
JW: There was no special paint for that, just black cardboard and great lighting, but I'm sure there was a little digital help given by our VFX supervisor Cam Leeburg.

TM: The room with the LEGENDS OF THE HIDDEN TEMPLE-style face was pretty rad - it was so much like a ball pit (hopefully minus the kid urine), I wanted to play in there. How many people operated that head? That room was giving me some serious A NEW HOPE trash compactor vibes.
JW: A good STAR WARS reference never hurt anybody. I think that head was operated by three people: One for the mouth, one on the eyes, and Chris Covel shooting origami out of the mouth with a leaf blower. It takes a village, and a leaf blower.

TM: When building these sets and using this material, what were your points of inspiration or references(movies, books, artists)? I take it you guys are familiar of the more recent cardboard works of Wayne White? If not, definitely worth a gander. The way the outside of the maze was constructed and the inside being bigger than the outside hearkened to HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE for me, among other things.
JW: Well, of course when doing these fun art driven projects the inspiration comes from all corners. But I will say that Trisha Gum and John Sumner's initial designs and concepts were mainly what fueled us. However, I spent many days searching the interwebs for as many cardboard-based inspirations that I could find to give me an edge up in the build room.

TM: Knowing everything you learned from this, what would you travel back in time and tell yourself on Day One of fabrication?
JW: I'm not sure that there was anything I could tell myself at that point that I would have believed. Each day was a set of new challenges and discoveries, staying nimble on your feet. Being open to all possibilities is the only way to attack a project like this one.

TM: When will Dave make again? Will he? I feel like DAVE MADE A MAZE was left open-ended and could have sequels where he uses other materials to build things. Boats made of popsicle sticks. Spaceships out of milk jugs. I mean Annie is probably going to have to leave him alone for a weekend again at some point.
JW: I can't say what Dave will do next, but I do know that the cardboard force is strong with that one.

In the end this project was great fun and a wonderful challenge, and each and every person on the art team that came along for the journey was an integral part of the look and aesthetic of the show. Thank you for all your hard work and great minds. I'm glad to have had the chance to work with all of you. Thank you Tessa for all your great questions and the opportunity to relive some fond memories.

And to you, our future cardboarders out there, enjoy the show and build something great!