Working behind the scenes in television, set designer and model maker Darcy Prevost has forged a career she’s passionate about and she’s fulfilling some of her wildest fangirl dreams at the same time.
After a childhood defined by The Muppets and Fraggle Rock, she’s worked with The Jim Henson Company on multiple occasions, most recently on Netflix’s The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell.
A longtime fan of Rory and Lorelei, she found herself in Stars Hollow for the Gilmore Girls revival, A Year in the Life.
And on her most recent project, Mindhunter Season 2, she suppressed the urge to break out in Hamilton tunes whenever Jonathan Groff strolled on set.
Darcy has been model-making, sculpting, and drawing since she was a kid. A background in architecture, theater arts, and set design eventually took her away from the stage and into Hollywood, where she’s worked on such series as American Horror Story and Seal Team Six.
When she’s not putting in long days and sleepless nights designing and building detailed models of sets, she’s creating rare, one-of-a-kind fan art, some of which she sells on Etsy — like her popular Everlasting Gobstopper props or mini replicas of the house from Pixar’s Up — and some priceless objects she keeps — like a model version of a Hobbit house that’s amazingly detailed both inside and out.
If you’re wondering what it feels like to craft intricate, tiny sets from pop culture fame, you can get a taste for it with one of the downloadable paper models she sells in her Etsy shop.
You’re a set designer and model maker who works in television by day and makes fan art by night, including amazingly detailed models and sculptures, some of which you sell on Etsy. For those who are unfamiliar with the jobs you do, could you describe what the work of a set designer entails?
In TV/ film there are many different titles in the art department that all tend to do one job each so things run more efficiently. As a Set Designer/Model Maker in the Art Director’s Guild, I make both physical and computer models of sets and then draft detailed construction drawings to pass off to the carpenters to turn into real scenery.
On some shows I do just one of those tasks and on other shows I do all three! On some projects, a set designer is given a lot of creative freedom to put their own touches and ideas into the sets. Other times, the Production Designer has a very specific aesthetic and it’s more about bringing their exact idea to life.
Some of the other team members in the art department are the Production Designer, the Art Director, Assistant Art Director, Graphic Designer, Art Department Coordinator, Visual/ Concept Artists, set decorators, props department, painters, etc. The two main unions in L.A. are Local 800 and 44, and different states have their own local unions that you usually have to join in order to work on scripted shows.
What about the work of a model maker?
It’s almost exactly like it sounds! A few television projects have brought me in at the beginning during the design phase to build white models to present for design meetings. These are generally in ¼” scale and help sell the design ideas to the producers/ directors. I usually take the drawings from one of the set designers and start building based on those.
For American Horror Story: Hotel, we were able to make all the initial sets as white models and lay them out on a table — from there, the department heads were able to see everything and make cuts and adjustments to fit the needs of the story and the budget.
I’ve also done very detailed full color models for Royal Caribbean shows that are used for the design pitch but also to teach blocking. I love doing both, but making white models is usually a much faster and less detailed job.
You have a degree in architecture and theater arts, and a master of fine arts in set design. How did you become interested in those subjects?
I was interested in so many things when I was younger, so I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I started in undergrad at the University of Pittsburgh. I knew I loved and was good at math and also loved art. It seemed that a career in architecture was a good way to combine the two things. It wasn’t until I took a general introduction to theater design class where I learned the basics of set, light and costume design that I even knew a set designer career existed!
Unfortunately, at that point I was already a senior and applying to graduate schools wasn’t an option. So I applied for internships at regional theaters around the country and took a job as the scenic paint intern at the Denver Center Theater. This was an important year because I met designers from all over the country when they came in to work on a show. I was able to see their drafts, their models and more importantly what it took to pull these design ideas off as a maker behind the scenes.
I used that year to apply to the top 5 schools I was interested in, fly around the country to apply and interview and picked UC Irvine as my top choice. The three intensive years I spent in that graduate program shaped the designer I am today.
You credit your interest in architecture with sparking your love of model making. When and how did you begin making models?
I have models at my parent’s house going back to when I was a little kid. Making models, sculpting and drawing were just part of who I was as a kid — just part of my makeup. My elementary school art teacher singled me out to apply for Saturday classes at the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh, I continued those up through high school at Carnegie Mellon University and whenever we had the chance to make models or sculpt, I came alive. Architectural models and miniatures are also adorable, so as much as I want to say I love the art aspect, I love that they’re cool looking and tiny too.
Why did you decide to apply your skills and education to the film and TV industry?
Both of my degrees are in theater and there’s something so magical about the whole theater experience. Creating a design for a live audience and bringing a story to life night after night in new ways is exhilarating. I designed some small shows after school around Los Angeles and assisted some of the bigger designers in town as their model maker but ultimately I couldn’t make enough money to pay my very high Los Angeles bills by doing theater.
When I received an opportunity to start at the bottom in the art department on a TV show, I took it. I was scared I wouldn’t find the same enjoyment in TV as in live theater but I quickly fell in love with the fact that SO many people could see the hard work we all did, instead of busting my butt for months on a production that so few people were able to see. I initially worked on some pretty low-end shows but it gave me the chance to learn and grow and move on to projects that had subject matter more in line with what I was interested in within a few years.
What was your first Hollywood job and what do you remember about it?
Ohhh, man. It was on a show on TLC called “Kick Off, Cook Off” where super fans cooked with top NFL players. I worked very hard, over 12 hours a day, for very little money and very little gratitude. I was still proud to tell my family and friends about it and when they all tuned in to watch it when it was scheduled to air, it simply wasn’t there.
So I learned quickly that you can work really hard and film a whole show and it might never see the light of day. I did, however, meet a producer on that project who got me onto my next show. That show lasted four seasons — so it was still important.
It sounds like you have the most fun career ever, but I also understand that it involves long hours, not a lot of sleep, and tons of hard work. What are some of the perks? And what are some of the challenges?
That’s the thing, isn’t it? I tell people I’m a set designer for television and they’re like, “Wow, that must be so much fun!” Most people don’t truly understand how taxing the hours are until they’ve lived them themselves. Some of my family used to think 65-75 hour work weeks “must be hard,” but then I worked on a show in their town and they truly saw that I had very little to no life while working. I left early in the morning and came home just in time to take a shower and go to bed.
I think it would be very difficult to have a family working those hours. I know quite a few men who pull it off with a supportive wife at home but I don’t know many female designers who have families. I know that if I had kids at home, I wouldn’t do my job well as a designer or a mom, so I choose to just focus on the work.
Perks include being a part of an exciting project with talented hard-working people all around you. The energy on a set is something that satisfies every part of me. I love it.
When you’re on break from your film work, you spend time on your personal projects and your Etsy projects, which include adorable mini models of Carl and Ellie’s house from Pixar’s Up and replicas of Everlasting Gobstoppers from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. What do you enjoy about creating these unique pieces of art?
Almost everything I’ve ever made and sold on Etsy started as a gift for a friend that I then just kept making. When I’m working as a computer modeler or draftsperson, I miss the tactile experience of creating with my hands so I like to come home and build things. My apartment is already a model museum so I decided to start channeling that energy into things that I could make and then release out into the world. I don’t focus on my Etsy store as much as other folks. It’s more of a side project and energy release when I have the time.
Why do you tend to gravitate toward fan and pop culture-themed art?
I love making miniatures of already designed sets even though it takes a long time to do the drawings and figure out the architecture myself. When I see a well-designed set, I want to be a part of it, I want to deconstruct it and build it myself like a puzzle. I do enough designing at work. When I make fan art, it’s for fun so I want to focus on the building and not the designing.
When did you discover that people were interested in buying these items?
A friend really wanted an Everlasting Gobstopper one year and we looked on Etsy and found two options, one that looked like a kid made it and a great one that was $200. I thought, “Surely, I can make a decent one for him,” so I set off to work.
I 3D modeled one in the computer, used that to make a paper template, filled that with air-dry clay, and on and on. I ended up making a mold of my first prototype, so if I messed up with the paint, etc., I didn’t have to start over. So I had a bunch of gobstoppers lying around and started selling them for around $30 to make them more accessible to people than the $200 version. Slowly and surely they sold, so I made some more. It’s grown from there.
One of your favorite models you’ve created is an astoundingly detailed replica of a Hobbit house. Tell me about the process of putting that together.
The minute I visited Hobbiton in New Zealand, I knew I wanted to make a mini replica of one of the exteriors. 36 Bagshot Row was my absolute favorite and my friend Nicki took a ton of detail pictures while I wandered around (she didn’t care about Lord of the Rings as much as I did and she’s a great photographer). It took 2 years of the design rattling around in my brain for me to actually start working on it though.
I started with computer modeling like I always do to get a gist of the layout and initially was just going to make the exterior. As I was playing around with the design I thought it would be cool to see in the windows a little bit and wondered what I’d put in there — maybe a hybrid of the interior of Bag End and the exterior of 36 Bagshot Row?
I spent time in all of my LOTR art books and got excited and inspired and all of a sudden I was making this whole hobbit house with mini food and fireplaces and coat hooks and working chandeliers. I learned new techniques with static grass and wiring and just kept expanding my expectations of what I could create.
So many folks approached me about buying the finished project and I kind of lightheartedly laughed at them all. It took me two months of full-time work to make that thing and I know I’d never make another one that detailed for myself if I sold it.
I also used it as a teaching moment for folks to put a price on art. When asked how much it would cost to buy, I said that materials cost around $400 plus roughly 8 weeks of 50-hour workweeks. So I told them to take how much they earn an hour and do the math and that would probably be the price tag. That shocked some people but it’s important to remember this isn’t just a hobby for some people and artists deserve to be paid properly for the work they create.
The hobbit house is now displayed on its own shelf in my living room on a lazy susan so I can appreciate both sides and I’m so unbelievably proud of it.
So, you actually got to visit Hobbiton in New Zealand. Tell me about that, please!
I don’t know how much time you have, but Lord of the Rings (the films, specifically) is the reason I have this career. Long story short, I was in a rut in undergrad and kind of wanted to drop out but after I saw “Fellowship,” I remembered how much fun I used to have in my theater days in high school, so I signed up for a theater class for fun.
I ended up taking so many classes over the next few years, it became a double major and it’s how I ended up in that theater design class and switching my dreams from architect to set designer. So I can easily trace my career trajectory back to that moment in time.
I saw each of those films 12 times in the theater and got my first debit card to become a charter member of the LOTR fan club — yes my name is in the credits of the extended versions for being a super nerd.
When a friend asked if I wanted to go to New Zealand, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. Middle Earth in real life! We only did a few actual LOTR things while there. One was Hobbiton and it was amazing. I’m so happy they kept the sets intact for visitors. I cried a little when I turned the corner and saw the houses laid out before me, no shame.
The landscapes there are grand and uncluttered with humans and they couldn’t have picked a better place to bring Tolkien’s world to life — except maybe the highlands of Scotland but NZ was an amazing choice and a fantastic place to visit.
What are some of your other favorite models, sculptures, and personal projects you’ve made?
The few 1” scale Muppet theaters I’ve made are pretty great — they are based on the designs by another great model maker, Lance Cardinal, who I believe lives in Canada. A friend reached out to him to make him a duplicate of the theater he had made himself and Lance turned it down so the friend asked me if I could make him one.
I had a great time tracking down the supplies and figuring out the build. So much fun that I’ve made two more for other friends, and I’m finally making one for myself, which will be the last one (for now). I also have a sculpture of a tree man based on one of Brian Froud’s pieces in the book “Faeries.” His name is Walter and he’s who I’d grab in a fire.
Looking around my apartment at a few of my other display pieces, I have a ½” scale full color model of the final set from “The Jim Henson Creature Shop Challenge,” a sculpture I made of Karen Hallion’s “Leia’s Corruptible Mortal State,” and a custom music box of Ernie sitting on a moon I made.
Like I mentioned before, I practically live in an art museum but those are a few of my favorites. I think I have images of all of the above on my website if anyone wants to take a peek: www.DarcyEPrevost.com.
Your Etsy shop also features downloads of paper models people can make themselves, including the Tardis, the Up house, and buildings from Gilmore Girls. You’ve said that paper models are your favorite things to make. Why is that?
When I assisted designers for theater, I loved spray mounting the drawings onto Bristol paper or illustration board, cutting the drawings out and assembling them. There was always something very satisfying about creating something 3D out of 2D pieces and I wanted to share that.
I was also getting so many requests for pre-made things that I couldn’t keep up, so I wanted to 1) give people a chance to try making it themselves and 2) have an option for people that wanted the model and had time and energy but couldn’t spring for the pre-made prices.
I love getting messages from customers showing me their finished product. Some of them have never even tried model making before and they’re always so proud when they complete a project.
You did production design for Netflix’s The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell. That must have been an insanely fun show for someone as creative as you to work on. What was that experience like?
Overall, it was such a good experience, the content was a dream and becoming friends with Christine was my greatest take away from the show. As soon as I was approached to help bring her world to life, I knew I wanted to be involved. She has such great ideas and a beautiful aesthetic and I couldn’t wait to help turn that into a set and, even better, a set with puppets!
It’s rare to find another artist that will stay up all night to get something done and pour her whole heart and soul into a project. We bonded over our obsessive and perfectionist natures as artists. We faced many challenges, we didn’t have a ton of prep or shoot time and the budgets could have been better, but working with The Henson Company is always fun.
The show definitely felt more like my theater days where I had to wear a bunch of hats. Usually, I’d have had a big crew and we could have divided and conquered but most nights I was going home after a 15-hour day at the studio and working on props for the following day’s shoot.
Was it fun to design and make really cool and unique things? Absolutely. Were there days that I could have used some more sleep? Yes. At the end of the project I was really proud of what we accomplished and how it turned out. We have received so many compliments and know that our target audience loved what we presented. Plus, how can you not love those puppet characters and the insanely amazing things Christine creates!?
You’ve worked a lot with the Jim Henson Company. As a childhood fan of that company, how does that feel?
The first time Brian Henson called me to come in and talk about a project, I couldn’t believe it. Every day on that first project was like a new dream come true and I feel similarly every time I’m lucky enough to work there. It’s a great company with a real family mindset and they’re all so wonderful to work with.
On that first project, “The Jim Henson Creature Shop Challenge,” I was able to hold real Doozers from “Fraggle Rock”, touch the original Dark Crystal and share a room with the baby from “Dinosaurs.” My inner ‘80s child was fan-girling everywhere.
Aside from the fandoms we’ve already mentioned, you’re into Disney and Harry Potter. Any other fandoms you’re crazy about?
Lord of the Rings is my #1 fandom, followed closely by Harry Potter. I fell in love with Disney through the parks, as we weren’t a real Disney family growing up. I also have some major love for the Muppets, Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and Fraggle Rock. Throw in some Doctor Who, Seinfeld, Hamilton, The Beatles, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water and you have me pretty much pegged.
Do you find that your job provides a lot of fangirl wish fulfillment? For instance, I know you love the Gilmore Girls, and you got to work on Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.
I’m the type of person who is just a fan in general, so even on shows that aren’t in my realm I get invested and excited to be a part of them. I just finished Mindhunter Season 2 and was excited to learn about and research that part of history. I mean I couldn’t sleep at night learning about all the serial killers but I still love researching new things and time periods. Also seeing Jonathan Groff walking around set made me constantly sing Hamilton songs in my mind and smile but I kept that part to myself.
Working on “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” was so much fun and I think I was the only one that had been a fan of the original series working in the art department. I loved it when my boss would call me and tell me to come meet her at Doose’s Market — I’d hop on my bike and go to Doose’s Market, the real place just like in the show — that was awesome. Riding my bike around Stars Hollow never got old and being on set with those actors was a dream come true.
What are some of the other memorable TV series or professional projects you’ve worked on?
I feel very old because I seriously just had to go to my website to look at my resume to even remember other projects. They all start to blend together over time! I was only on “American Horror Story: Hotel” briefly to make the white model of the hotel but that was a total blast. “Seal Team Six” has brought me in twice to make models for camera and that’s always my favorite type of project.
One of my coolest long-term shows was “Powerless,” which I loved working on. The design (Production Designer Cabot McMullen) was gorgeous and I thought the show and cast had such potential. I wish we had been given a second season so it could have found its legs, I feel like that’s one of those shows that could have had a long run and designing sets for it never felt like work.
Are there a lot of women in your field?
Overall, the departments are mostly men but it feels like it’s been shifting recently. I’ve worked in art departments with primarily females once or twice, but I’m still very used to walking into an office of 90% men. I think it has to do with the hours involved, as I mentioned before. If a woman wants a family, it will be harder for her to work in this industry, whereas it still seems acceptable for men to be at work all day. I’ve met some rad and talented women designers and art directors along the way though, so it’s definitely not just a men’s club.
You have a passion for travel and recently returned from an amazing-looking trip to Europe. Tell me about that!
Travel is life. I wouldn’t work so hard and so much if I didn’t also get to take trips. When a project ends, I get to decide how much time to take off before starting my next show. This, of course, depends on how well I’ve managed my money because when I’m not working I’m not getting paid. We don’t get paid vacation in this industry. I love taking a break and going on an adventure between projects, at least one international trip a year if I can swing it.
I started traveling later in life. I did a trip around the world on a ship my junior year of college called Semester at Sea. That was my first time on an airplane and my first time leaving the country and I went big. We visited 11 countries in 100 days, circumnavigated the globe and it changed my life. There’s so much to see and as a designer the more you expose yourself to the more you have to draw upon when creating.
My recent trip was to Spain, Germany, and Switzerland for a week each and then two days in Paris and London before flying home to the states. I did the Inca trek in Peru the year before and Scotland before that. I love traveling and my list of must-visit countries somehow keeps growing!
Do you have any professional goals or dreams you’d still like to fulfill?
I’d love to make a model for a Wes Anderson movie someday. I’d also love to track down the designer for the new Lord of the Rings TV show to apply to be a part of that crew! There’s also been talk about a “Fraggle Rock” movie for a few years and I’d love to be involved since that show was my childhood.
What about goals or plans for your Etsy shop?
If my Etsy shop went away tomorrow that would be okay, but for now I love having the outlet to share my work with folks around the world. I love getting an order from Cyprus or Australia and knowing this little thing I made is off on its own adventure. Realistically, I’d love to hunker down and make more digital downloads to share — it’s the best way for me to get things out without being chained to my desk or two years behind on commissions (which I currently am).
What’s left on your geek bucket list?
I think it would be fun to visit all the Disney parks in the world some day; I still have one or two to check off the list. I didn’t get to tour WETA while I was in New Zealand, so I have to go back to do that.