An Extraordinary Day for a House Elf
This is a guest post from N.D. (Nat) Roberts, a long time Kurtherian Gambit fan AND the author of the just-released book KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE.
Hello, and welcome to a day in my life as a house elf!
“House elf?” I hear you ask. “Did we slip into the Potterverse by mistake?
Don’t worry, you’re still here in the KGU. I use the term to loosely describe all the wonderful people who work behind the scenes at LMBPN to bring all those yummy books to you. You know many of them already, like Stephen Campbell, Lynne Steigler, and Kelly O’Donnell, to name a few.
My house elf-ing sometimes involves working with the different artists who produce Kurtherian-related art. Today I get to share a part of that with you all – the Bethany Anne photoshoot with Helen Diaz!
I can’t describe how excited I was to be included! On a personal note, it’s been a hard year with health. This was my chance to prove that the hard time was over, and what a way to do it! It doesn’t matter how many books I write. In my heart I’m still the person who found Bethany Anne and fell in love with her whole world.
The moment I heard this shoot was happening I wanted to know everything about what it takes to get the images Andrew Dobell works with to make all those stunning BA covers. So, I braved the train down to Surrey with the aim of finding out what goes on during a cover shoot. I met up with Andrew and we went to White Box Studio, our location for the day.
The studio on arrival. We used the white background at first, and switched later on. I learned that grey backgrounds can be preferable, since models with dark hair and clothing are harder to extract from a black background, and the same for models with light hair and clothing on a white background.
I’m always a little bit nervous in new situations, but Andrew’s kind manners and dry humor made me forget I was in a strange place in no time. After a cup of tea, we got to work setting up the studio ready for Helen’s arrival. That entailed laying out the props, and selecting costumes. Andrew told me that he has an attic full of women’s clothing, props, and accessories, so he is always prepared for a shoot.
Next to arrive was Tania, our makeup artist for the day. This is her in the dressing room. I learned that you can make anything look like anything if you know what you’re doing. Tee, as she prefers to be called, amazed me many times throughout the day with stories of her work.
“Never believe the photo,” she told me as I sorted through the various costume pieces to be worn by Helen.
Helen and Kuzco! Kuzco is my llama mascot who goes everywhere with me. Helen is an absolute pleasure to be around. From the moment she arrived she lit up the room with her laughter and energy despite her b&b being more like Faulty Towers than the quaint village location she’d booked. I asked what her favorite thing is about being Bethany Anne.
“Being that strong woman,” she replied without hesitation.
I was completely enchanted, of course.
The transformation from Helen to Bethany Anne went much faster than I expected. It was fascinating to see how Tee worked her magic to create the face and hair we’re used to seeing when we look at Bethany Anne in artwork or on covers.
“Are we going to take some photos of me, then? I’m a busy woman.” Transformation complete, and we had the first glimpse of Bethany Anne. This was the most beautiful moment, and then it was time for a different kind of magic…
Amazement was the theme of the day, but the first time Helen got fully into character was one of the highlights. Andrew began taking photos. One second I saw Helen, smiling and most definitely herself, and the next Bethany Anne stood there and Helen was gone.
I don’t know if it’s the same for every model, but I felt that Helen embodied Bethany Anne in spirit perfectly. They’re both that little bit wild, speak their mind, and are hugely big-hearted.
Costume changes! This was everything a fan, girly-girl, or creative could ever dream of. I was never much for dolls as a child, I always preferred to imagine the worlds inside books. Even so, I had the most fun choosing the costumes, and even more as Helen worked her way through wearing them. We started out with the “classic” BA look of Under Armor shirt, leather trousers, and combat boots.
The fun was in adding in layers and exchanging elements to create the different textures of the costume. In the first photo here, Helen is wearing a skinsuit with over the knee boots to simulate Bethany Anne’s most current light armor with the heels activated.
Next, we see Helen being helped into a harness by Tee, and thank goodness for her because she was the only one who was able to fit the straps correctly over Helen’s body. It was at that moment I realized how physically demanding modeling is, and how much more than a makeup artist Tee is. Helen took being dressed like a doll with grace and a smile, and then she made us all laugh.
The next layer of the costume was the belt over the harness, and the flat boots to simulate the heels being deactivated. This was a really important part, because while Bethany Anne loves her heels they aren’t practical for action. Finally, Helen put on the coat, and the costume was complete. A couple of practice poses, and the shoot resumed.
Andrew took many photos with a range of prop pistols and rifles, and each sequence had to be repeated for each costume change. I was surprised that the blades were not props. I had expected they would be some clever reproduction that just looked like deadly weapons, but no. Those katanas are heavy, and the short swords are sharp! I’m fairly strong, and I would struggle to hold both those katanas in place like Helen had to. After this set, Helen had stretch, a rest, and then got straight back to superheroing.
Here, Andrew is making short video clips where Bethany Anne’s face appears out of the darkness. I took this video in slow motion to capture the movement of the light as Andrew tracked it over Helen’s body.
These are from other takes. Each video clip was shot with different light placement. This was very technical, everyone had to be exactly on cue and in exactly the right place for the shot to work. Tee is holding a light stick, which she passed over Helen from various angles while Helen repeated a sequence of movements. Both were directed by Andrew as he framed and took his shot. Mostly I get to see Andrew using the 3-D modelling software, so it was a treat to see him in his element. He became quiet and focused, and gave direction with a smile and kind words. I was taken by how well he and Tee worked as a team to create the perfect take.
This is inside the studio’s infinity room, which is usually used for car shoots. The atmosphere of the infinity room made it easy to pretend we were in a spooky cave, or an abandoned space station. Andrew wanted to simulate full darkness in the video so we had the doors almost closed. He used the black background of the doors to complete the effect.
It was hard not to laugh when Helen broke the tension she built for each take. Again, it was striking how Helen adopted Bethany Anne’s personality, then dropped it once the take was done. She brought a lightness to the day with her commentary and wicked sense of humor.
This was another really cool technique. To get the perfect turning shot, Helen repeated the motion over and over again for a couple of minutes while Andrew snapped away. This is one of the sequences of shots he took.
Helen’s final costume for the day was the only one that was out of armor. On previous photoshoots the street clothes look has comprised office wear, made up from a grey skirt and white blouse with the beloved Louboutins. This time the choice was evening wear, and in the current timeline the Louboutins are too precious to be worn but Bethany Anne does have a pair of boots that she loves that can take the demands of her daily life.
This was another moment where I was in utter fan bliss! This costume is from my own wardrobe, comprising my favorite dress, and my boots, which have a story of their own. I loved them on sight, not just because they’re so very BA. They’re also very me. I wouldn’t buy them outright, though. They were too expensive so I would save a little each month, then invariably dip into it to treat my daughter. Come mother’s day, almost a year after I fell in love with them, my daughter presented me with this voucher along with the traditional artwork she always gives us on parents’ days. I did not take her money, of course, but that wasn’t the gift. The gift was a guilt-free reason to buy the boots.
Helen was fabulous, as was Tee! I’m tall for a woman and nowhere near as slender as Helen, and my feet are a size seven while she is a size four. She coped admirably with the five and a half-inch heels. Tee proved what she told me on meeting her by pinning the dress magnificently and stuffing the toes of the boots with some clean gauze from her makeup kit.
The time flew by so fast. It didn’t feel like we’d been going for eight hours until the end came and the shoot was wrapped. We were all tired and happy with the results. Andrew took these final photos, and they are my favorites from the whole day.
I thought I would be starstruck meeting Helen, but it wasn’t the case at all. She’s so disarming and sweet it’s impossible to do anything but adore her for herself, and admire her skill at taking on a character with such a huge personality so perfectly. I’m not hugging Bethany Anne here. I’m hugging a friend I hope to know for years to come.