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Toto, we're not in Genoa City anymore. The Young and the Restless is about to take viewers on a trip, but it won't exactly be a joy ride. Some of the key players on the iconic CBS soap will be involved in a major plane crash storyline set to air early next week. In a nutshell: Members of the Winters family — including Neil, Lily, and Devon (played by Kristoff St. John, Christel Khalil and Bryton James, respectively) — take a trip to Chicago, but their plane hits some killer turbulence, and the rest will go down (literally) in Y&R history.
The buzzy storyline comes from new executive producer and head writer Chuck Pratt, who has previously written for primetime series such as Melrose Place, Beverly Hills, 90210 and Desperate Housewives. So, maybe that's why the scene has such a primetime look and feel. Or maybe it's because the Y&R set design team is awesome.
Yahoo TV talked to Y&R production designer David Hoffmann to get the scoop on the behind-the-scenes magic that goes into putting together a shoot like this, and let's just say it takes a village… in the middle of a forest… during a snowstorm.
Hoffmann, who has worked on Y&R for more than 15 years (first as the art director and now as production designer) says he was given about a three weeks heads-up that the plane crash would be happening, and his first concern was about the logistics of accommodating the pieces of plane wreckage.
"The first thought was, 'How are we going to get something of that size into our sound stage?'" Hoffmann tells us. "The plane is very large, and that was a big challenge, physically getting it onstage and locating wrecked plane pieces that would be appropriate for our storyline."
The design process actually started with research: looking for pictures of actual plane crashes and finding resources for where to get pieces of wrecked planes. Once the props were found, the production team only had a few days to get the sound stage transformed. In addition to forklifting huge pieces of plane wreckage to the site, more than 300 platforms of varying heights were installed, snow equipment was brought in, and tons of "snow"-blanketed trees were added to create the wintry crash scene. A huge endeavor, for sure, but what was the biggest challenge for Hoffmann and his team?
"Finding the airplane that was going to suit our needs [and] that was a private jet that we could also do an interior of as well" wasn't easy, the production pro says. "There was a bit of a challenge… locating those pieces. The other part was just trying to set up in such a way that we could get camera angles, because we shoot multicamera, and being able to get up into the crash site, into the wreckage, which was sort of one of the things we really wanted to do, as opposed to just being down in front of it, like a lot of shows are shot. We wanted to be able to push our cameras up into the set, find interesting views and angles so that we'd be able to give the directors a lot of different opportunities for new and interesting shots."
That all-important plane piece was found through a California company that specializes in wrecked aircraft. "They're right near one of the airplane graveyards out in the Mojave, and as they find things they salvage them," Hoffmann says. "Pretty much any motion picture, television show where you see a wrecked plane, anything from a small two-seater up to a jumbo jet, they've probably gotten their plane parts from Aviation Warehouse. And so that was our main place to go and find something. In addition to the pieces, they have acres of wheels and luggage and bits and pieces of this and that. It was kind of a lot of fun just to go through all that, to shop for that."
As for the snow used in the wintry storyline, it's true that no two snowflakes are alike — and neither were the kinds of snow on the set. Hoffmann says he used three different types of snow products to create the snowstorm for the crash scenes. "For the stuff that's blown in on the trees and on the fuselage to look like it's kind of been stuck on there… we used this paper product that kind of gets blown in with some water so it sticks to it," he reveals. "So it stuck to all the trees. And then we used some of that on the ground around the actors. And then we supplemented it with another product called Display Snow — it's sort of a polyester material that looks very good close-up. And then for the falling snow, we used a flaked snow. It's a plastic product, unfortunately, but it's one of the few things that you can drop from the ceiling and it will kind of flutter down like snow, as opposed to falling too fast."
While Y&R set designers have spent the past year updating the look of the show with cool new sets that include Lily's office at the GCAC [Genoa City Athletic Club], Ashley Abbott's sleek, modern lab at Jabot Cosmetics, and that sizzling rooftop sundeck that debuted last summer, the plane crash set is definitely special.
"This was a set that we knew was going to be important, so it was more about getting it right on this one and not making it look like we're onstage. And that's always difficult to do from a scenic standpoint, from a lighting standpoint," Hoffmann says.
But the plane crash set isn't the only one to be on the lookout for when the epic story arc kicks off this Friday. Hoffmann gave us a bit of a teaser: "During our plane crash storyline, we have other disasters happening in Genoa City that we're also building and prepping at the same time," he says.
The Young and the Restless airs weekdays on CBS.