The story of Ren: The Girl with the Mark kicks off when the title character accidentally bonds with a spirit which escapes from a broken Reather. This gothic lantern-like device is therefore one of the most crucial props in the series. It was designed and built over many months by several very talented people.
James Ewing is an artist who had an ambition to design hero props for the silver screen. Mere weeks after watching Kate Madison’s popular fan film Born of Hope, he was excited to be contacted by her about just such an assignment.
James: When Kate first described the object that would become known as the Reather it didn’t have a name, and the only idea that was put forward was some sort of metallic ball that would be kept in a wooden case. The ball would then be held against the forehead of a restrained prisoner and the Mahri soul would be extracted.
I started work with the idea of the metallic ball in mind when I put together the preliminary concept sketches, but I wasn’t very happy with the feel of the thing. It didn’t feel very threatening. It felt like a lifeless object. It needed to have a character of its own. It needed to provoke an emotional response. I wanted something that would send a shiver down the spine. An object with an undead soul. A vampire. That’s where the idea for the gaping faces around the bottom came from.
I liked the idea that once the soul had been removed one might see it swirling around somehow, perhaps fighting against the confines of its prison. The idea of some form of glass container suggested itself, then the idea that this glass container might be held like an old lantern. That was the birth of the Reather.
James developed his design both on the page and in modelling clay, but unfortunately couldn’t see the project through to completion due to pressure of other work. Model-maker Nic Saunders, a Born of Hope veteran, stepped in.
Nic: I moulded and cast out a resin version. The moulding process was a little complicated because it was a very intricate piece. To make the mould I had to do some fiddly sculpting to make two part moulds and fill in all the holes that silicon could get trapped in. I ended up using it as an example piece in a class I taught on moulding and casting in my workshop because of its interesting shapes and intricacies. Once all the pieces were cast out in fast cast resin, I cleaned up the edges and sent it back to the model-making team.
Further moulding and casting work was performed by Luke McNally. The next person to take up the baton was Christie Nel, a fantasy fan local to the Cambridgeshire production, who saw it as an opportunity to learn about the process of film production.
Christie: I received the Reather as a box of delicate, white, moulded plastic parts. I spent a day on set cutting off excess plastic and cleaning up the sculpted parts with a Dremel tool. The discussions over the script and a bowl of tuna salad I remember fondly. To make the glass panels, I traced the shape of one of the Reather side panels on paper, scanned it in and used it to design the shape of the glass panel in software. I then laser-cut the glass panels from transparent acrylic, so they are in fact not real glass. To make it all fit, I had to perform some surgical cuts in the top and bottom plastic parts and sand the acrylic panels to make their edges meet behind the very thin side panels.
It was Hans Goosen who ultimately completed the Reather and its broken counterpart. A keen medieval re-enactor hailing from the Netherlands, Hans decided to take his summer holiday in England at Ren Studios after discovering the project online. He was asked to work on the Reather just days before it was due to go before the cameras.
Hans: I think a few of the top pieces were glued together but everything else was still to be done. After talking to Chris [Dane, series co-creator and production designer], I understood that a crystal was needed to be put inside. After the shoot one Sunday evening Chris and I went to Tesco’s (I think) to see if we could find anything suitable. After scouring everything from the toys to the automotive section, I ended up with some useful materials, but no crystal.
On Monday, I finally started putting the parts together and the thing started to take shape but time was getting short. Fortunately for me the shooting schedule had changed and it was not going to be used till Wednesday, which gave me a much needed extra day. Roaming through the studio looking for inspiration while glue was setting, my eye was caught by a hint of green in a big container with cutlery used by cast and crew during meals. This was a knife of transparent green plastic I remembered seeing before, and after raiding said container and going through the kitchen I ended up with two knives and two forks with identical thick plastic handles. After sanding them flat and gluing two together I had a piece big enough to become a crystal.
The handle was formed from a steel coat hanger so it could handle the weight of the whole Reather, which was covered in a layer of epoxy putty.
Hans: One thing to note is that I did not see the design drawings of the Reather until much later, so I had to make many design decisions myself, based on the script and the background story Chris provided, and limited by the materials and time available. On Wednesday everyone was shooting in Wales so there was no one to consult. This is why, in particular the arms/loops at the top ended up different from James’ original design.
The outside was sprayed with structure paint to give it some texture and everything was painted gold. Then it was weathered to give it an aged bronze look, and it was finally ready to go before the cameras.
Christie: I recall holding the final Reather in my hands after production and looking at it with much satisfaction. It really did look very good in the finished series [but] I would have loved to build in some kind of illumination.
Hans: One thing that was kind of funny to see was the other Reather, the one that breaks and releases the spirit. Chris and I discussed making it visually different so it would be clear to the audience there were two Reathers. This second one was steel instead of bronze, had a differently shaped interior, a different top handle and a blue crystal of a different shape. However, when a pickup shot was needed of Hunter and Lyanna stealing the Reather to clarify the story, only one undamaged Reather was available, which was the bronze one with the green crystal. The crystal in the breaking Reather was therefore changed to green and the colour slightly tuned in postproduction to make things fit better, although you can still see it is a different one if you know what to look for.
James: Seeing the Reather on screen is one of the highlights of my career so far. I sat in the audience of the premiere screening in the hope that I would catch a glimpse of it. I was blown away to see that the first thing on the screen was a close-up panning shot of the piece. For those few seconds, I just sat with a huge smile on my face.