"It looks quite fantastic now" - Rebuilding the Crystal Maze

Set designer James Dillon spoke about recreating and re-imagining the zones from the iconic gameshow...

"It looks quite fantastic now" - Rebuilding the Crystal Maze

Richard Ayoade hosts The Crystal Maze

After a two-decade hiatus and a teasing celebrity special last year, a new series of The Crystal Maze kicks off on Channel 4 tonight.

The Richards may have changed - with comedian and filmmaker Richard Ayoade taking over from original host Richard O'Brien (and his first successor Ed Tudor-Pole) - but the new series is very much looking like a return to the gameshow many will fondly remember from the 1990s.

There's that theme tune. There's the wisecracks. There's the final Crystal Dome. It all looks to be present and correct.

The zones were always some of the most memorable elements of the show. From the Aztec zone to the Future zone, the themed areas contestants travelled between added an epic sense of adventure to proceedings - even when it was all clearly happening on a series of cramped TV sets.

James Dillon designed the sets on the original show, and he was brought back on board for the revival.

He spoke to Moncrieff about his work, and some of the changes fans will notice if they tune in to watch the new series.

James explained: "Fortunately, because I designed the original series, I had a lot of the drawings of some of the original zones. I was able to refer back to those, and use those as a basis for construction.

"We basically built the Aztec, Medieval and Industrial zones pretty much as they were from the original series. Then we did a re-imagining of the Future zone for the new series."

"More cinematic"

Back in the 1990s, televisions were still standard definition. The series returns in the era of high definition - and indeed ultra high definition. What kind of challenges did that pose?

"We've had to bear that mind," James acknowledged. "The detail involved needs to be greater, and people will be seeing this on much bigger televisions.

"We haven't made [the sets] any bigger - we're sort of limited by the amount of space we can find to shoot the show in. They're already quite big - it's just they'll feel more cinematic I think than they did on the original show."

With the new series shot in a former factory in Bristol, the team have been able to incorporate parts of their new studio - such as walls and pipework - into the sets.

"It means it has a bigger feel, because we can use those things to make it feel like there's a bigger perspective there than there was on the original set," James observed.

Fans can expect the Industrial zone to feel a bit more 'like a period set' now than it did in the 1990s - but it's the Future zone that has undergone the biggest change.

"We've kind of re-imagined that," James said. "Originally it was a very broken down, dystopian space station [...] It's now re-imagined as a much cleaner, whiter, brighter, more exciting looking interior."

He also spoke about some of the practical changes with the layout of the zones in the new studio space.

"In the original set, because we used an aircraft hanger, the set was designed so it that it would all fit together and the sets literally interconnected. This time, we're in a different shape - instead of being in a big oblong box, we're in a smaller square box.

"What we've had to do is break the zones up in order to fit them into the space as we wanted them to - so there's not quite the same physical connections between the different zones that we had originally."

He added: "It's almost made it easier to get around film the actual sets - so that's had a quite bearing on this particular series. One of the things about the original series is we filmed a show every two days - now we're sometimes filming two shows a day, so a lot of care has been taken in the way things have been laid out [...] so everyone can move around and film as fast as possible."

Of course, it wouldn't be The Crystal Maze without the Crystal Dome - and the iconic structure has gotten a welcome upgrade for 2017.

"It kind of resembles the crystals that the playing for more," James told Sean. "We've also done a lot of LED lighting and concert-style lighting - so it looks quite fantastic now, it's very updated."