Just Add Water

The Bacchante fountain on The Huntington’s North Loggia helped “CSI” create the atmosphere of an upscale spiritual retreat.

Water flows again in the Bacchante fountain (on The Huntington’s North Loggia) for an episode of “CSI.”

It’s just one shot, really. It might not even be in the final show. But creating that one shot took permission from the highest levels of The Huntington art division and several hours of direct supervision over the course of two days by a specialist from Rosa Lowinger and Associates, an art conservation company The Huntington brings in from time to time. On top of that, the shot required three “CSI” special effects people. Plus, of course, about 120 cast members and crew necessary to film the entire scene.

When “CSI” first called us in late February wanting to scout for an upcoming episode, we were pleased. Both “CSI: Miami” and “CSI: New York” had filmed here in years past. Now with the addition of the original “CSI”—the episode airs May 1—we could say we’d collected the complete set. “CSI” considered and rejected several locations, but they loved the Huntington Art Gallery Loggia, the perfect spot for the elegant lobby/presentation space of their upscale spiritual retreat. Then the “Bacchante” fountain that stands in the rock garden north of the Loggia seemed to catch the director’s eye.

The fountain’s marble base is a rare example of 16th century Florentine marble carving, most likely done by Battista Lorenzi. The bronze woman atop the bowl brandishing grapes and clutching an infant faun is by the American artist Frederick MacMonnies. Purchased in 1920, the fountain is a striking piece, even without water cascading down from the upper bowl.

An art conservator and at least three special effects people made the fountain “flow.”

An art conservator and at least three special effects people made the fountain “flow.”

The director, Eagle Egilsson, has shot here before, most notably for the episode of “CSI: Miami” that staged a lavish wedding on the North Vista (only to have the bride get shot at the altar). In that episode, I was particularly impressed with how good The Huntington looked—and how much of it actually appeared on the screen. It’s always disappointing when several days of work boil down to a scene shot entirely in close-up with all our scenery reduced to vague background green. So when Egilsson asked if the fountain worked, clearly planning an elaborate crane shot that would move past the flowing water toward the actors inside on the Loggia, he didn’t get the “no” nearly anyone else would have heard. I said, “I’ll find out.”

In fact, the fountain doesn’t work right now. Currently, it’s not quite level, so it took several tries for the magic of special effects to overcome the forces of gravity. (The crew hid a perforated hose in the bowl; more holes on one side than on the other finally equalized the water flow.) It wasn’t a long-term solution—“CSI” isn’t going to pay to have special effects people and an art conservator on standby every day—but it was lovely while it lasted.

Just part of the prep for a single shot, moving past the flowing water toward actors inside the Loggia.

Just part of the prep for a single shot, moving past the flowing water toward actors inside the Loggia.

This episode of “CSI,” titled “Fearless,” airs Wednesday, May 1, at 10 p.m. on CBS. After airing, episodes are available to view on-line for a few weeks. For more on the history of the fountain, you can read “At the Base of It” by Nicole Logan, in the spring/summer 2011 issue of Huntington Frontiers.

Dinah LeHoven is liaison for filming, commercial photography, and weddings for The Huntington.

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