When Annie Atkins faked the plans for the Titanic

The designer favoured by Steven Spielberg and Wes Anderson sometimes breaks the rules to tell a great story
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Titanic plans, 18 x 72 in. (45.7 x 183 cm) by Annie Atkins, from Titanic: Blood and Steel (2012), production designer: Tom Conroy set decorator: Jil Turner. Notice that the fourth funnel on this drawing is attached to a working furnace, unlike the fourth smoke stack on the real Titanic.
Titanic plans, 18 x 72 in. (45.7 x 183 cm) by Annie Atkins, from Titanic: Blood and Steel (2012), production designer: Tom Conroy set decorator: Jil Turner. Notice that the fourth funnel on this drawing is attached to a working furnace, unlike the fourth smoke stack on the real Titanic.

Annie Atkins, might be the author of Fake Love Letters, Forged Telegrams, and Prison Escape Maps, but she’s a graphic designer for film and TV productions, not a master forger. She understands that, when it comes to handsome graphic props, a dramatic image drives a narrative forward more effectively than a period-correct recreation.

“Nine times out of ten, a director will forego historical accuracy when it comes to a graphic,” she writes in her new book’s introduction, “we’re telling a story, not making a documentary.”

Besides, a line-by-line copy of certain designs isn’t always possible anyway. Take Atkins’ work on Titanic: Blood and Steel, a big-budget TV series about that fateful ship, which was aired in 2012, to mark the centenary of the ship’s sinking.

 

 Titanic Menus, 71?5 x 5 in. (18.3 x 12.7), by Annie Atkins, from Titanic: Blood and Steel (2012), production designer: Tom Conroy set decorator: Jil Turner
Titanic Menus, 71?5 x 5 in. (18.3 x 12.7), by Annie Atkins, from Titanic: Blood and Steel (2012), production designer: Tom Conroy set decorator: Jil Turner

Atkins had to prepare a huge amount of material, from the ship’s blueprints through to its menu cards. However, the owners of these original images were proving less than helpful.

Having failed to gain consent from the owners of the original plans, she flew to Scotland to study the documents for another, similar shop: the RMS Lusitania.

 

Titanic menu, 7 1/5 x 5 in. (18.3 x 12.7), by Annie Atkins, from Titanic: Blood and Steel (2012), production designer: Tom Conroy set decorator: Jil Turner
Titanic menu, 7 1/5 x 5 in. (18.3 x 12.7), by Annie Atkins, from Titanic: Blood and Steel (2012), production designer: Tom Conroy set decorator: Jil Turner

“The Lusitania is sometimes thought of as the Titanic’s sister ship, as it was similar in both its size and fate,” Atkins writes. “Three years after the Titanic hit the iceberg, the Lusitania was hit by a German U-boat off the south coast of Ireland—and most of its twelve hundred passengers and crew drowned while waiting to be rescued.”

Unfortunately, a minor misfortune befell Atkins after these fake plans were on the set. “One of the stagehands had pointed out that the Titanic actually had three working funnels, and this ship seemed to have four,” she recalls.

 

Annie Atkins
Annie Atkins

“In the early 1900s funnels were symbols of speed and safety and the White Star Line wanted their newest ocean liner to be able to compete with its rival, at least on the outside: the Titanic’s fourth smokestack was actually only a dummy, containing a first-class smoking room,” she goes on to explain.

Would keen-eyed viewers see that the plans that Atkins had provided featured a fully working fourth stack, rather than a faux funnel? Probably not. The show’s production designer ruled that the discrepancy was so small that it was unlikely to detract from the show.

No such problems arose with Atkins’ menus, which list the food served to first, second and third class passengers, with pinpoint accuracy, showing the sharp inequalities present in Great Britain at that time. The only thing distinguishing Atkins’ cards from the real ones is an image of the quadruple-funnelled ship itself. 

“The three replicas shown here were made without the printed photographs of the ship as they appear on the originals,” she writes. “We just didn’t have the budget to pay the licensing fee.”

 

Fake Love Letters, Forged Telegrams, and Prison Escape Maps

But she didn’t let that stand in the way of a good story. For more graphic tales from sets such as Isle of Dogs, Bridge of Spies and The Grand Budapest Hotel, order a copy of Fake Love Letters, Forged Telegrams, and Prison Escape Maps here.


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