Examining the Jeffersonian Over the past 11 seasons, Bones’ FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) and Dr. Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel, right with recurring guest star Pej Vahdat) have solved more than 220 homicides. When the couple isn’t out in the field together, Booth is busy tracking down suspects while forensic anthropologist Brennan works with her team at the Jeffersonian Institute to make sense of any remains or evidence.
Built on the Fox lot in Century City, California, the Jeffersonian has become home to a number of extraordinary objects—both big and small—throughout the show’s tenure. (The Natural History Museum in Los Angeles and Wallis Annenberg Building at USC stand in for the institute’s facade.) “The lab set is a great space for bringing in very large pieces,” production designer Valdar Wilt says. “We’ve had a 60-foot tree on the platform as well as cars, vans, other enormous props. The set just works so well and it’s really held up.”
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In Memoriam Though Brennan has cycled through a number of colleagues over the years, only intern Vincent Nigel-Murray (Ryan Cartwright) has the distinction of being killed in the lab. A plaque was put up to honor him shortly after his Season 6 death, where it’s remained since. “It’s fun to go in and see [Cartwright’s] face every time we’re on the set,” Wilt says. “He’s still always present with us even though he’s not there.”
Leaping Lizards Brennan has had this pet iguana in her office for nearly half of the series, but “there’s no real live iguana in there,” Wilt says. If there’s ever an instance where the animal needs to be showcased, they can bring in a real iguana for a close-up. Most of the time, the cage remains empty. “He’s very shy,” Wilt jokes.
X-Ray Vision The production team has to craft a new corpse—complete with specific injuries—for every crime featured on the show. Realistic medical test results are also mocked up. “We usually have our graphic department and our video graphics crew work very close with the guys who build the bodies,” Wilt says.
Featured Creatures Hodgins (TJ Thyne) is the Jeffersonian’s expert in botany, entomology and mineralogy, and over the years he’s managed to utilize even the most unlikely of critters to help him make sense of evidence. But the real treasure of Hodgins’s office is his collection of embalmed creatures.
“The preservation of certain species for the sake of examination, and thus education, is key to Hodgins’s room,” Thyne says. “Upon every wall and shelf around the laboratory you’ll find specimens of creepy-crawlies that you certainly would never want creeping or crawling on you—bleck! Some of them are terrifying!”
Tool Time With constantly evolving technology, the show’s producers and writers are tasked with staying on top of the latest medical trends and devices, and the set is updated accordingly. However, when it comes to the more traditional tools, like the ones in Cam’s (Tamara Taylor) autopsy room, “the bulk of the equipment here has pretty much remained the same,” Wilt says.
The Bone Room Brennan and her interns spend countless hours in the “bone room,” which makes finding new ways to shoot the space a creative challenge. “We have the ability to remove some pretty big sections of the set, to pull them out, to make room for camera cranes, different kinds of camera moves,” Wilt says. “That’s allowed us to continue to innovate in that space, and still try and do new things in a confined area like that.”
Booth and Brennan's House Booth and Brennan’s previous home was taken out during a shootout in Season 9, but “luckily, when their original house got destroyed, [former Bones showrunner] Stephen Nathan gave me a heads up long in advance of that,” Wilt recalls. “I had time to digest the notion. It was exciting to be able to build them a new place.”
One of the perks of the new home set? “Virtually every section of the set is on wheels or on a chain hoist,” Wilt shares. “The entire set can disappear in a matter of minutes to make room for a camera, to get an interesting angle. We really pushed the limits on making sure that every conceivable angle could be photographed by eliminating half of it quickly…the kitchen is on wheels. Everything, basically, rolls. And you’d never know. Walking on our set, you’d never know; our crew did such a great job building it. All of our directors love to shoot in there for that reason.”
Episode 200 One of the biggest set overhauls the show had to do was the 200th episode in Season 10. The hour reimagined the characters as fixtures in 1950s-era Hollywood, which required all of the sets be adjusted to that era. “That was a challenge, but a lot of fun to do,” Wilt says. “We found old Hollywood lights that we put outside the windows to have the house feel like it was set in Hollywood. And then we changed the kitchen, changed the paint colors. We brought in a circular stairwell into the living room. It was a lot of fun to do that.”
However, it was a complicated hour to pull off. “On either end of the 200th, we still had conventional episodes to film,” Wilt points out. “So all of those changes we made, we had to do that in a very limited amount of time and then change it back to the original house, quickly as well… That was by far the most challenging episode for me. And for most everybody!”