Category Archives: Art Department

The Ten Commandments of Production Design

Ten Commandments Of Production Design


1)    All the camera sees is the last coat of paint.

2)    Don’t cheat (unless you have to).

3)    Signs of protest are best done by amateurs.

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Filed under Advice, Art Department, Art Direction, Production Design

My Life in the Art Department in Los Angeles


As a new contributor to Art DepartMENTAL, I will be covering the Art department scene in Los Angeles in greater detail as the months go on. Rose and I thought it would be a good idea to start off with a little bit about myself and my work in the art department through a Q&A. So without further delay, Rose asked and I answered…

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Filed under Advice, Art Department, Behind the Scenes, Film Industry, Question & Answer

PRODUCTION DESIGN PORN: Art DepartMENTAL’s Top 10 Best Production Design of 2011


Art DepartMENTAL'S 2011 Top 10 Best Production Design

After some long and hard deliberations I have pared down what are, in my opinion, the top 10 best production designed/art directed films of 2011. In the end, given the subjectivity of film in general,  all this means is these were my favourite designs. Going through the many films I had on my list I was awestruck at the diversity, styles and overall quality of so many of the films. 2011 was really a banner year for production design the way I see it. Last year, I found it easy to just do a top 5 but this year I found it impossible not to do a top 10 and I easily could have made it a top 20.

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Filed under Art Department, Art Direction, Awards Season, Design Love, Production Design, Production Design Porn, Top 10

What’s in a Meme?


A meme is “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices in this case being the “What People Think I Do” meme. I found it particularly interesting when I started seeing the art department taking part as I do believe people really don’t know what we do. Even major producers don’t know what we do. So I compiled 5 of the memes I felt most related to the art department below:



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Filed under Art Department, Production Design

LINKS & STUFF: Art=Drugs, Midnight in Paris & Brad Bird Gets Reamed


It’s been a busy January but here is the best of what I’ve found for you the last couple weeks in the social media universe. This is the best time of year to find great information on art direction so please take a look and I think you’ll absolutely be inspired. Feel free to peruse our TwitterFacebookTumblr or our Google + Fan Page for more art department and film related goodies! Circle us on Google + and we’ll be sure to circle you back.

I think my parents made this.

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Filed under Art Department, Links & Stuff, Production Design

How to Feel Miserable as an Artist

Source: Canadian Illustrator, Keri Smith


Don’t do this to yourself. This may have been written for fine artists but I believe it translates to anyone in a creative field. A list like this will help keep you in check.

Thoughts? Which one of these do you find yourself doing the most?


Rose XO.



Filed under Advice, Art Department, Art Direction, How To, Production Design

TIFF 2011 EXCLUSIVE: An Interview with Take This Waltz Production Designer, Matthew Davies


While enjoying the Toronto International Film Festival I had the incredible luck to speak with the very talented Production Designer Matthew Davies, of Take This Waltz which had its red carpet World premiere here in Toronto this past week. Sarah Polley herself spoke on high about her Production Designer at the screenings and as you can see below she had good reason to champion her designer. Below Matthew speaks about his move from architecture to production design, the UK to Canada, and his production design process from conception to completion.

How did you get into production design?

I originally studied architecture at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University of London (UK). My profs would always accuse me of being too derivative, of being obsessed with cosmetics; finally one day my tutor told me I might as well go and design film sets if I had no personal statement to make. He intended it as a criticism, but for me, it was like a light going on inside my head…

How is the art department and film industry in the UK much different than here in Canada?

A few too many subtle differences to name.

Notably, however, Set Dec supplies everything to Props in the UK, rather than having two very separate departments. There is always a standby art director on set to represent the designer’s interests, as well as a ‘swing crew’ to shift dressing. By comparison in North America, there’s usually just an ‘on-set dresser’ which is way too much responsibility for a single person. Additionally, shooting crews in the UK usually include a standby painter and carpenter. Essentially, the Brits put a lot more care and attention into what the camera sees. On the plus side for Canada, Graphics is a much bigger component and I love the potential of graphics…

When did you make the move to Canada? What made you decide the Canadian film industry would be a better fit for you?

I was born in Canada and have 4 or 5 generations of Canadians in my family tree so it really felt like I was returning to my ancestral roots. London – after a decade of living there – was also getting a little much to deal with and when I came to compare the quality of life in both cities, Toronto won hands-down…

What do you love most about the nature of your job as a production designer? Adversely, what do you least like about the nature of production design?

I love the fact that only production designers get to work in almost any period and every genre of design. We also get to design for character which is so more interesting than conceptualizing an empty-box space. As for my greatest dislike, well, I wish there was more understanding of a designer’s job description; assumptions about the ‘glory’ of building in studio, of always prioritizing the technical over the creative agenda, and the general belief that imagination ‘costs’ – all these issues make my skin crawl.

Who or what inspires your design aesthetic most?

I have amassed a couple of thousand reference books over the years, so these always come in handy. Websites like flickr and google maps get pretty addictive too.

You have had the great opportunity of working with many celebrated directors such as Guy Maddin (The Saddest Music in the World), Fernando Meirelles (Blindness), and now of course, Sarah Polley. What do you look for in a director when deciding to take on a project?

I’ve been very fortunate in the past (and unluckier than you might imagine with regard to all the jobs I didn’t get…) Sadly, I don’t think there will ever come a time when the designer ‘chooses’ the director. Certainly, the collaboration of the DOP is fundamental to me, so this is usually the first question from my lips when I’m interviewing…

You’re absolutely right, you don’t get to choose but I think what I’m wondering is, as a production designer, what you look for in a director that makes the collaboration between filmmaker and designer enjoyable and fruitful?

I’d say a good director is one who champions his or her creative team, and remains open to the unexpected influences of a great location, a happy accident or a random co-incidence. In other words, shooting a movie feels to me as much about ‘documenting the moment’ as insisting on a singular outcome. Some of the most intriguing directors I’ve worked with spend more time watching and listening than actually directing…

How did you get involved on Take This Waltz?

I had originally been attached to “Away from Her” but in the end, scheduling made it impossible for me to come on board. The Canadian industry is (lamentably) rather ‘compact’, so Sarah was obviously on my radar pretty much from the day I arrived in Canada.

From your perspective what is Take This Waltz about and how did you go about expressing this?

The film is really about so many things, though at its centre is the indecision of Margot, torn between two different types of love. Toronto was itself also a major character and strangely, I felt more apprehensive about expressing my home town than anything else.

Can you speak a bit more about the practical side of your design process. Once you and Sarah discussed the design concepts for the film how did you go about expressing and executing that plan?

Sarah was adamant that it should be a location-based shoot (though we did build a couple of interior sets in studio for purely practical reasons like access and lighting). The art department was sharing space with Sarah during Prep so every day she would have to dig her way through all our detritus to get to her desk. We pretty much made it impossible for her to ignore us. That and the fact she’s a human sponge.

When the key locations were secured, we prepared boards of every paint colour, wallpaper, finish and texture and brought them to each space for the DOP to photograph. Dressing ‘boards’ were prepared of every idea and object in consideration and again divided out according to location. Later, we allowed plenty of time on-site to create all the prescribed layers of human history (which also required stills-shoots with our actors for all the incidental graphics). Sarah had a specific interest in the work of Canadian artist Balint Zsako, so we made an approach and asked him to generously donate a good part of his time to the art department cause. Finally, we introduced the actors to their respective spaces during the rehearsal window, allowing them to make their own tweaks and refinements.

What was Sarah’s approach in regards to the design of the film? Did she give you much freedom to explore your own visual concepts or was she very specific with her vision of the film?

Sarah had prepared her own initial look-board for the film as well as a concise yet meaningful visual synopsis. Her own off-hand reference to a ‘bowl of fruit’ was perhaps most helpful in defining the project’s aesthetic parameters. Yes, she invited experimentation; and yet she always had a very strong sense as to what would either work or not work in context. Her contribution was ongoing, always respectful and ensured that all departments kept a close communication throughout.

What was your favourite thing about designing Take This Waltz?

I loved the chemistry of the crew, the unbelievable commitment of my art director, set decorator, in fact, the entire department! Right up the line to the producers, it felt like finally, this was as good as my working experience could ever be… Sounds corny, but it’s true.

Lastly, given your many experiences in both film and television, what advice would you give to young people embarking on a career in the art department?

In the wake of the ‘digital revolution’, the internet and our obsession with ‘docu-drama’, the film and television business is still very much alive and thriving. Budgets may be lower, but with the proliferation of new media, there are more and more films being made and more ways to apply our creative energies.

In short, now is as good a time as any to jump into it. You’re pretty much guaranteed to have some unique experiences to look back on…


You can see more from Production Designer, Matthew Davies on his Vimeo account: and on IMDB:

Take This Waltz had its World Premiere  here in Toronto this past week and will continue its festival run at the Vancouver International Film Festival, Friday, September 30th.


The Teaser Trailers for Take This Waltz




Are you familiar with Matthew Davies or Sarah Polley’s work? Did anything Matthew said resonate with you? As always, I’d love to know your thoughts?

Rose XO.

Sources: Matthew Davies, Joe’s Daughter Inc. Used here with permission.

All photos, video, and content are copyrighted 2011.


Filed under Art Department, Art Direction, Exclusive, Film Industry, Production Design, Toronto International Film Festival

EXCLUSIVE: An Inside Look at the Production Design of The Kennedys


By now you’ve probably heard a little something about the Emmy nominated 8-Part Television Miniseries, The Kennedys, but today I want you to pay attention to the one aspect of the production that wasn’t blabbed about much in the media- the astoundingly skilled production design. Forget what you’ve heard about the show and judge for yourself. No matter what the media says with their half truths I hope you had the opportunity to watch The Kennedys during its original air dates and if not you’re in luck because it will be released on DVD September 20th in North America.

The Kennedys Production Designer Rocco Matteo, Art Director Mun Ying Kwun, and Set Decorator Enrico Campana did a superb job creating a period piece that was authentic and historically accurate but remained fresh in its design aesthetic. Challenged with over 125 sets, shooting in Toronto, with 3 months prep, a 70 day shoot, and an increasingly limited budget, Rocco, Mun Ying and Enrico had to work quickly and efficiently with all of their various teams to pull off miracles. Armed with 3 hard drives full of research, a team of 5 core art department professionals, several weekly players, and a top notch Construction, Set Dec, and Props Department they were able to make it work.

I have had the great fortune to see a lot of the photos, drawings, pre-production materials and research used on The Kennedys by the art department as well as speaking with many on its creative team and what I have seen has made my jaw drop so much I HAD to share it with you all. Below are never before-seen photos and stills given to me by Production Designer, Rocco Matteo, used here with permission, of course.

The Kennedys Production Design has been recognized with a Best Production Design nomination at the 2011 Gemini Awards, also receiving a 2011 Emmy Award nomination for Best Art Direction in a Mini-Series.


The Trailer:



A Look at the Sets:



For Rose and Joe Sr’s house the construction team built the bottom porch in this public park just outside downtown Toronto. The top of the home is actually CGI. Lots of landscaping was added to create a driveway, path and to more accurately portray Hyannis Port.



Built porch, added greens to exterior area, painted and dressed the location in Cobourg, Ontario in an empty front storage area/sun room.



Full build in studio.



Full build in studio.



An existing standing set in Kleinburg, Ontario was used for the Oval Office with extensive renovations to add the terrace, the backdrop and a fully built addition of the Presidential Secretary’s office as well as the outer office which came directly off of the Oval Office. This space also required a full dress by the Set Dec team. Many set decorations and dressings had to be made from scratch when they could not be found in order to maintain the authenticity of the period. For example the lamp on the desk, the globe lamp in front of the foremost left window, and the couches among other pieces were fabricated for the show. No stone was left unturned, even the book spines were created by the art department’s graphic designer.



Pictured above is the Presidential Secretary’s office which hangs off the Oval Office which was previously non-existent in the standing set. The Kennedys team went to great lengths to shoe horn this set into the relatively small studio to ensure its relation to the Oval Office was authentic. This included making the Oval Office side doors practical which were previously not built to open.



Full build in studio.



Full build in studio. The board room table was designed and built specifically for the project to be historically accurate. It was so large it had to be constructed in 3 pieces and put together on site.



An empty standing set that required a full dress including the artwork, draperies, chandeliers, furniture and even custom made torchieres.



Full build in studio.



Full build in studio. The picture above is from a scene in the Kennedys with the set fully lit and colour corrected in post. Below are Rocco’s personal set photos of the set fully dressed and ready for camera with only the houselights on.


INT. WHITE HOUSE- JACKIE’S ROOM (Unlit- House Lights on)

Like most of the sets, Rocco and his team analyzed all of the artwork in historical photos from the vast amount of research they collected and recreated similar themed and coloured artwork. Therefore every piece of artwork you see in The Kennedys was a recreation done by the graphic designer, changed just enough to make it through the clearance process since most of the artwork from that time period is not yet in the public domain.


INT. WHITE HOUSE- JACKIE’S ROOM (Unlit, House Lights on)

The opposite side of Jackie’s Bedroom. All draperies and linens were custom made for the project. If the correct furniture could not be sourced from around the globe it was also built from scratch. Authenticity was very important to the filmmakers, Rocco and his team.


INT. WHITE HOUSE- JACK’S ROOM (Unlit- House Lights on)

Full build in studio. This is Jack’s Bedroom which adjoins Jackie’s Bedroom. JFK and Jackie did not sleep in the same bedroom. John had turned what was supposed to be the living room in the West Sitting Area of the White House into his very own bedroom. Rocco made sure to keep the geography the same so every room would correctly relate to each other. You can see into Jackie’s Room through the door. Wild walls were also used to make sure the shoot crew always had enough space to shoot despite keeping the geography of the actual space accurate.


INT. WHITE HOUSE- JACK’S ROOM (Unlit, House Lights on)

A view of Jack’s bedroom facing the opposite side. That door heads to the hallway in the West Sitting Room.



Have you seen The Kennedys Miniseries? What do you think of the production design?


Rose XO.


Sources: Rocco Matteo, Muse Entertainment, and Reelz Channel. Used with permission.
Full Disclosure: I am currently employed with Rocco Matteo and Mun Ying Kwun on a different television series. I did not work on The Kennedys.
All photos, video, and content is copyrighted. 2011


Filed under Art Department, Art Direction, Awards Season, Exclusive, Production Design

The 2011 Emmy Nominations for Outstanding Art Direction are…

This morning the Emmy nominations were announced and luckily there was some truly stunning television work this past year. Just because it’s on the small screen doesn’t mean it can’t be visually splendorous. The following nominations prove this very point:


Outstanding Art Direction For A Multi-Camera Series

The Big Bang Theory • The Love Car Displacement • The 21-Second Excitation • The Agreement Dissection • CBS • Chuck Lorre Productions, Inc. in association with Warner Bros. Television

John S. Shaffner, Production Designer

Francoise Cherry-Cohen, Art Director

Ann Shea, Set Decorator

Hot In Cleveland • Sisterhood Of The Traveling SPANX© • I Love Lucci: Part Two • LeBron Is Le Gone • TV Land • Hudson Street Productions

Michael Andrew Hynes, Production Designer

Maralee Zediker, Set Decorator

How I Met Your Mother • Subway Wars • Natural History • CBS • Twentieth Century Fox Television

Stephan G. Olson, Production Designer

Susan Eschelbach, Set Decorator

Mike & Molly • Pilot • CBS • Bonanza Productions, Inc. in association with Chuck Lorre Productions, Inc. and Warner Bros. Television

John S. Shaffner, Production Designer

Ann Shea, Set Decorator

Rules Of Engagement • Last Of The Red Hat Lovers • Singing And Dancing • The Set Up • CBS • Happy Madison Productions and CBS Television Studios in association with Sony Pictures Television

Bernard Vyzga, Production Designer

Jerie Kelter, Set Decorator


Outstanding Art Direction For A Single-Camera Series


Boardwalk Empire • Boardwalk Empire (Pilot) • HBO • Leverage, Closest to the Hole Productions, Sikelia Productions and Cold Front Productions in association with HBO Entertainment

Bob Shaw, Production Designer

Douglas Huszti, Art Director

Debra Schutt, Set Decorator

The Borgias • Lucrezia’s Wedding • Showtime • Showtime Presents in

association with Take 5 Productions and Octagon Films

Francois Seguin, Production Designer

Jonathan McKinstry, Art Director

Judit Varga, Set Decorator

Mad Men • Public Relations • AMC • Lionsgate Television

Dan Bishop, Production Designer

Christopher L. Brown, Art Director

Claudette Didul, Set Decorator

Modern Family • Halloween • ABC • Twentieth Century Fox Television

Richard Berg, Production Designer

Amber Haley, S.D.S.A., Set Decorator

True Blood • Beautifully Broken • It Hurts Me Too • Trouble • HBO • Your Face Goes Here Entertainment in association with HBO Entertainment

Suzuki Ingerslev, Production Designer

Cat Smith, Art Director

Laura Richarz, S.D.S.A., Set Decorator


Outstanding Art Direction For A Miniseries Or Movie


Downton Abbey (Masterpiece) • PBS • A co-production of Carnival and Masterpiece

Donal Woods, Production Designer

Charmian Adams, Art Director

Gina Cromwell, Set Decorator

The Kennedys • ReelzChannel • A Muse Entertainment Production in association with Asylum Entertainment

Rocco Matteo, Production Designer

Mun Ying Kwun, Art Director

Enrico Campana, Set Decorator


For a list of all the nominations click here.


Which television show or mini-series are you happy to see nominated?


Rose XO.



Filed under Art Department, Art Direction, Awards Season, Film Industry, Period, Production Design


Italian director and screenwriter Bernardo Bertolucci was born in March 1941. He started writing at the age of 15 and originally wanted to be a poet. However, after assisting Pier Paolo Pasolini  with his film Accattone in 1961, Bertolucci dropped out of his literature studies at the University of Rome and directed his first film, The Grim Reaper, at the tender age of 22. Bertolucci’s films are known for their vibrant visuals as well as controversial political themes. He won two Oscars in 1988 (Best Director and Screenplay) for The Last Emperor.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

Production Designer: Carlo Simi | Set Decorators: Rafael Ferri, Carlo Leva

The Conformist (1970)

Production Designer: Ferdinando Scarfiotti  | Set Decorator: Osvaldo Desideri

Strategia del ragno (1970)

Production Designer: Maria Paola Maino

Last Tango in Paris (1972)

Production Designer & Set Decorator: Philippe Turlure

1900 (1976)

Art Director: Ezio Frigerio | Maria Paola Maino

The Last Emperor (1987)

Production Designer: Ferdinando Scarfiotti | Art Director: Maria-Teresa Barbasso, Gianni Giovagnoni, Gianni Silvestri | Set Decorator: Chunpu Wang

Stealing Beauty (1996)

Production Designer: Gianni Silvestri | Art Director: Domenico Sica | Set Decorator: Cynthia Sleiter

The Dreamers  (2003)

Production Designer: Jean Rabasse | Art Director: Pierre Duboisberranger

What is your favourite Bertolucci set or film?

- Alison


Filed under Art Department, Art Direction, Design Love, Production Design, Production Design Porn