Happy Holidays from Art DepartMENTAL

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Christmas day is here again and we here at Art DepartMENTAL just want to send you our sincerest holiday wishes on this beautiful December morning. It brings us great joy to bring you this website and so today we also just wanted to give thanks.

  • Thanks to our friends and family who have supported not only this blog but also our art department endeavors. We could not do it without you.
  • Thanks to each and every person who has ever visited this website, even if just for a second. We truly, madly and deeply appreciate you.
  • Thanks to those who keep coming back. You make us tick. We wouldn’t do this if it weren’t for you.
  • Thanks to the many people working long, hard hours away from family and friends in art departments around the world. We salute you.
  • Thanks to everyone who tells stories, visually or otherwise. For some people it may be the only thing that gets them through the day. Avenues of escape are important. We may not save lives but we are contributors to beauty, exploration and education.

So today- enjoy your time off work, hug your family & friends, take time to remember who and what matters most to you and enjoy every minute of your life. It’s too short to sweat the small stuff.

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Thank you and happy holidays!

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Rose & Alison @ Art DepartMENTAL

XO.

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The Art of Reality Television Production Design

This year, Orange County’s Saddleback College invited guest speaker Production Designer, John Janavs, to speak about the art of reality television production design to a group of students. They were kind enough to post it online for all to see. John Janavs speaks eloquently about how he entered the field of production design, what he looks for when designing a set, how he chooses materials underlying budget limitations and more. This is the single most informative and insightful set of videos I’ve seen all year concerning production design so I suggest you watch carefully and take notes. Enjoy!

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PART ONE

PART TWO

PART THREE

PART FOUR

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Which tip helped you the most? Do you have a better understanding of television production design now?

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Rose XO.

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Filed under Art Department Tips, Art Direction, Production DESIGN, TV Sets

How to Feel Miserable as an Artist

Source: Canadian Illustrator, Keri Smith

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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?

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Rose XO.

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Filed under Advice, ART DEPARTMENT, Art Direction, Film HAPPINESS, How-to, Production DESIGN

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

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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…

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You can see more from Production Designer, Matthew Davies on his Vimeo account: http://vimeo.com/10711987 and on IMDB:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0203850/

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.

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The Teaser Trailers for Take This Waltz

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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?

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

All photos, video, and content are copyrighted 2011.

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Filed under ART DEPARTMENT, Art Direction, EXCLUSIVE, Film INDUSTRY, Production DESIGN, Toronto International Film Festival

TIFF 2011 EXCLUSIVE: An Interview with ‘Random’ Production Designer Lisa Marie Hall

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As you all may know The Toronto International Film Festival is in full swing right now and I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Production Designer, Lisa Marie Hall, of Random which is having its North American premiere here in Toronto. Lisa delves deep and discusses her role in the mechanism of filmmaking as not just a designer, but as key partner in the storytelling process, giving great insight into her own modus operandi. Enjoy.

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How did you get into production design?

My career began at school prop-making, sculpting & set designing for the stage at 17.  I was in love with the idea of recreating worlds & applying my imagination onto spaces.  This quickly turned to design for the screen with a degree in TV Production Design then straight onto a Masters degree in Film Production Design at the National Film & TV School.   I am grateful that I’ve always known production design is what I want to do.  It’s my life, not simply a job, and now at the age of 31, I look back & it’s all I’ve ever done.  Upon leaving film school I went straight onto drafting the Great Glass Elevator (amongst other things) for Tim Burton’s Charlie & The Chocolate Factory – it was an amazing experience working in a big art department but ultimately not a route I wanted to pursue.  So I took the rather brave/naive step of being a Production Designer in my own right from there on working on commercials, promos and lots of low-budget features.  Almost 8 years later, here I am.  I’ve never art directed or assisted.  I have learnt that being a designer is not simply a step up from the art director, it requires a whole new set of skills not seen anywhere else in the art department – being a visionary storyteller, a politician, a creative leader and another set of eyes for the director – so that is what I’ve worked hard to be good at and will continue to do….

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’ve always said being a Production Designer is being a storyteller, so what I love most about the job is finding the vision for a story right at the beginning of prep – the research for images, themes, making connections between objects, photographers, paintings & architecture, that translate into moods & feelings appropriate for the characters & plot.  It’s a wonderful journey of discovery & learning, looking in hidden & unusual places for inspiration, finding things that move you in different ways.  A love of art history is essential and I spend a lot of time at galleries & in spaces.  The down side of the job is asking your team to endure the pressures.  As the leader it’s your management of the job, your choices that demand time & effort from your team and when jobs are tight on budget & time (which most of mine are!), art departments often work long hours, doing physical labour – it’s hard to keep a team going & producing high quality work when they (and you) are exhausted.  I’m still learning the best way to deal with this when extra budget isn’t simply the answer – I’ve been reading an amazing book about Ernest Shackleton’s leadership skills which is inspiring me to manage ‘endurance’ in lots of new ways.

Who or what inspires your design aesthetic most?

There are two men who have changed my design world & therefore how I work: John Ruskin, the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, also an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, prominent social thinker and philanthropist – reading his book “On Art & Life” changed everything for me;  and writer/art historian John Berger & his book “Ways of Seeing” – they’ve both taught me to really open my eyes and look at the world which I have to design.  Since I have become much more aware of an everyday world that isn’t ‘designed’, how rich & exciting it is in detail, and I’ve been prompted to look far beyond the Western world for ideas and culture.  Japanese aesthetics & Eastern thought have influenced me greatly.  The Victoria & Albert Museum in London remains my greatest place of inspiration – it allows me to find ideas in unlikely places, making connections between ancient, historic and modern things which lead to my own original designs.  I’m a firm believer in finding inspiration in whatever life puts in front if you at any one moment – be it a book, a word, a play, an advert or personal story – you just need to know to look for it!

ROSE: How did you get involved on Random?

After a run of a few ‘challenging’ jobs my agent suggested working with the lovely company Hillbiilly Films & they’re latest low-budget project – a theatre-film hybrid.  I had been looking into broadening my design work into other mediums so this was a perfect opportunity and it was the most exciting script I’d read for the last 5 years.  I prepared, as I always do for an interview, a ‘Look Book’ (a collage of images that set together creates my interpreted vision for the story) & it seemed to inspire a great connection with Debbie Tucker Green when we first met….I started work a few days later.

Had you seen the play before you started working on the project?

No.  In fact, I’m ashamed to say my theatre-going experience was pretty limited.  It’s only in the last year that I’ve decided to pursue working in theatre alongside film & TV and in doing so I’ve made a real effort to go & see as much as I can both in the West End, at the National Theatre and the smaller fringe venues around London – it’s been a great education.  I’m so excited about set design for the stage – I suppose it’s that chance to play with ALL the senses, to create immersive experiences for the audience, not rely on replicating reality, and find unusual creative solutions to financial restraints.  Even though there’s less money, there’s a greater freedom.  Theatre I see now is such an important form that designers need to explore – it teaches you a great deal about the importance of text & character.  Coincidentally, since Random, Debbie Tucker Green asked me to design her new play, ‘Truth & Reconciliation’ at the Royal Court Theatre, London.  It has been a huge learning curve, particularly doing costume for the first time, but it’s been a wonderful collaborative experience, has been well received, & I look forward to more work for the stage.

From your perspective what is Random about? How did you go about expressing this?

Debbie’s writing, for me, is about truth – how quirky, painful and mundane it can be in our lives.  The story didn’t, for me, have a ‘theme’.  It was a lyrical & poignant look at an intimate moment in life and therefore the design was not about an overall mood or plot.  Our work on Random, as it is with everything I do, was principally about honesty & detail.  I had to recreate an honest world, make you believe we were glimpsing into a real Jamaican family living in London.  That was it.  No frills.  Two things came out of my approach to the script that were important in the design: 1, the film has 468 scenes! – due to a constant cutting between a ‘black box’ performance space and real ‘lit’ locations, which therefore demanded a look on location that didn’t jar with a black studio so shadows & dark tones became important, and 2, a line in the script that stuck out for both myself & the set decorator: “MUM: Like a hurricane gone thru were tings should be” – the idea of a storm at sea gave us the look for the house, full of life and movement – it’s only when the clock strikes 4:09 does everything stop, dead.  Achieving a sense of movement is paramount for me, finding life in the middle of things – twisted duvets, clothes on the floor, dirty dishes in the sink, shoes in a messy pile by the door.

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

The first job was locating the principal house location – a completely empty property – no carpets, no curtains, no furniture.  Then further to conversations about character with Debbie, I created the final ‘Look Book’ as my tool of communicating my vision.  I am a bit of a renegade when it comes to the process – I don’t believe in just following the same old working patterns that exist in the industry because every job is different and demands a unique approach.  I study a lot of business ideas/thinking and so it inspired me to shake things up.  So, I employed a team of ‘Character Buyers’ – one for each member of the Random family (Mum, Dad, Sister, Brother).  They each had a space within the house (a bedroom for example) and they had to go away for 1 week to prep & buy everything required specifically for their character – furniture, carpets, curtains, dressing, & any scripted action props.  Then in the 2nd week all Buyers came together to dress the house set, working almost as a family.  It was my & the Set Decorator’s job to tie it all together.  I asked the buyers to buy Christmas & birthday presents for each other’s characters for the last 5 years, so that there would be a blend of character props in each other’s spaces.  It was a great process that dispensed with traditional art department hierarchies, gave creative freedom & responsibility to a whole team, and led to the main set rich & detailed in feel, despite the budget being (very) low.

What was Debbie’s approach 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?

This was Debbie’s first feature length film so she entrusted me & the DoP with its look a huge amount which was energising.  Her approach was that it must be real but neither gritty nor depressing.  The story has nothing to do with race or class so we had to avoid anything stereotypical, whilst retaining a character of a family with its own funny quirks.  It’s a regular family living in an unknown part of London being affected by a random act of violence that can, and sadly does, happen anywhere.  Debbie knows what she likes, what she doesn’t, enjoys being tested with new ideas and sometimes needs a little convincing, but was ultimately very collaborative.  The script features a lot of object detail, refreshing for a designer, so this was important for her to get right.  She gave me a lot of advice on the Jamaican detail we needed – the types of food in the kitchen, the type of cosmetic products in the bedroom – but also left me to trust my own instinct.

What was your favourite thing about designing Random?

Over-hearing the crew & cast (those who didn’t know) remark that it was amazing we had found a location, a house with a Jamaican family already living there!  We had everyone fooled and it was a proud moment for the team to know that we had created a truly believable & honestly dressed location.  And seeing that team of character buyers come together and bring 4 different identities anda whole host of ideas to a house that I would never have been able to achieve by myself – it was a great collaborative result.

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

1. The technical skills we use in set design (drafting, modelmaking, CAD, concept drawing, construction or prop making) are important to learn but they WILL NEVER make you a designer.  It is your ability to tell stories visually that is the thing you must strive to be good at if you want a career in production design and to do this you must immerse yourself in stories not only from literature, but from the real world out there.  Stories are in objects and places and spaces everywhere, you must train yourself to see them.  2.  The biggest thing I’ve learnt in the last 8 years is being a Production Designer is all about managing people & efficient communication – 2% of my time is being practically creative (drawing, making models), 98% of my time is spent making it all happen, problem-solving. You need to have a sharp business mind, be a good politician, and enjoy the creativity of management.  3. And be prepared to work long hours – most jobs are a real test of endurance and production design requires a high level of dedication and stamina!

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You can see more from Production Designer, Lisa Marie Hall on her website: http://www.lisamariehall.com/ or converse with her through Twitter: @Moving_Design

Random has its North American premiere here in Toronto, September 16th at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 10pm and plays again September 17th at AGO Jackman Hall at 1pm.

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The Trailer for Random

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Have you seen or are you going to see Random? Any thoughts on Lisa’s design style or unique process?

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Rose XO.

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Sources: Lisa Marie Hall and Channel 4. Used with Permission.

All photos, video, and content are copyrighted. 2011

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Filed under EXCLUSIVE, Toronto International Film Festival

TIFF ’11 DIARY: Day 1- Back Aches, U2, Van Sant & a Kick to the Head

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The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) started yesterday and while I had anticipated seeing 7 films to really get my TIFF ball rolling my back decided otherwise.

After only 2.5 hours sleep I rolled out of bed to head to the box office for 7am to pick up the 4 tickets I still needed for the U2 documentary, From the Sky Down. The U2 doc tickets were definitely a pre-festival mess from start to finish as almost no tickets had been released to the public until the day of the screening. Luckily I was able to get the tickets I needed then head home to prepare for my screenings. When I arrived home I grabbed some breakfast and put on Singin’ in the Rain to get me pumped for the long day ahead. I go to grab my laptop to check my email and… ouch. I had pulled the muscle in my back that I semi-frequently have problems with when tired and stressed due to an old art department induced injury. Why me? I could barely move a muscle without shooting pains up my neck and down my arms. Lovely. Since I couldn’t get up I had no choice but to go back to sleep as it tends to relax a bit when I sleep it off.

So as I sleep I am missing 3 of my most anticipated screenings of the day: Melancholia, We Need to Talk About Kevin & This Is Not A Film.

Finally I wake up at 2:30 pissed off and disappointed. Pissed that TIFF didn’t release tickets to the U2 doc earlier so I wouldn’t have had to get up earlier than necessary and hurt my back and disappointed in myself that I haven’t taken care of my body in the past particularly when doing laborious work early on in my art/sets career. ART/SETS DEPARTMENT TIP: Always lift with your leg muscles- not your back. Your legs can take the weight your back can’t as I discovered early.

Considering that I missed my first 3 films I’m determined to turn my day around and head to the industry box office to see what tickets I can get with my industry pass for the next few days. I was able to get a coveted premiere ticket to The Descendants (starring Clooney, directed by Alexander Payne) so I am at once happy again.

I then head next door to the TIFF Bell Lightbox to see the Press & Industry screening of The Ides of March (directed by Clooney) starring my idea of male perfection- Ryan Gosling. On my way to the wait line I accidentally almost run over a crouched down Jason Reitman who’s engrossed in conversation on his cell. Finally I’m in the industry line and I see the golden beacon of film criticism walk through the front doors – it’s Roger Ebert with his lovely wife Chaz by his side. At this point I no longer care that my back is in a quiet agony among all of this madness because I am in the middle of full TIFF opening day glory.

If you know me, you know that TIFF is without a doubt my favourite time of year and I am fanatical about it. I regain all sense that life is beautiful, the human condition is not in dire straits, and I fall madly in love with the City of Toronto once more. In other words, I lose touch with reality and become immersed in the beauty of cinema.

The Ides of March 3.5/5

Now I finally make it in and out of The Ides of March and I really didn’t know what to think of it. It was good but it wasn’t amazing. At TIFF I wrongfully expect amazing every time out of the gate. Clooney basically starred as a married politician version of himself. His direction was uneven and the plot was riddled with holes but the performances by Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Paul Giamatti were fantastic. The art direction was weaker than I expected. The many campaign graphics used in the film were a bit hit and miss and they failed to age them or even fold the newspapers in the right spots so I could tell they came straight from the printers. There are moments of greatness in the film, superb acting and some excellent cinematography with a decent enough premise. It’s too bad Clooney couldn’t fully reel it in.

Immediately after I run out of Ides of March I hop in a taxi and head to the new U2 doc. With the horrendous traffic jams I get there just in time to find a decent seat and the official opening night begins after lovely intro footage. It finally looks like TIFF is spending the big bucks to look professional and I like what I see in the intro.

Davis Guggenheim, Bono, and the Edge then take the stage and all three make brief speeches. Bono laments that they have not shown a lot of their behind-the-scenes process in the past because they thought that if we saw how the ‘sausage’ was made we may not want to eat it after. However they changed their minds deciding it was healthy to look back.

From the Sky Down (U2 Documentary) 2/5

In the intro Davis Guggenheim mentions that they made this film start to finish in 6 months and only just finished editing before they came to TIFF and he hoped it didn’t show in the final product. Sad to say- it most certainly did show. The film is scattered and relentless in its self indulgence. By the end of it Bono is so self-congratulating it was unnatural. I now see why people rag on Bono for his big ego. I like early U2 and the movie focused around Achtung Baby but how they chose to do this started with how unhappy Joshua Tree (my favourite album of theirs) made them and tearing it apart saying they didn’t know what they were doing. So they kind of lost me there. However the music sections were not the problem. The problem was Guggenheim had no idea where he was going with this. By the end I was wondering to myself what I was supposed to have gleaned from the movie. There wasn’t much of a story to be had. He even used the same shot of an empty ballroom 3 times. They must not have had enough footage? The movie did have a few saving graces as it’s interesting to see how music is made. There’s a section on the chords in ‘One’ that was pretty cool. Overall though it is my least favourite Davis Guggenheim film by a long shot. I thought I would like it because of the U2 sequence in It Might Get Loud which was excellent. However that film didn’t take 6 months to complete.

Immediately after U2 I headed to go see Gus Van Sant’s latest film Restless. I’ve never seen Gus Van Sant before despite his many appearances at TIFF so I was very excited for this one and he didn’t disappoint.

Gus Van Sant, Bryce Dallas Howard, Mia Wasikowska, and the writer take the stage for a Q&A after the screening.

Restless 4/5

I don’t want to say too much about this one as much detail would really spoil it. I will say that I loved the tone of the film- small, dark with a certain quirkiness I appreciated. The film revolves around the inevitability of impending death and how it’s handled in the film walks that fine line between meditation and cliche. I’m glad to say they didn’t fall into cliches and completely expected territory. The chemistry between Henry Hopper (Dennis Hopper’s son) and Mia Wasikowska was fantastic. They were well-suited to each other therefore the ending for me held more impact. The only thing I wasn’t really loving was the involvement of a ghost in the story. That just didn’t work for me but luckily the rest of the film did.

The Raid 4.5/5

This film makes Jackie Chan look like an amateur. Kick ass fighting like you’ve never seen with truly inventive choreography all packaged in the most well-devised plot I think I’ve ever seen for a action/martial arts film. I can’t wait for North American audiences to see this as it will blow minds. It’s been picked up by Sony for distribution luckily so look forward people. It’s a film you won’t forget.

I finally arrive home at 3am with the pain so bad up my neck I could barely move again but I popped some painkillers and dreamed of kicks to the head.

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Perhaps now you have a better sense of the schedule, chaos and adrenaline rush TIFF brings to your average film fanatic. Thoughts? Did you see any of these films?

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Rose XO.

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Art DepartMENTAL @ TIFF ’11

Tomorrow the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival officially starts its 36th year fully settled in its new home, the TIFF Bell Lightbox. This year it is 11 days from Sept 8-18 and will showcase 339 films- 258 features and 81 shorts. It is the largest public festival in the world and I would say second in popularity only to Cannes. Even the Guardian thinks Venice is scared of Toronto’s new found prowess.

I have been attending the festival for the past 8 years and every year I look forward to it more and more. This is the first year I will be going to TIFF as an Industry member and this has me more excited (and nervous) than ever before. I’m looking forward to networking and continuing my journey to learn this business inside and out. I know a lot of you out there have never been to TIFF or any film festival like it and do not understand all of the hype and hoopla associated with the festival. It’s hard to describe it but it’s sort of like an amusement park run in celebration of the beauty and transcendence of the moving image. To those who love cinema it’s Christmas in September. One film after another of the very best this World has to offer not to mention the electric vibe the city of Toronto has when it’s glowing in the TIFF spotlight.

Like last year I will be live tweeting again (@artdepartmental) from the festival and be sure to follow the TIFF hashtag #TIFF11 to get the inside scoop on what’s hot, what’s not and what’s being bought.

Programme, schedules & hooch during my 16 hour wait for TIFF tickets.

New this year, I will be posting a daily TIFF Diary for the 11 days of the festival letting you know what’s happening at the festival and my general experience as I attend approximately 40 movies in addition to panels, seminars, and parties. To stay updated you can bookmark Art DepartMENTAL, like us on Facebook, or you can subscibe via email or our RSS feed. As always I will try my best to cover the very best of the fest in production design glory. I hope you will come along for the ride!

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Are you attending TIFF ’11? If you are too far to attend, which films playing at TIFF’11 are you anxious to see or hear more about?

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Rose XO.
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Filed under Awards, Behind the SCENES, EXCLUSIVE, Film HAPPINESS, Film INDUSTRY, Toronto International Film Festival

PRODUCTION DESIGN PORN: Terrence Malick, Jack Fisk and the Art of Minimalism

Filmmaker, Terrence Malick

Production Designer, Jack Fisk

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Definition of Minimalism: A design or style in which the simplest and fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect. A technique that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.

I’ve been a big fan of Terrence Malick and Jack Fisk since I saw The Thin Red Line. Imagine my shock and awe when I saw the rest of their work. I often think of Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World when I think of Days of Heaven and that is a tribute to the way they painted their story with simple landscape and light during magic hour. Terrence clearly has a highly attuned eye for painterly composition and Fisk is not only able to realize Terry’s vision but catapult it to new heights in such a way that makes them the power team that they are. The Tree of Life this year has been a testament to the magic they share with their audience. The Tree of Life is a delightfully visual poem which enables the audience to ponder the nature of existence through the use of visual imagery and story minimalism. With this film I do believe Terrence and Jack have reached new heights in the search for beauty in cinema. Through their work I believe we can all learn that less really is more.

Jack Fisk Discusses his Work with Terrence and his Aesthetic:

“Terry and I have developed a relationship where we just go and look at locations together, for weeks, and that way we kind of get in sync on a picture. And then he says, “Whatever you do will be fine.” He’s so trusting, but I’ve worked so hard to fall in line with what he’s after. I think also over the years we’ve kind of developed similar tastes. Some of it came about because we never had any money, so we always had minimal set dressing and props, and we found out that we really like the way that looked. Even today, I spend most of my time taking stuff away rather than putting stuff onto a set. Just try to keep it simple, because if people aren’t confused by the background, they pay attention to what’s happening with the characters, I think. I try to create backgrounds that are easy to understand so they tell you in shorthand what you need to know about the place or the character and don’t distract you by giving you too much to look at. [The balance between simplicity and authenticity] is a hard one.

I’ve developed a real love of Edward Hopper. His paintings have a simplicity and an essence of location, so he’s probably who I reference the most – I think of him almost like an art director. You really feel the humans in those environments because there’s not a lot of distraction; he paints just what you need. The other artist I like is completely different and that’s Francis Bacon. The thing I really like about Francis Bacon is his passion. I look at his paintings and they’re like falling apart. He’ll put water-base paint on oils – whatever he does, he doesn’t worry about preserving it, but he worries about the moment. If he needs a dash of purple up there, he’ll put whatever purple he has. I appreciate that passion.”

~ Jack Fisk, from Filmmaker Magazine | Spring 2010

Terrence Malick and Jack Fisk’s Collaborations

Badlands (1973)

Badlands (1973)

Days of Heaven (1978)

Days of Heaven (1978)

Days of Heaven (1978)

The Thin Red Line (1998)

The New World (2005)

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life (2011)

The Tree of Life (2011)

Jack Fisk’s Other Collaborations

Here is more smouldering examples of Jack Fisk’s production designs, this time with other lauded filmmakers. You’ll see below that his love for minimalism follows him on each project but his designs remain classic, beautiful and appropriate to the characters, time period, story and genre. He has a knack for choosing projects that suit his unique visual aesthetic. He also seems to love anything with fire.

Carrie (1976)

Carrie (1976)

Carrie (1976)

Carrie (1976)

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

The Straight Story (1999)

Mulholland Dr. (2001)

The Invasion (2007)

There Will Be Blood (2007)

There Will Be Blood (2007)

There Will Be Blood (2007)

There Will Be Blood (2007)

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Water For Elephants (2011)

Water For Elephants (2011)

Water For Elephants (2011)

Water For Elephants (2011)

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Are you a fan of Terrence Malick or Jack Fisk? What is your favourite film designed by Jack Fisk and why?

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Rose XO.

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Filed under Art Direction, Design LOVE, Production DESIGN, Production Design Porn

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

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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.

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The Trailer:

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A Look at the Sets:

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EXT. HYANNIS PORT- JOE SR’s HOME

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.

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INT. HYANNIS PORT- JOE SR’S HOME- SUN ROOM

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

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INT. ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE

Full build in studio.

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EXT. WHITE HOUSE- WEST WING COLONNADE

Full build in studio.

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- OVAL OFFICE- LATE 1962

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.

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- SECRETARY’S OFFICE (Unlit, House Lights on)

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.

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- WEST SITTING HALL

Full build in studio.

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- CABINET ROOM

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.

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- GRAND HALL

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

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- WEST SITTING HALL, KIDS PLAY ROOM

Full build in studio.

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INT. WHITE HOUSE- JACKIE’S ROOM

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Rose XO.

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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

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Filed under ART DEPARTMENT, Art Direction, Awards, EXCLUSIVE, Production DESIGN

What Nobody Tells Beginners…

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In the video above, Ira Glass has articulated so well what I’ve been thinking for years. I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked:

“When should I start designing? Am I too young? Am I good enough?”

My answer is always “You are never too young and you will never be good if you don’t try,” but I’m grateful someone like Ira has more accurately expressed the importance of trying and the inevitability of failure in the beginning. I’m sure you’ve heard of the 10,000 hour rule or even the 1000 hour rule by now but if somebody had told me this in the beginning perhaps there would have been a lot less tears, heartache, second-guessing, and overall insecurity about why I was having so much trouble achieving what I wanted to achieve. I knew I was better than what I was churning out at times yet I blamed myself at every turn but now I know…

The overwhelming odds are that your best work WILL NOT be at the very beginning of your career and THAT’S OKAY.

It is through trying and failing that you will learn everything you will need to be successful. You can sit at home reading every book and watching every movie but until you step out onto that set you will never know what you yourself are capable of. You may fail- in fact you will very likely make every beginner’s mistake known to man no matter what you read in the past telling you what not to do. However it is by making those mistakes that you will learn over a course of time what works and what doesn’t… and for the people who put you down or stand in your way on your journey forward -> FUCK’EM! After all, the best revenge is massive success. Remember that and you’ll be fine.

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To Beginners: What is your biggest fear about getting started and getting better? To Veterans: How long did it take you to attain a certain level of excellence or at the very least feel comfortable in your position? What’s the best advice you were given in the beginning that helped you along?

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Rose XO.

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Source: David Shiyang Liu | Originally shared to me by Cybel Martin, @CybelDP

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Filed under Advice, Art Direction, Production DESIGN