Tag Archives: Production designer
“He must have knowledge of architecture of all periods and nationalities. He must be able to visualize and make interesting a tenement or a prison. He must be a cartoonist, a Continue reading
Dante Ferretti was the only winner to thank his crew, let alone any below-the-line crew. Films get made on the backs of their crew and I was so pleased to see that Dante respects his crew enough to thank them. It was lovely to see him win his 3rd Oscar for his staggering work on Hugowhich topped my list for best production design this past year. For once the Academy had it right.
For a list of all the nominees and winners of the 84th Academy Awards, click here.
Below is Dante Ferretti’s acceptance speech: Continue reading
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.
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:
The Artist is nominated for an Art Directors Guild Award for Best Production Design in a Period Film this year, and it got me thinking about other black and white films with great production design. Here are a few of my favourite films/scenes that are beautiful without Technicolour.
The Birth, Life, and Death of Christ (1906)
Art Direction: Alice Guy
Art Direction: Otis Turner
Art Director: Van Nest Polglase | Set Decorator: Darrell Silvera
Production Designer: Bibi Lindström
Production Designer: Mel Bourne | Set Decorator: Robert Drumheller
Production Designer: Laurence Bennett | Art Director: Gregory S. Hooper | Set Decorator: Austin Buchinsky, Robert Gould
What is your favourite black and white film?
Merry Christmas, Art DepartMENTAL readers! It’s that time of year again: garland on mantels, tinsel on trees, and of course – Christmas movies on television. There are too many Christmas films to mention but here are a few classics I think have noteworthy production design elements in them.
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
Art Director: Jack Okey | Set Decorator: Emile Kuri
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
A Christmas Story (1983)
Production Designer: Reuben Freed | Art Director: Gavin Mitchell | Set Decorator: Mark S. Freeborn
Production Designer: J. Michael Riva | Art Director: Virginia L. Randolph | Set Decorator: Linda DeScenna
Christmas Vacation (1989)
Production Designer: Stephen Marsh | Art Director: Beala Neal | Set Decorator: Lisa Fischer
Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (1992)
Production Designer: Sandy Veneziano | Art Director: Gary A. Lee | Set Decorator: Marvin March
Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Art Director: Deane Taylor
How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Production Designer: Michael Corenblith | Art Directors: Lauren E. Polizzi, Dan Webster | Set Decorator: Merideth Boswell
What’s your favourite Christmas movie and why?
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: http://vimeo.com/10711987 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?
Sources: Matthew Davies, Joe’s Daughter Inc. Used here with permission.
All photos, video, and content are copyrighted 2011.
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.
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!
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.
The Trailer for Random
Have you seen or are you going to see Random? Any thoughts on Lisa’s design style or unique process?
Sources: Lisa Marie Hall and Channel 4. Used with Permission.
All photos, video, and content are copyrighted. 2011