The Role of the Production Designer: Case Study 1 – Part 4

Later on during the first afternoon I had a chance to talk with Matt about the role of Production Designer and filming TV and features in general. I asked him about various aspects of his work and below are the paraphrased notes from the discussions we had:-

Post production, CGI and the future of production design:-

Matt has little involvement with post production on many of the dramas that he designs, however there are occasions when he will discuss possible digital set extensions. Most of the time when filming starts on features his role ends. He did answer a few questions I put to him about how the role of the production designer will evolve.

Do you think that given how technology is advancing  there will be a sharing/merging of skills between the VFX artists and Production Designers?

It’s unlikely. The Production Designer has so many other jobs to do, to take on work that forces them to sit at a computer for hours like a CG artist would be a waste of time and skills. A CG artist is trained to spend hours on one job and do it to a higher standard. Production designers need to evolve and embrace the changes or be left behind. They need to find ways of being involved and guiding the design. Designers like Alex McDowell are doing it right, they have a great approach to the whole film process.

Will we always need production designers in film genres such as Sci-fi?

Yes, there will always be a need for someone who can visualise the entire film. They offer different skills and experience. They build relationships with people and they have the ability to interpret a script in such a way that a concept artist or CG artist cannot. The best films are when the relationship between the designer, the director and director of photography is good, when they are friends.

Are there any other differences between TV and film?

Concept art is rare on small budget TV dramas. There’s usually only enough time to do a drawing or two. That tends to happen more in film where there are more people in the art department and there’s a larger budget.


How the case study relates to my practical project:-

Although my project is based around turning a book into a film rather than a lower budget TV drama there are still elements that I can take away from the experience.

Location:- My film designs rely heavily on actual locations that exist and that need adapting as I’m opting for the combination of real places, built sets then using the CGI where it is needed method rather than all CG. There is no replacement for hands-on experience of locations and how to go about saving money, logistics and working with people in reality. No matter how big the budget is or the story, these things will always need consideration. For example, I have to find locations that are suitable, not only for the story but for the budget, whether it is practical to close a street off…whether it has enough parking for the crew? There are considerations when dealing with making alterations, such as returning the street/buildings/walls back to their original state after filming. This doesn’t change whether it is a blockbuster film or TV show. Nor do the relationships that you build with the people you work with.

Good relationships:- When dealing with locations it’s important to keep the location owners happy, after all you want to save money and maintain a good working ethos; if all goes well, the location might be hired out again for other productions. If the owners have a bad experience or if anything is damaged it can have implications for the budget therefore might be the difference between you being employed again or not. Film and TV is a word of mouth industry and if you save money and are easy to work with you get more work. Although this is a theoretical project it is  something I need to consider when designing any alterations, as is the use of location.

The relationship between the Production Designer, Director and Director of Photography is vital. Matt explained that working within this trinity is important for a good production. They have to be your friends as do the members of the art department such as location manager, art director, set dresser etc. You spend most of your time with this group of people, more than family sometimes and you need to be able to get on with them and place a lot of trust in them as they do you.

My own portfolio:- Although my project is about Production Design it is important to know where I stand in terms of gaining work at the end of my course. I was given some advice in terms of portfolio. There are two routes to the Production Design career. One is to work on small budget productions as the designer, do a bit of everything and work your way up to bigger projects, the other is though the art department. This means having a speciality to offer. You are employed on how well you fit into an art department skills wise. This is important in how I shape my project. There are certain aspects that have to be addressed for the success of the project and fulfilment of the question but I also have to consider my strengths as well as my skills learning curve. I want to walk away from the course having pushed my self to learn new things; skills and aspects that are industry standard. At the same time I also want my portfolio to show a mastery of something in particular. I consider that my model making skills and general drawing skills, particularly with figures and costume are probably my strengths so will aim to achieve a high standard in these. This will mean improving my concept work with software and maybe exploring this further during the summer and autumn. I’m also looking to working with different materials in terms of model making, such as the Huntsmen concept/model realisation, so expanding my skill base. Also to look at using the 3D printer and laser cutter in some way.

As a production designer you need to have an overview of the film and be able to multi task. It’s also good to be able to do some design work to a high standard.

How the case study  relates to the question:-

Everything that I experienced with Matt related directly to the pre-production stage of TV. I saw examples of set dressing, props buying, meetings, discussions with art directors and construction men. I saw how budget controlled elements of design and how choices were made concerning locations and set builds. I also had chance to discuss other elements of design such as film design, the future and CGI.

All of these are integral to the early stages of film and TV design regardless of genre or budget. What is different is how it fits with post production in regards to CGI etc. A TV drama may need no more than some colour correction whereas a Sci-fi or fantasy will need more advanced design work.

One element that may have changed is the way that ideas are presented or designed due to the advancement of technology. This speeds up the design process with  3D design software like Sketch Up or Auto CAD.  The principles of design however remain the same.

All of this affects my project to some degree, particularly when dealing with location and CGI.

Categories: Case Studies, The production designer and art department | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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