Case Studies

Case Study 2: Discussions With Production Designer Guy Hendrix Dyas 2

I found an interview that shows what Guy Hendrix Dyas thinks about Production Design and the process as a whole. I have selected the parts of the interview that is most relevant to my question and project. The link for the full interview is found below in the references.

 

Angela Mitchell: Congratulations to you and your team on your BAFTA and many other awards for Inception! How did it feel to be nominated for an Oscar for the first time?

Guy Hendrix Dyas: It was exciting for us — it’s a rewarding experience, and it encourages everyone to keep producing the best work they can. It’s always nice to get a pat on the back from your peers. You have to learn to appreciate those moments.

Angela Mitchell: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about being a production designer?

Guy Hendrix Dyas: The biggest misconception is that it’s simply about creating sets — production design is very abstract to those who don’t work in the film industry. In my experience, however, the designer is the director’s key ally when creating the look for a film, along with the director of photography. We’re asked to create much more than just sets, we create entire worlds and time periods. It’s very exciting.

Angela Mitchell: You started out doing industrial design, and then an incredible amount of work as an illustrator before concentrating on Production Design. Do you still ever use any of that industrial design foundation in your work today?

Guy Hendrix Dyas: I’m very grateful to have had solid training in industrial design before I even set foot in the film world. Not only did it allow me to develop a very practical design sense but it also made me strive for realism no matter the genre of film I’m working on — fantasy, historical, contemporary. That training was also a great way to learn everything there is to know about manufacturing and construction.

Angela Mitchell: When did you know that production design was going to be your calling?

Guy Hendrix Dyas: While in art school, I attended a film lecture series called “Grand Illusions,” and it opened my eyes to the behind-the-scenes of filmmaking, and the various careers open to those of us who come from a design background. I’ve always loved art and films, and as a student I was an avid filmgoer, seeing every movie I could, and always taking notice of the production design.

Angela Mitchell: When it comes to the work of other designers, which do you admire?

Guy Hendrix Dyas: I try and see every film I can, and a wide variety of genres, so there are many contemporary designers that I admire. From the large-scale designs of Ken Adam, Stuart Craig and Dante Ferretti, to the more intimate work of designers like David Gropman, Mark Friedberg,Timmy Yip and Ben van Os. But truthfully, it’s hard to name names because my list goes on…

Angela Mitchell: It seems to me that, just from reading the script, Inception would be a designer’s dream, a real playground. One of the many things I loved about your job for Inception, was how balanced it was, visually, between structure and chaos. How tricky was it to find that balance?

Guy Hendrix Dyas: Inception had many challenging sets to build, but it also offered us many wonderful design opportunities, while having to accommodate some extremely intricate action scenes and stunts.

For example, to create the illusion of weightlessness during the fight sequences in the hotel corridors and rooms, several identical sets had to be built. Each one was created for a specific shot and had a specific orientation and rotating capability. When these shots were edited together, they became convincing as appearing to have been shot on a single set.

With the scope of a film like Inception, also come the logistical challenges. We shot back to back in five different countries. We got used to the 16-hour days and being on planes every 48 hours!

Angela Mitchell: Was Escher’s work a deliberate inspiration for some of the Inception set pieces? What were some of your visual inspirations for the film?

Guy Hendrix Dyas: Escher and Penrose Staircase were directly referenced in our script. In the film, our Penrose steps are based on an optical illusion [the Penrose Staircase], made famous by Escher’s drawings — an ever-ascending staircase that can never be built or made functional in the real world.

Which is why it took us many hours of research and development to create the set that you see in the film. There’s practically no CG used to shoot the scene, just some support removal and clever camera work.

Angela Mitchell: Designwise, in Inception, it seemed to me that there was always this beautiful and very clear visual contrast between the linear and chaotic, and between tension and release — for instance, in the gorgeous hallway sequence you mentioned earlier, where Joseph Gordon-Levitt battles a bad guy in 360 degrees! What scene or moment presented your favorite challenge for the film?

Guy Hendrix Dyas: One of the most challenging sets to build was the snow fortress for the end sequence, because we chose to shoot it in a remote area in the high mountains of Calgary. Chris Nolan uses CG very cleverly and for Inception, he didn’t want a film primarily using digital backgrounds. So very early on, Chris and I made a crude clay model of this set, as he wanted to create something akin to what he’d seen in some of his favorite Bond films. That’s how we came up with a mix between military architecture and Panopticon prison design for the snow fortress, our concept being to never really know who is the observer and who is being observed.

It quickly became apparent to us that this set would have to be divided into two separate builds. The interiors would be built on stage in Los Angeles, while the multi-level exterior would be built at approximately 20,000 feet on a mountainous site we scouted in Calgary.

We started building the exterior set with a Canadian construction crew in late summer, right after returning from shooting in Morocco, in order to have it completed before the heavy snow set in for the winter. We were very conscious of this location’s natural beauty, so we avoided using concrete foundations. Instead, to anchor the set, we dropped large wood posts into foundations filled with water and let them freeze into place.

Angela Mitchell: It’s terrific that you were able to take such care for the natural environment there.

Guy Hendrix Dyas: Despite a few blizzards, we were really fortunate to have perfect weather conditions, and during the shoot you could actually see the real snow blowing across the set, and the amazing mountains behind it. It was a testament to how great it is to be able to shoot on location, with real conditions.

Angela Mitchell: Set decorator Douglas A. Mowat was also nominated alongside you for the Art Direction Oscar this year — how do the Production Designer and Set Decorator typically work together?

Guy Hendrix Dyas: A good example was the work we did on the Japanese castle sets. As per our script we knew that Saito, Ken Watanabe’s character in the film, would be imprisoned in a castle, but to me it made sense that it would be a Japanese castle. This gave my set decorating team and I a chance to create a subtle, dreamlike quality, especially when it came to choosing colors, materials, lighting and furnishings.

Angela Mitchell: There’s a definitely a richness, glow, and texture to all the scenes there. It’s very tactile.

Guy Hendrix Dyas: The hundreds of lanterns strung along the ceiling were based on something I’d seen in Japanese temples during certain traditional holidays. It was a way to add interest and warmth to this scene without cluttering the space. Our furnishings were minimal because the painted gold leaf murals and the glow from the lanterns were all that Japanese dining room really needed to come alive.

Angela Mitchell: What was it like to work with Christopher Nolan?

Guy Hendrix Dyas: It was a great experience, I learned a lot, and also felt I was given the freedom to contribute as many ideas as possible for each set. Chris is a great leader, and that’s what you need on a technically complicated film like Inception.

Angela Mitchell: What are the challenges involved when you’re designing for an existing franchise, like X2: X-Men United, Superman Returns, or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? I loved the way you managed to open up those worlds and give us these very different looks and feels, from the school attack in X2, to Lex Luthor’s yacht, to the inside of the pyramid in Indy…

Guy Hendrix Dyas: I think one of the most important goals of production design is to be able to satisfy a story and a director’s vision, so by definition this means that every film should be a completely new experience. Directors are really the ones guiding the way, and our aim is to bring their visions to life. Even when working on existing brands or franchises, I hope that my designs appear as different as the films and stories being told.

If there’s a constant, it’s perhaps the fact that every film is a learning process, and that for designers, it’s nice to be able to take each experience and the things you feel were the most successful into your next assignment — after a while, you start assembling your own personal bag of tricks.

Angela Mitchell: If you were going to advise a roomful of production design hopefuls, what would you say to them, and what mistakes would you caution them to avoid?

Guy Hendrix Dyas: I think we all make mistakes. That’s part of the learning process. But if you love your job on a day-to-day basis and you’re passionate about what you do, you’ll find a way to make it work.

Also, the challenges for me never come from the actual act of designing, but rather from the time and budget constraints. Although in many ways, smaller-budget films aren’t always harder to design than big-budget films.

Angela Mitchell: That’s really surprising.

Guy Hendrix Dyas: Because everything is proportional. A film that has ten times more money will usually have ten times more to create, and ten times the expectations to meet. Studios and producers simply don’t give you free money no matter the size of the production — everything is carefully accounted for, and bigger is rarely easier when it comes to films. I think that’s a common misconception.

Angela Mitchell: Do you typically sketch things out by hand in your design process, or on computer – or a combination of the two? What tools do you typically use?

Guy Hendrix Dyas: People in films seem to come from all walks of life, but in my case, the many years I spent at art and design school were very useful, as I draught, sketch, paint, sculpt and make models.

For each film, I sketch as much as possible — not only because I enjoy it as a design process, but because it’s still the best communication tool. Then, if time permits, I try to take my pencil sketches into color – however, more and more, I also work with a great team of illustrators who help me assemble the visuals we need.

Angela Mitchell: How do you approach each new film project — do you have a specific process each time?

Guy Hendrix Dyas: I think I approach each new film in the same way other designers do, in that I try and sketch out as many ideas as possible while also researching as much as possible – everything from the subject matter, to the architecture, to reading relevant books, watching documentaries, and visiting museums. I find those early days of preproduction very enjoyable, as you’re able to let your imagination run wild, and everything is still possible.

Angela Mitchell: Among the movies you’ve worked on, which were most satisfying for you, from an artistic standpoint, where you looked at the film and said, “That’s exactly what I wanted it to look like?”

Guy Hendrix Dyas: As your design credits accumulate, it’s true that one can start to discern patterns and preferences, but I’ve tried to avoid typecasting as much as possible. I’m excited by a variety of projects, and I think I’ve been able to break the mold by not always doing films considered to be big Hollywood films. Right after X2, for instance, I joined Terry Gilliam on The Brothers Grimm in Eastern Europe. I find those transitions healthy — every film is a new beginning.

Still, more often than not, the projects that come your way, and that you end up working on, are due to coincidence and lucky timing more than anything else. For me, every film is satisfying, it’s always as interesting and as visually pervading as you and the director want to it to be.

I feel very fortunate to say that all the films I’ve designed so far have brought me unique and wonderful experiences, and each in its own way has been my favorite. However, like many people in this industry, I try and keep my eyes on the road ahead — my hope is always that the best experiences are still to come.

 

 

“The biggest misconception is that it is simply about creating sets”

Dyas continues to confirm and also echoes some of the ideas of Alex McDowell in the fact that the role of the production design is abstract and doesn’t always work in a linear form. Again, it’s very much about world building and seeing the story as a whole.

 

“Chris Nolan uses CG very cleverly and for Inception, he didn’t want a film primarily using digital backgrounds. So very early on, Chris and I made a crude clay model of this set, as he wanted to create something akin to what he’d seen in some of his favorite Bond films.”

Another example of using traditional techniques in a technologically advanced film. They used a location to get the right feel and again used visual metaphors of being watched.

 

“Also, the challenges for me never come from the actual act of designing, but rather from the time and budget constraints. Although in many ways, smaller-budget films aren’t always harder to design than big-budget films.”

Here he discusses the budget, saying that the design is proportional to the size of film and budget. Budget will also play a large part in the production designers role at the early stages of film design. This will sometimes affect whether a set is built, location is used or a whole view is CGI. Titanic used a scale model to create a set, then CGI’d it in behind the actors instead of building a room for budget reasons. I had no budget to work with so designed the set to be built. This could of course been a CGI background or a model. Should the budget require that, It could easily be achieved using traditional methods of model making with advanced CGI to place the action into shot.

 

“I think I approach each new film in the same way other designers do, in that I try and sketch out as many ideas as possible while also researching as much as possible – everything from the subject matter, to the architecture, to reading relevant books, watching documentaries, and visiting museums ”

This is an important statement in terms of what the designer does at the pre-production stage in that the process is entirely immersive in terms of research.

 

It’s clear from what I have seen of Guy Hendrix Dyas’s work that he is involved from the start in what the film will look like right through to the set extensions and CGI. He provided a visual foundation for the overall design of the film, from researching the architecture through to locations, then on to how the CGI would be incorporated. Where traditional processes were needed or wanted, he was involved in their design. CGI is a tool like any other so providing that visual source material at the early stage of design is important in films that have so many concepts and needs to use multiple post-production techniques. Films like Science fiction and fantasy will always have challenges and having technology that speeds up the process can only be a good thing as it means the designer can oversee at the whole picture at a much faster pace. The important point to note is that post production/CGI etc. does not become a distraction and that it supports the design rather than becomes  a way of life.

 

Interview references:-

(MITCHELL, A., Production Designer Guy Hendrix Dyas on the Challenges of ‘Inception’) Available at:-

(http://performingarts.about.com/od/Costumes/ss/Inception-Production-Designer-Talks-About-Designing-The-Films-Dreamscapes.htm) [Online: sourced on 17/05/14]

Advertisement
Categories: Case Studies, MA project, Post Production, The production designer and art department | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Case Study 2: Discussions with Production Designer Guy Hendrix Dyas

Guy Hendrix Dyas discusses aspects of the design for Inception:-

Dyas also pointed out a telling sign of Nolan’s directorial philosophy: if you look at the accompanying image, you will see scaffolding supporting the stairs. Most other directors would use a green screen to create the effect: Nolan wanted the stairs built, and then used visual effects only to remove the scaffolding and complete the illusion. “Only about 5 percent of the scenes in this film actually use green screen,” Dyas says. “You’re talking about a film that has real rotating corridors, elevator shafts that were built sideways in warehouses so that it would appear 300 feet long. We have tilting bars, real trains smashing into cars.”  Guy Hendrix Dyas discussing design for Inception(LOPEZ, J., 2011)

cn_image_1.size.inception-stairs

Image available at http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2011/01/inception [sourced on 17/05/2014]

In a film that is so ground breaking in terms of CGI and  post production techniques the statement that only 5% of scenes were green screen is surprising. It’s an important point to make when looking at what the designer has to do at the pre-production stage when dealing with the newest technology; that green screen and CGI is only used when really needed.

The early stages of Inception’s design process started in Director Christopher Nolan’s garage with Dyas creating a 60 ft scroll depicting the history of 20th century architecture. This became the foundation for the design of the film because architecture was so important to the overall ideas surrounding the story. It was all about building landscapes within the dreams of the main character and reflecting his state of mind. Much of this was done through the architectural landscape that they inhabited  with scenes depicting DiCaprio’s character.

“You’ll notice at as it stretches back, the buildings get taller. I imagine Cobb and his wife started off on the beach, building buildings that were homages to their heroes of architecture. As they built more and more, they were building their own 3D museum of the most stunning architecture.” Discussing how the architecture influenced the film (LOPEZ, J., 2011)

When Cobb returns with Ariadne to the dream city, however, they find it in total disrepair—again a design concept with a specific idea behind it: “The mere fact that they were eroding away into the sea, and the sea was eating into these buildings, was another visual method of showing that he was losing his mind,” he says. Dyas and Nolan discussed the look and feel of architecture that had been abandoned, specifically at the site of the Chernobyl accident, and had the good fortune of coming across a housing site in disrepair during a drive around Tangiers, which became the final set for the abandoned dream city. (LOPEZ, J., 2011)

The film is full of metaphors and symbolism such as the crumbling buildings representing the loss of mind. Visual metaphors are another aspect of design that is discussed at the pre-viz stage of production. It’s important that the visual clues match the story that is being told, whether they are subtle or not. Inception was full of these visuals such as the maze like Penrose steps; a Escher inspired set that was actually built in reality. This was to echo the ‘fetish-like obsession with stairs.

“We went through 12 different physical cardboard models of the Penrose steps before we came up with something that worked,” Dyas says. “Once we did that, we created a digital model and started looking at what camera lenses would make this look like an Escher painting. Only then did we start building a staircase. Dyas discusses the steps. (LOPEZ, J., 2011)

They continue the maze like feel of the film with many of the interiors such as the Great Hall, with levels and steps and included other visual symbolism such as the use of lanterns. Dyas pointed out that in Japan lanterns are a symbol of lost souls, so this was incorporated into the design.

cn_image_2.size.inception-temple

Image available at http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2011/01/inception [sourced on 17/05/2014]

What’s important to note at this stage is that design is not all about creating a set for the actors to inhabit, it’s also about world creation and visual pointers to what the Director envisages ultimately what the characters are feeling, how that translates on-screen. In my set design I wanted the government buildings such as the Medical Research Centre to have a clean, more ordered feel compared to the dirty streets of London. It needed to feel imposing in some way. There is also a claustrophobic feel to the entire film. The research centre is underground and had to feel like that. I kept the colours to cool blue and grey hues for the interiors apart from the arena space which has a blend of future and medieval, though the future has almost reverted back to the past in many ways. Outside, the streets have an urban look that uses green/brown colours. It’s organic but dirty and uncared for. The Medical research centre also has a church like feel with eyes being drawn upwards towards the laboratories and levels above. Science playing God. The arena that houses the Huntsmen being even deeper could be viewed as a form of hell. My street alteration also incorporates elements of symbolism with the use of eyes in the graffiti and wings of a dove. I am trying to create a cluttered suppressing environment in which you feel that you are being watched. The towers in the background with the search lights add to that, creating a prison like environment. In the book, London is walled in, no one can leave and they keep the cities and the countryside apart.

Looking at the practicalities of set building my walkway would be constructed with scaffolding very much like the Penrose steps in Inception. This would be clad but should the walkway need extra support, scaffolding poles could be CGI’d out. This would be an effective way to use CGI instead of creating an entire set digitally. Only using the technology where it is needed.

The early stages of film design are not just about research and sets, it’s about the whole philosophy of the film, world building, subtle visual messages etc. These aspects are discussed at the pre-production stage, whether CGI is used or not.

 

References:-

LOPEZ, J., Inception Production Designer Guy Dyas: “Only 5 Percent of Our Scenes Used Green Screen” Available at:- http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2011/01/inception. 2011 [Online-sourced on 17/05/2014]

 

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

Case Study 2: Production Design, post production and VFX in Inception (part 1)

There have been many groundbreaking film productions over the last few years but Inception is described as one of the few that has been designed entirely in-house. This means from the early stages of concept right through to post production. I looked at the company of Double Negative who took on the massive job of creating dream states in which streets fold in on themselves, huge cities crumble into the sea and scenes where the physical fabric of the universe appears warped and illusionary.

My main task with looking at Inception was to pin down what the production designer does when such a vast amount of visual effects are used. The answer was surprisingly quite a lot in terms of previz.

I looked at the company itself, the articles written and many videos that flesh out different aspects of the production process.

The research is broken down into:-

The design overview

The Production Designer and some of the processes

Double Negative, CGI departments and software (pre-viz to post production)

Conclusions

 

An Overview:-

Film:- Inception

Director:- Christopher Nolan

Designer:- Guy Hendrix Dyas

Budget:- $160,000,000 (estimated) (sourced from http://www.imdb.com on 28/06/2014)

Production Designer Guy Dyas and his art department team gathered an extensive library of architectural reference, which the vfx team then built upon through post production to develop a strong language of structure and style that drew heavily upon the history of modern architecture throughout the 20th century, especially for the climactic scenes in Limbo.  (DESOWITZ, B. 2010)

In terms of building blocks, the Production Designer was involved from the start. It was important to have coherence throughout. Dyas’s team had provided concepts of what various cities were to look like such as the dream state Paris, how it would look when it was folded but no images of how it would go from normal to folded.  This was worked out through collaboration. What was groundbreaking at the time was the daylight photo realism of the buildings as a lot of the scenes were filmed during the day. It had to look real, and the visual research that the art department contributed to that. Dneg team raised the bar in terms of realistic architectural lighting in CG. Many of the dream states were designed from locations and through the art departments concepts. Limbo city itself ended up being designed in CG because of the complexity of how it would be achieved, using CG 3D software such as Maya and Houdini and was inspired by collapsing glaciers.

VFX were used to design certain elements of the film due to the surreal nature of some of the scenes.

What was surprising were the number of traditional techniques used alongside CG.

“As with his previous films, Chris got as much in camera as possible and previs became extremely important in technically demanding moments like the Penrose steps: the impossible, ‘endless staircase’ made famous in the drawings of M.C. Escher,” Franklin relates. “For the high angle shot of the looping staircase and the subsequent reveal of the forced-perspective trick, the camera had to be placed in precisely the right position above a carefully designed set. We carefully mapped the distortion patterns of all of the camera department’s lenses and the Aleks Pejic team used them to work out the exact shape and dimensions of the set and what kind of shot would be achievable within the limitations of the location and the available camera setup. The camera, mounted on a 50-foot telescopic crane, had to swing down through a 45-foot arc. At the apex of the move, it had no more than two inches of clearance with the ceiling, so Dneg’s previs had to be spot on.” (FRANKLIN,P., Cited, 2010)

 

Many of the explosions were made using locations and traditional special effects techniques  The three videos I found via YouTube go into more detail about how this was done for various scenes.

 

There were many cases of actual sets being built and only a small amount of CGI work done. One example was the Penrose Steps scene in which stairs were built in such a way to create an illusion. This needed to be precise to work and is another example of how the Production Designer works with the Director at pre-viz stage in science fiction. If they can do it as a set instead of digital matte/animation, then they would do it. Sometimes it’s the preference of the Director.

Dyas also pointed out a telling sign of Nolan’s directorial philosophy: if you look at the accompanying image, you will see scaffolding supporting the stairs. Most other directors would use a green screen to create the effect: Nolan wanted the stairs built, and then used visual effects only to remove the scaffolding and complete the illusion. “Only about 5 percent of the scenes in this film actually use green screen,” Dyas says. “You’re talking about a film that has real rotating corridors, elevator shafts that were built sideways in warehouses so that it would appear 300 feet long. We have tilting bars, real trains smashing into cars.”  (LOPEZ, J., 2011)

cn_image_1.size.inception-stairs

The Penrose Steps:- Inception. Available at:- http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2011/01/inception (photo by Stephen Vaughan)

 

It’s clear that it takes a collaborative approach to produce a film like Inception. It had to look real, which meant the best available photorealistic software combined with traditional methods that the art department could provide like scale models and actual built sets. It’s about using the best tools for the job. Sometimes VFX works for some design as the artists possess the skills to animate a difficult scene, other times it’s better to use a set designed and built by the Production Designer and art department, using CG to paint in or remove support structures.

References:-

DESOWITZ, B.,  VFX from Inception. Available at http://www.awn.com/vfxworld/vfx-inception [sourced on 13/05/2014] 2010.

LOPEZ, J., Inception Production Designer Guy Dyas: “Only 5 Percent of Our Scenes Used Green Screen” .  Available at: http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2011/01/inception [sourced on 28/06/2014] Vanity Fair, 2011.

 

YouTube:-

[All sourced on 13/05/2014]

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

The Production Designer and the Visual Effects Process

Looking at post-production and visual effects companies I can start to piece together some of the answers to questions about the production designers role in terms of  CGI, visual effects and what happens later on at post production. From reading a few articles and speaking with Framestore  it seems that visual effects are very much a part of the pre-production/production phase with plenty of collaboration between the VFX houses, director and production designer. But what does the production designer need to know in terms of the skills and knowledge of the VFX process?

This answer is more elusive. I discussed the possibility of the production designer gaining further skills for future film making in case study 1. Matthew Gant replied that he thought it to be unlikely that the production designer would train to have other skills as the job entailed so much already. There wouldn’t be time for the PD to sit all day at the computer doing the work of the VFX artist .

That said, does the production designer need to have knowledge or an overview of the process, even if they don’t know how to produce it themselves?

There are a handful of designers than I have come across  that have appeared to integrate with the  effects/CGI process.

Alex Mcdowell – Minority Report

Guy Hendrix Dyas – Inception

Both films were groundbreaking in different ways and these will feature as my next case study/studies

 

I will look at these designers and films in regards to the production designer/VFX/post production design process in particular what they needed to know about the VFX department when designing sets, whether there are limitations to consider? Also other aspects such as changes in the film-making process…

“From 1999-2001 he worked with Steven Spielberg to design and develop a world for the film Minority Report, prior to a completed script. The process that evolved changed the nature of his film design process from analogue to digital, and profoundly affected the nature of all digital production, pushing a radical shift towards a non-linear workflow. Since then his work has built on the dynamic relationship between creativity and emergent technologies.”  (http://www.xmedialab.com/mentor/alex-mcdowell)

 

I looked at Alex McDowell early on in my project and he is one of the designers that seems to be at the forefront of the non-linear way that film making is evolving.

I will also look at the company  5D Institute: The future of narrative media that Alex McDowell is a part of that thinks of story telling as a collaborative process with no boundaries.

Both Minority Report and Inception were considered groundbreaking in terms of the design processes, Minority Report for how it opened up the non-linear design approach and Inception because it was designed/produced completely in-house at Double Negative  and pushed the boundaries of photo-realistic daylight architecture.

“Aside from the development of the Limbo City shoreline procedural layout system, a key area of CG R&D was in lighting and rendering. But Inception required an even higher level of realism than Dneg has achieved with Gotham City or the magical worlds of Harry Potter. That’s because all the environments are seen in broad daylight. Lead by CG Supervisor Philippe Leprince, the Dneg team raised the bar for photorealistic architectural lighting, and recent advances in fluid dynamics and rigid body animation were brought together in the scenes of destruction and disintegrating reality.”  (DESOWITZ, B., 2010)

Inception also worked in a similar way to Minority Report as  a non-linear creative approach.

“There was no formal postvis period: instead postvis became a continual part of shot development, running pretty much all the way up to final delivery in May” (DESOWITZ, B., 2010)

So films such as Inception do seem to have the approach that was initiated by Minority Report. It works for the multi skill/lateral thinking collaboration between all design departments from pre-vis concept to post production VFX etc.

 

Alongside looking at these examples I will integrate the design process of my project as I need to know what has to be done in order to produce my sets and location alterations. World design is a term that is being used more and more as film making becomes more organic. It is a term that I came across initially through my love of gaming and creative writing. I will also look  at world building as an approach.

 

References:-

http://www.xmedialab.com/mentor/alex-mcdowell ONLINE [sourced on 6/6/14]

DESOWITZ, B., (2010) VFX from Inception. Available at: http://www.awn.com/vfxworld/vfx-inception ONLINE [sourced on 6/6/14]

 

Other sources of interest:-

http://5dinstitute.org/people/alex-mcdowell

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

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

The Role of The Production Designer: Case Study 1- part 3

Work Shadowing Day 2:-

The second day took on a different pace compared with day one. Instead of being at one place and filming we were to visit a couple of locations that were being dressed for filming the following day.

The day started at 8am and we all met at the front entrance of Tower Hamlets College which was closed for Easter. Along with Matt and I there was a small team of construction men/fitters, the set dresser and Art Director. The school had been chosen because it fitted well with the architectural features of the hospital location and was being dressed to be used as a continuation of that location. The writer and Director were both keen on the idea of the secure hospital taking on a more school like appearance rather than a prison. The Tower Hamlets location also had some features that would provide visual interest on camera such as the main atrium area in which the character uses the phone to make a call. Originally this space was going to be dressed as a recreation area with a pool table and places to sit but it was decided that the space had such a nice reflective floor it would be better to polished it and leave the area stark.

DSC00262

Other alterations that were being made were the covering of the poster boards with blue felt. This was also used in the other location to help with the design and continuity. A phone was also being added.

DSC00263

DSC00264

The phone had to be fitted to the wall in such a way that it didn’t damage the bricks and could be removed. The frame had to be built to allow space behind as there was an electrical box that couldn’t be removed. It was decided that it would be  set away from the wall slightly to allow for this.

I was shown around all the other  set dressings that were going to happen that day. The corridors were to be dressed with the same flooring, wall details and general decor as the corridor back at the hospital to allow a seamless edit between both locations. In one room they were getting ready to place chairs in a circle. The chairs had to look as though they were fixed to the ground. Often with something like this, props or sets are not fixed in case they have to be moved. Instead Matt chose to fix metal braces to the chair legs to make it appear that they were fixed while allowing the director to come in and move them if needed.

Our next location stop off was an addition to an earlier episode that had been part edited. It had been decided that they needed to film more scenes so added a police conference to the story. We visited the chosen location with the location manager and set dresser with the intention of measuring up, working out where the screens would be fitted etc. With a dress like this Matt would not draw up a plan or sketch, instead he would be on site for the dress. The important part of this location visit was to get rough sizes and locations of plugs and other technical information as there would be some form of screen displaying graphics also designed by Matt’s team.

DSC00265

The location was part of a college building and had all the necessary components so dressing would be minimal, therefore cheaper.

As we were leaving Matt received a call about using another section of the building for an additional office scene.

This was one of the points where I really got to see how quickly the Production Designer works.

Matt and the Marshall (set dresser) got to work photographing and measuring a small class room in prep for turning it into an office, getting the dimensions of the pillars, internal window for blinds, wall lengths etc. They then discussed possibly using some of the existing furniture in some way. Lighting was also discussed. There was an internal window that led through to a wood workshop that was perfect for setting the lights. With blinds in place, it would appear to be an external window. As the filming was to be 5 days later, they had to work quickly, ringing around and ordering blinds and planning a visit to  the props house in West London. At this time the financial go ahead had not been given, Matt had calculated the dress would be around £2000. As time was against them they went ahead and planned for the dress.

Before heading to the props hire houses Matt needed to return to the office in central London briefly to discuss graphics with the team and also draw up a rough plan of the new office dress.

Back at the office I read some of the scripts and observed how Matt worked alongside the graphics team, discussing sizes of signage for the police conference and watched as he drew the plan. This was done by hand on a A4 piece of paper and then photocopied and given to Marshall.

scan matt

A layout was drawn up with the walls and furniture to scale 1:50 so they had a good idea of what needed hiring.

A hand drawn plan makes sense when you are working on a set dress as it’s relatively easy to draw up anywhere. It took Matt no longer than 30 mins to do and covered all the necessary information needed. This is the nature of TV design; a quicker hands on approach that  keeps the Production designer on their toes. We had discussed the uses of software and although Matt uses CAD and Sketch Up he still does a lot by hand. What was important he said was the end result and getting the job done.

Later that day we visited the props hire stores in Acton. After visiting one and ordering some of the furniture we went to Super Hire in which every possible prop and form of furniture can be found, ranging from ultra modern back to Tudor. Super Hire spans several floors and Matt showed me around all the sections before we went to “smalls”, shelf sized props such as phones, files, glasses, kitchen ware etc. This was the section in which Matt and Marshall would find all the small props for dressing an office.

What surprised me was the attention to detail. Matt was experienced in crime drama so knew exactly where to go and what was needed. We visited pictures for wall dressing, computers, coffee machines and all manner of detail objects. The colour scheme was masculine so was kept to blues, greys and blacks. Lamps were chosen for their simple angular shapes. There were also a few personal items chosen for the personal assistant’s desk. I was asked to source all the police files that I could find that matched the three colours of the scheme plus some leather-bound files for dressing part of the filing cabinets and shelves.

DSC00267

DSC00268

DSC00266

The above pictures are the baskets that we filled full of props. Once Matt got the phone call to go ahead with the set dress the props were taken to the desks and hired. They were booked in for collection just before the dress went ahead, just three days later.

After the props hire was complete day 2 came to an end.

Work shadowing gave me a good idea of what it’s like at the pre-production/production phase of TV drama. Due to a smaller art department, the Production Designer seems to be involved in so many different aspects of design and organisation. Decisions have to be made quickly and there’s no time to be precious about some design aspects. The budget and time scale only allow for so much to be done. Sometimes there’s not enough time to dress the set to really show all the finer details or character. A lot of the time there are no detailed concepts, just enough drawn up on Sketch Up or as a plan to allow the job to be completed. The bigger the budget, the more prep time there is.

Having said this, lower budget TV provides a creative challenge in comparison to film. Matt described the film as a more straight forward design project due to the fact that it’s usually designed in a block, then filmed and then the Production Designer is finished. Sometimes the designer is involved in the post production phase, more often that not they finish when filming starts. TV is different in the way that it’s an ongoing process, design backtracking where necessary, responding to script alterations and budget constraints. Pre production and production often merge together.

 

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

The Role of The Production Designer: Case Study 1- Part 2

Work Shadowing Day 1

The first day work shadowing was on an altered set location. It was dressed to represent a medium security hospital for the ITV crime drama Chasing Shadows. I was sent a call sheet/schedule the day before for the exact times and address.

Matt and I met for a brief meeting at the catering van before I was shown around the vast location that used both inside and outside settings. It was a good opportunity to see how an existing building could be altered and to observe all the processes and people who were involved. It would be usual for Matt to visit the set to check if anything needed doing then move on to overseeing other set dressing jobs or locations ready for the next block of filming, but today he was at this location all day due to meetings and my shadowing.

The location used to be an old training venue for HSBC and was set in grounds and gardens. It provided a perfect setting for dressing due to the types of buildings on offer, the space to set up vehicles, catering and network of roads that connected areas within the grounds. Alterations were subtle to the untrained eye. Outside there were signs that had been changed to look more like hospital signs and  extra security cameras. The gardens had been tended to regularly to keep on top of grass growth to provide continuity for outside shots. There had also been a segment of security fencing erected to allow a camera to shoot through.

DSC00251

I was told that this segment build cost £2500 so only a small section was built. It provided just enough area to allow shots of the hospital through the fencing so adding to the illusion of the medium security facility. The camera was on a crane so that a few different height shots could be filmed through and over the fence.

It’s important to note that set dressings are often only small segments of builds or alterations. Why build an entire fence when you don’t have to? On a smaller budget TV drama these decisions and compromises have to be made. The budget for each episode of this particular drama was £35,0000, each episode taking approximately 2 weeks to film. Matt described his job as being 25% budget/organising and 75% design. He also added that smaller budget productions can be creatively challenging and that you have to think laterally. Every production has its differences due to budget and the director involved. A drama series such as Chasing Shadows has different directors for each episode so every episode might have  slightly different approach. Episodes can overlap and often the production designer can be prepping a later episode while overseeing a set alteration, so there’s a lot of juggling and multitasking involved in the role. Research is ongoing for each episode as is location scouting.

I was able to observe some of the external shoots that day. They filmed various shots through the fencing, with cars and people approaching then switched to a camera on the other side of the fence that filmed similar sequences to provide a variety of shots for the edit. During this time the Art Director observed the camera screens, keeping an eye of what was in view and if any of the dressings needed adjusting.

After I’d watched some of the filming I was shown some more of the set dressings inside one of the buildings, these included the security gates, reception, a small cell/bedroom and an atrium/stair area. The photos below are of the reception area which were just open corridors before dressing.

DSC00252

This was one of the alterations from a corridor to reception desk. The front was built-in but in such a way as it could be removed easily. The entire area at the back was dressed with furniture, papers, posters, phones and all manner of office props. The blue signs continued the hospital details along with the security cameras.

DSC00254

An opening covered with lockers that are used when the hospital visitors arrive and are instructed to leave their possessions before entering he facility. On the day I visited they were making a few last-minute alterations.

DSC00253

This was another corridor that was dressed to incorporate the security area which was similar to an airport where the visitors would be scanned.

DSC00255

Lastly I was shown where they had added a set of security doors. These were operated by a rope from either side depending on which direction they were filming from.

This part of the day gave me great insight into TV drama. It’s very much about location, practicalities and being able to think on your feet. What I’ve learnt so far is that the Production Designer in TV has a hand in so many aspects of the production:- set design, dressing, location choice, budgets, props etc.

I was also shown the set for ITV’s Lewis which was filming in the same building. We discussed the importance of location choice on lower budget productions. Matt said that it was all about how they could save money by making the right design choices, location being one of the most important. You save them money, they employ you again. You don’t want to be spending too much money on things that can’t be seen, for example, the lighting cranes for the windows that are positioned outside. To make this more affordable it’s all about the practical aspects, so if the location dress is at ground level, the lights can be rigged at ground level avoiding any need for platforms or cranes. This means there is more money to spend on what can be seen, such as important design features for set dressing or prop hire.

Locations are chosen for how little they need to be altered and how they fit to the script.

 

 

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

The Role of the Production Designer (Matthew Gant): Case Study 1- part 1

Introduction to Case Study 1

To answer my MA project question I have organised a more hands-on approach to research as I feel it is one of the best ways to really understand the role of the production designer and get some first-hand experience in real-time. A large part of my project focuses on the pre-production stage of design and will go on to compare the processes within the art department and relationship with post-production. The work is split between asking questions about the role in general, questions that are more off the cuff in response to my experiences and own work, and observations over the two-day work shadowing period.

As the case study focuses on a designer rather than a particular film or programme I am looking at the role in both film and TV. The 2 day work shadowing focuses on a T.V. drama so will show the contrasts between T.V. and film as well as budget and variety of jobs that the production designer takes on. My questions will incorporate both T.V. and film and will attempt to bridge the gaps in design processes. They will also be about the production design role as a whole and how it is evolving in light of technological advancements.

My aim is to answer the following question and to inform my own project and personal development.

Given the post production techniques available today, what is required from the Production Designer at the pre-production stage in terms of scenic design?

This case study comprises of several research approaches:-

 

An overview of Matthew Gant’s work

Q+A session prior to meeting

My work shadowing and observation of his role (2 days)

Reflective write-up and how it relates to and informs my work

Conclusions

 

I will start my study by a brief overview of Matthew Gant’s work to date.

Matthew Gant currently works as a production designer. After working his way through the art department from graphics  to art director for the first series of Life On Mars he got his big break into production design when he was employed to design the second series. The show was nominated for a BAFTA for best production design. Since then he has worked on a variety of T.V. shows and features, most recently Endeavour and Chasing Shadows, both of which are crime dramas. The features he has designed includes Hush, The Liability and the recent top 10 entry The Quiet Ones with the Hammer Horror production company.

I have complied a series of images to show the variety of productions he has designed including some concept art below.

 

matt gant 1

Reference:- http://www.fracture.ltd.uk (gallery) All images are property of Matthew Gant’s website.

 

Before organising a meeting I sent Matt a selection of questions so he could see what elements of his work would be the most beneficial to observe. Below are some of the answers he gave:-

Questions for Case Studies (Production Design)

• How long is the pre-production stage and what does it usually involve?

The designer’s pre-production stage for a television series can be anything from 4 to 16 weeks, depending on the complexity of the project and the budget. A low budget film could be similar and the more money there is on a film, the longer the prep period normally.

Prep consists of research and concepting after liaising with director, Dop, producer and other HODs.
We will then go on to choose locations and design and build sets with art directors, at the same time working with set decorator/production buyer to begins choosing dressing props and finishes for sets. Simultaneously there will also be graphic designers, props makers, vehicle coordinators, SFX and VFX technicians and many other contributors to liaise with and brief.
At some point during the the prep period we will have a schedule drawn up by the 1st AD which will then allow us to prioritise the sets and locations in the order in which they will be shot.

• Does design for T.V. differ from film in any way?

One-off TV drama is similar to film, serial drama is different in that you will often have more than one director shooting different episodes, and the prep continues for the next director whilst the previous director is filming, so it’s a bit like spinning plates sometimes.
• Are you involved in the production/post production stages of design? If so how?

Sometimes we will have an input with VFX where there are set extensions and CGI work to complete the picture. But often on smaller budgets, we will finish in the final day of principal photography.
• How much are you involved in the decisions about location or budget?

The rate department budget is my responsibility and takes up probably about a third of my time, unfortunately all design decisions are made in the context of how much they will cost. Location choice is a big part of design and so it is one of my responsibilities.
• Would you say that the role of the production designer is changing in regards to todays technology such as CGI?

Yes. Will explain more when we speak.
• In regards to genres such as historical, thrillers etc are there different challenges in terms of design?

Yes. Again – we should discuss this in person.

 

• How did you get into production design?

Started as a graphic designer on work experience then worked my way up through the art department. My first design credit was Life on Mars 2 (after having been the art director on the first series).
• Do you use any particular software packages for design or more traditional skills such as drawing?

Still draw by hand but use Sketch Up a lot for 3D concepting and photoshop for image manipulation and rendering.

 

It made a lot more sense to discuss some of the questions in more detail on location. Also some of the observations will allow me to flesh out some of the information.

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

Case Study Breakdown

My case studies are a combination of academic research, question and answer sessions, work shadowing/ observation and studying elements of design that have come before. Each case study will have its own focus and approach and will encompass more than one genre. What will link them will be what I want to find out to answer my MA question:-

Given the post production techniques available today, what is required from the Production Designer at the pre-production stage in terms of scenic design?

From this I will look at the Production Designer and their role, write-up any observations or research relevent to the pre-production phase and how it follows through to production/post production. I am looking in particular at what needs to be done in the early stages of design, the planning that goes into design for later stages particularly in film and the relationship between the designer and the art department/director/director of photography. One of the most important parts of the research will be how it informs my own practical project, so each case study will have a reflective element. The majority of my findings will be based on qualitative research rather than quantitive as it’s more relevant to the question, as is the hands-on approach to some of the enquiries.

Case Study 1:- The Role of the production designer in pre-production/production: Matthew Gant

This case study comprises of several research approaches:-

An overview of the designers work

Q+A session

My work shadowing and observation of his role (2 days)

Reflective write-up and how it relates to and informs my work

Conclusions

 

Case Study 2:- The role of production designer in science fiction film: Alex McDowell and Minority Report

An overview of the design/designing the future

The relationship between the designer/director and post production

The future of the film industry/production design role

How designing science fiction and post production relates to my work

Conclusions

 

Case Study 3:- Production design in the post apocalyptic and horror genres: Various designers of The Walking Dead

An overview of the design and designing the future/adapting the graphic novel

Production design relationships with post production/special effects

Horror/futures in TV

How horror/post apocalyptic genres relate to my own project

Conclusions

 

Case Study 4:- The Production Designer in Derren Brown’s Apocalypse: A different kind of Apocalypse (Dom Clasby)

An overview of the designing of a reality TV show

Production designer role

Q + A session

How it relates to my own project work

Conclusions.

 

 

Categories: Case Studies, MA project, post-apocalyptic film and design, The production designer and art department | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.