The white card model for the reception is now complete. The photos show some of the construction process and completed images with a selection of views. I will add some further details and information concerning the green screen area next and complete some visuals to show what this will look like in relation to the model. I will also look at various ways that this set could be produced using CGI.
The production designer and art department
Completed White Card Model:- Medical research centre reception
The Practicalities of Green Screen 1
I thought it was important to understand the green screen process, particularly within the sound stage environment as I am designing a set that incorporates green screen elements. I looked at various videos and books and came up with a few pointers in terms of what is needed.
The position of the green screen:– This needs to be at least 8 ft from the actor being filmed (though video suggests 10-15 ft)
Lighting:- Both the screen and the actor have to be lit. The best results can be achieved by using a three-point lighting set up to lit the screen as evenly as possible.
Green Screen:- Needs to be hung in such a way that there are no or few creases or shadows that will make the post-production process more difficult. Fabric needs to be non reflective.
Footage:- Two sets of film footage is needed, one of the actor in front of the green screen and one that is replacement footage such as a matte painting or scene.
(BYRNE, B., 2009)
A good colour for a green screen is anti-reflective Rosco chroma key green, this provides the cleanest green screen (info at http://greenerystudios.com/green-screen-studio/)
Image available at http://www.innovativethinking-inc.com/greenscreen.html [sourced on 29/06/2014]
I also found a video that explains some of the processes.
My problem is that the area that needs to be green screened is the ceiling. I found some studio images showing part of the ceiling screened but there needs to be lighting rigs and the image shows this.
Image available at http://www.halastudios.com/studio/studio.html [sourced on 29/06/2014]
The question is, is there a way to green screen a ceiling and allow lighting or does the scene need to be pieced together filming several scenes with more than one green screen shot? Or, does the screen even need to extend that far?
This studio image below shows a green screen ceiling with lighting rigs in front of the screen. I need to research this further in terms of the practicalities and find out how easy it is to film this and whether the lighting rigs would just be digitally painted out like the scaffolding support was in Inception.
Image available at http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/greenery-studios-burbank [sourced on 29/06/2014]
References:- BYRNE, Bill. The Visual Effects Arsenal. Oxford: Focal Press, 2009.
http://greenerystudios.com/green-screen-studio [sourced on 29/06/2014]
http://www.innovativethinking-inc.com/greenscreen.html [sourced on 29/06/2014]
http://www.halastudios.com/studio/studio.html [sourced on 29/06/2014]
http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/greenery-studios-burbank [sourced on 29/06/2014]
You Tube :-
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)
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)
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.
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.
[All sourced on 13/05/2014]
Green Screen and Set Extensions
As my project requires me to use green screen due to the restricted height of the sound stage, I need to look at green screen and how it is used to create set extensions. One of the important features of the reception area of the Medical Research Centre is the creation of height and as the height of the stage is a little over 10 metres and needs to appear to be several floors below ground it needs a form of green screen/set extension to achieve this.
What is green screen?
It is a technique that was traditionally known as a travelling matte that allows actors to be shot in a studio environment and then is removed in post-production (sometimes production) and replaced with a different image. This can be anything from an external location background through to an architectural extension like my project design. Any colour can be used but blue and now green are used as they are the complement of the colours that make up the base colours of human skin tone. (Byrne, B., 2009)
What is a matte painting?
Matte paintings are usually of a location and used to extend a set, combined with live action, models or animation to create a composite image. Traditionally these were painted onto glass sheets and combined with optical techniques such as rear projection. Today they are painted digitally, then combined with the live elements of the shoot. (Rickitt, R., 2000)
I will need to create a design of a matte for my sound stage extension, so I am now looking at examples of green screen shots before finalising any designs. I found a selection of videos to show a few ways that a green screen can be used.
I thought that the second video was particularly interesting in the fact that they used a green screen technique combined with a scaled model and made a composite shot to save thousands of dollars. Theoretically this could be done with my interior as the character of Clayton only walks through the space. So instead of building a full-scale set in the sound studio, a model could be used with perhaps some small elements of set to create realism.
The Walking Dead uses a combination of real sets and real falling debris and green screen/set alteration to create a scene in which a helicopter falls through the ceiling. Realism here is created by using a combination of techniques. Green screen is only one part of the sequence.
Green screen can be used as a small part of a scene composite to allow real people to merge seamlessly, to extend a set, to allow stunts or to create a set in its entirety. What’s important, whether green screen is used or not, is that the design or visualisation of the scene is a collaborative process between the Production Designer/art department/VFX/stunt coordinators/ the Director etc. whether it is a CGI scene, scaled model or full set.
BYRNE, B., The Visual Effects Arsenal. Oxford: Focal Press, 2009.
RICKETT, R., Special Effects:The history and technique. London: Virgin Books, 2000.
You Tube videos:- [Sourced on 15/6/14]
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.
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:-
Post Production Research
I have broken down the elements of the next phase of research for post production into a diagram. This is to give me a plan of how to approach such a vast and constantly evolving part of modern-day film making. Before completing the set design and location element of my project I need to really understand what is happening now and how it affects science fiction film design. There are other considerations including the budget of the film and the size of the post production company involved too.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This was another corridor that was dressed to incorporate the security area which was similar to an airport where the visitors would be scanned.
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.
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
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.
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.