Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Most Valuable Lesson from Drafting School

Learning how to be a top notch draftsperson wasn't the catalyst for my successful set design career. When I enrolled in drafting school, I was one of the very few students that wasn't a recent architecture or engineering graduate. My class was filled with budding degree professionals. Why?

In the real world, a draftsperson drafts up huge projects. From the tiniest nuts and bolts to the largest spanned beams. It is the job of the engineer and architect to design the construction, however, it is the job of the draftsperson to look up every detail, and draft accordingly. From the thread of the bolt to the thickness of the I-beam. None of the graduated architecture or engineering students were qualified to take a drafting job, without a ticket.

One of the best lessons I learned was how to research. We had to research everything. Everything has a standard. I found that my research skills payed off immensely. Set design involves extensive research. In film, there are no specialties. One day you need to draft up a house, the next day a spaceship.

It's ok if you don't know how a spaceship is built, or how a sewer works. But you can find anything out. Do it before you draw it. That way, when the tough questions or criticisms arise, you have research to back your work.

Of course, this doesn't protect you from following incorrect research.... It happened to me. There's a bank teller detail in the Time Savers standards, that is at an incorrect height. I fell for it. Perhaps if I had just checked another source for reference, I would have caught it in time!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Last Minute Designer

They drive me crazy. There's too many factors that make last minute design ideas a supreme headache. There should be a law against last minute design ideas. At least a law for a mandatory huddle to discuss it in detail. I pity the poor soul working for a last minute designer in film.

I love it when it's a last minute large format print! Or a last minute hero book cover. Let's get an ice cream truck! Forget clearances it shoots in an hour! It'll be awesome!!! (that was written in sarcasm font, in case you missed it.)

Inevitably the last minute design idea gets done in a hurry and looks like shit.

I eventually learned to stop running for them. The faster you run, the more last minute design ideas they have.

Wanna piss off your assistant? Call them when they're on the road and tell them they need to come back to the office to design a 24'-0" banner that shoots tomorrow :-)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Never Use 3/4" Scale. Period.

I did it once. My drawing was ripped up in front of me. Yes. I was green. Luckily I remembered the advice I was given: Never take anything personally. The Art Director was making a point, and I got it. Never ever draw sets at 3/4" scale. He taught me a valuable lesson. Here's why.

Firstly, we pull off an incredible feat by putting up these sets in record time. The speed at which our crews pull it all together are what make the mission possible. The trouble with 3/4" scale is it leaves way too much room for error. It's a trap. Too often it will get mistaken for 1/2" or 1" scale, often it get's mixed up with 3/8" scale: another no-no.

Secondly, we always want to blow the images up on the photocopier. 50% = easy and fast. So is 200%. Both 3/4 & 3/8 give difficult scales to then work from.

Thirdly, we're always adding things in our heads. Working with 3/4" and 3/8" scale makes it harder. Too hard for most. In our heads we can easily double or half things.

As a rule, I was taught to stick with scales you can double or half easily.  1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1,  and full size scale only. 3 is ok for details, but avoid 1-1/2.

Of course, this doesn't apply to metric. Who uses metric in film? I'm curious.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Walk About. What It's All About.

The department heads regularly do a walkabout around the progressing set construction. They are looking for flaws and potential problems. If you haven't been a set designer yet, and you want to, you will soon find out that your drawings will often be modified, for various reasons, as the sets get built. Sometimes it happens verbally during the walkabout, as they realise technical issues. Sometimes the set builders cut corners for time and budget.

As a set designer, I often found myself missing out on the group cruise. Often the revisions happened without my knowledge. I soon found it was imperative I cruised, too. Only if I cruised the set would I spot all the discrepancies and revisions. I knew every detail intimately. Things the critical eyes of the heads on a walkabout would miss. Things they weren't looking for. Technical set detail things. Small things. Some things didn't matter. Some things did.

So they chose a different moulding because the one I picked was out of stock. No one would likely notice or say anything. Things like that don't matter.

But the time they made the 'as-stone.' steps with a straight riser and a 1" nosing because it was cheaper and quicker than bullnosing canted risers, did matter.

Often, the designer or art director will miss those small modifications.  Things like that may seem petty, but it is embarassing for a designer to later have someone come up to them and point out that their stone steps looked like wood steps painted like stone.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

'Should I Go To Film School Or Design School?'

That is by far the most popular question I get asked by promising new Art Department candidates. I think it depends on each individual person and their situation. I don't have an answer. However, I can tell you I wish I had gone to Film School.

Film School for filmmakers is like Art School for artists. You get to explore the multi disciplines and mediums that fall under the profession. You don't need to have a degree to be a successful filmmaker, or artist. But a solid  background is key. You need some basic design and filmmaking experience and/or education. Next best thing to Film School is volunteering on indies. You get to do it all.

Because I fell into the factory production end of filmmaking, and arrived with a narrow view, I learned fairly late in my career that I was also equally, if not more passionate about working in other departments. I wish I had discovered my other passions earlier. Not only that, I think that by working in other departments, it made me a better designer, as I understood the creative process from different perspectives.

Subjects that really helped my Art Department career were Drafting, Graphic Design, Illustration, Architecture, Interior Design, Art History, VFX and Math.  I use those disciplines all the time, and I think most of my associates do too. The more disciplines you can master, the more indispensable you will be.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

".....With Double Hung Windows."

I don't think I was ever asked to draft a 'single hung' window in my entire career. Yet, all anyone ever wanted was a single hung window. But I knew that.

Mullions is another one that gets misused. So many times I was asked to put mullions in the window.

How quickly the traditional architectural terms get misused and lost over time. After a while, everyone knows what you're talking about, even though you're refering to something different.

Are we already calling webisodes and online films TV?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What's A Bit?

Oh, yeah, I was that newbie that ruined the shot once. I was lucky, and given a second chance. I went on to have a great career. But I still ruined the shot. It'll haunt me forever. And since then, I've seen a handfull of newbies walk into trouble, in other, similar ways. Some made it through, some didn't.

We were installing a SPFX wall on a location. It was a cinderblock wall. We used a wood core and applied foam brick skins to it. In the center, an explosion was designed to blast through the wall. In this area, we used full size foam bricks; there was an opening in the wood frame to accomodate it.

As we were laying in the bricks, we were adding talcum powder inside, bettween the cracks, inside the wall so that when the explosion was triggered, there would be the effect of concrete dust coming out from the explosion. "Just put a bit in each crack", the head painter handed me the talc. I had never done this before.

I poured "a bit" in each crack as my partner installed the bricks. We added the mortar to the outer edges, and sealed up the wall. We painted it, it looked fantastic.

But the following day shit hit the fan. The shot was ruined. There was way too much talc in the cracks, and the explosion just looked like a big white cloud puff.

Why did this happen? Because I didn't ask, "What's a bit?"

Friday, July 27, 2012

Putting Out Fires

It's a common expression in film. And it doesn't necessarily refer to fire. One of the greatest challenges of filmmaking is the unbelievable orchestration of talents and industries that put it all together within just a few weeks. If you think about it, it's really amazing we pull it off at all.

There's always a mishap around the corner. Something no one forethought. There are just too many factors. Like the aproaching helicopter that accidentally fanned the spfx flames of the set, causing the whole set to burn down.

It reminded me of a disaster I watched go down in the shop. The set had called for a dozen or so 4'x8' sheets of brushed aluminum. The real stuff. It had to be shiny. It had been a budget squeeze; they were an important quality in the set.

The Painters had them all laying flat on the paint tables. They were varnishing them prior to construction installation. It was really important to varnish them first, because they were short on time, and it was much quicker and easier. The finish was tricky. It was super glossy.

As I was delivering some drawings, I paused to admire the vast shiny production. Then, WHOOOOOM! Someone from another department opened up the rolling double doors. A huge gust of autumn wind picked up all the dirt and leaves from outside, and in a big cloud of billowing dust, as if aimed right at them, it blasted the wet, super glossy panels with shit.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Oops, We Need to Build Over the Fire Lane

Studios have fire lane laws for safety. In the event of a fire, and limited vision, a person ought to be able to feel their way around the perimeter of the stage, and be able to safely escape without obstruction. Here, it varies from 4-5 feet. There have been many times when I have had to place sets closer together than I would have liked to, but I had to adhere to the regulations.

On one show, I was working with a 'think-outside-the-box' Designer. We had a studio that was just perfect for our set: it had a nice big opening. We needed to build a set with a practical exterior. In essence, we sandwiched the building entrance wall between the interior set and the exterior facade, so that we could build our own practical entrance.

But the set would have to cross over and block the fire lane. As it turned out, as long as we had a standard fire size door over the fire lane, the Fire Chief could pass the inspection.

We made them into "FIRE EXITS"

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Damn That Paint Colour's Hard to Match

The trouble with painted location walls is they're usually aged already. I matched the colour and sheen, (my first hint: it was almost impossible to match) but the patches showed after the painters patched the walls. The wall aging and fading varied throughout the room, and it was impossible to get a true match.

There's no way out if a location owner isn't happy with the patch jobs. Often, after a shoot the painters need to fill the goudges the grips left in the wall (its always the grips). Sometimes, though the whole room doesn't need a repaint if the patches diddn't work out too well. A tip from a seasoned painter was just to paint the damaged walls. But I had to paint out the whole wall, or if there was a jog, just to the jog. Corner to corner.

Because of the way light plays on the walls, it works like magic. The eye doesn't pick up the subtle colour shift at a change in the wall angle.

Another tip was to muddy up a bit of the paint a little with a teeny tiny dab of diluted raw umber. It's the magic scenic dirt tint. Kills the hotness of a brand new colour. Seriously, its quicker to just paint the damn wall.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Should You Get An Agent?

There comes a time when most people who want to make it as a Production Designer wonder about the Agent thing. I asked around about Agents when I first pondered it for myself. It seemed like the Agent's had the inside scoop on the positions that came up. and it seemed like all the PD's I knew had such an Agent.

But it was not an easy topic to research. I found tight lips. Secret Agents. No one wanted to share their information. "You don't need an Agent" was almost always tossed back at me. True. I diddn't at the time.

Of course the mystery only made me believe that it was the elusive Agent that would make it possible for me to pursue my dreams. I applied at Agencies. Most of them did not respond. One did. She was honest with me. A breath of fresh air. She reminded me, that I did not have any paid credits on my resume. No one would look at me. Free gigs are great experience, but they don't count when push comes to shove.

So how did people break in unless they had someone above the line that was somehow personally related to them? I became hung up on the obstacle. Then I met someone who set me free.

"Don't get an Agent" he replied. "I hate Agents". He said. He was an independent Producer. A very successful one. He was outside the box I knew, the box being the Studio system. The union rosters. The weekly paychecks and mortgage paying shows. Having only worked in that area of film, I was blinded by the reality of the system I was ensconced in. As I followed my independent path, and asked more independent filmmakers, I found this to be true of most of the independent producers whom I worked with. An Agent was just an extra body to maneuver around in order to make the film.

Yes, you need an Agent if you want to pursue the box system. The system demands it. Agents are a part of the structure. No, you don't if you, like me, are wandering down the independent aisle. At least, not at first. You do, however, need to do the Agent's work. You need to find those gigs, before they go looking for Production Designers. That's how you beat the competition.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Void Above the Crown: A Tip from Construction

I want to share a great tip that I got from the Construction Dept.

It is really difficult to construct a set on the stage and have the finished walls end up absolutely plumb. Usually it goes unnoticed. In a set with crown mouldings and ceiling flats, unfortunately it is a common problem that suddenly becomes visible.

Because the ceiling flats are wild (unsecured, for camera) and because they undergo installs and uninstalls, what often happens is the movement exacerbates the imperfections, causing a void or uneven gap where the crown is supposed to meet the flat. It never fits exactly like it did before it was removed.

The trick to reduce the obvious, is to install the crown 1/4" below the ceiling flat, establishing a deliberate void all around. The flats are supported by the walls, not the crown. It works, because the eye picks up void/absence-of-void, as opposed to smaller-void/bigger-void.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Cheating & Why We Do It

Cheating is the fun part of Set Designing. There are many reasons we need to cheat a set. It is a common necessity when recreating a location set on the stage. Cheating is problem solving. It is creative solutions. It is tricking the eye; the object is to do so undetected by the viewer.

We use forced perspective to make a set look longer than it is, because the studio space is too small, or the build would be too expensive.

We cheat heights all the time. A fire escape outside the location window. We shoot the POV out of the window on location, then re-create the fire escape on the stage, to shoot the POV inside the window.

The upstairs of a set is usually on a 4' platform, so that we can build the last few steps as if to suggest to the viewer that the whole staircase was there. In fact, the handrail is dying into the studio floor. The downstairs set has a staircase, but there's an actor's access stair at the top of it.

Window sills are often cheated. On location they may be at 25" from the ground. On stage, we would need to raise it to 36" in order to avoid shooting the studio floor outside the window.

We cheat window reflections by gimballing the windows and mirrors. Sometimes you can really tell; gimballing can be tricky, depending on the depth of the gimbal and the exposure of the jambs.

The best cheaters rise to the top. A good cheat always saves the day.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

3 Things To Look For While Shopping For Gak

When I was an Art Department Assistant, I was asked to shop for Gak. The Designer wanted me to bring back samples of items that could be used for Set Design. Most of the items I brought back remained on the Gak shelf, interesting, yet useless. The ones that he used had 3 things in common.

1. They were big. Small stuff is for Props. You can't cover large areas without alot of work, nor does the camera pick up the tiny details in the background.

2. They were cheap and readily available. The construction could go and buy 20 the next day, or within 48 hrs. He loved anything plastic!

3. They were perforated. Lighting is one f the greatest challenges with SpaceShip type sets. Bonus if you can light through the walls.

That being said, seek out your local industrial drainage supplier type yard. It's a gold mine for Gak.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

My Fancy Camera Angle Calculator and Why I Never Use It

When I was starting out, fresh from Drafting School, all I ever dreamed of was being a Set Designer. I gathered all the tools, I was rapidly developing the greatest collection of tools and templates. This did not go unnoticed, in fact, I received several gifts to ad to my kit. One of them was a really nice Camera Angle calculator.

At first, I was overwhelmed with it, as I was undereducated when it came to understanding the camera angles. As I learned more about Camera Angles, I would pick it up and figure out how to use it.

By the time I was actually working as a Set Designer, I hadn't yet used the calculator. I had yet to design a complete set. But the day came: I was asked to calculate the backdrop needed on a set. I proudly pulled out my fancy calculator. The Art Director just stared at me. "What?" I asked.

"What are you doing?" He asked. I showed him my nice shiny calculator. He stared back, blankly and said: "And how the hell do you know what lenses and angles they are going to use?"

He had a legitimate point. In fact, I had indeed wondered that myself: It was part of the mystery of the gadget. He then educated me on the reality of designing for film & TV. He taught me how to calculate for (realistic) worst-case-scenarios. By covering every possible angle, regardless of what the camera's angle would be, the set would be covered. To this day, I use his methods. I still have my shiny calculator, and Its still never been used.

The bottom line is if you can see off the set, so can the camera.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Biggest Fan

We wanted a big fan in the set. A really big fan. The set was all about the fan. We spent almost 3 days looking for one. We wanted it for lighting: it had to be operational.

We also had no money. We found a few fans that were big, but they were too theatrical. In the end we decided to make one, with a 7 day episodic turnaround it was becoming urgent.

The Set Designer drew up the blades, and the carpenters rigged them on an axle with the help of spfx. It looked great, it was awesome, but it was static.

We had to come up with a motor to turn the fan on for shooting, but we could not resolve the noise issue in time. Merely hours before shooting, someone jokingly suggested to use a bike and a grip off camera. It was a brilliant idea. Not only did we have the fan up and running for camera, we were able to shoot it immediately because we had no more technical issues.

The fan not only was silent, we had the added benefit of being able to control the speed at which the fan gave off the most interesting shadows. It was an awesome solution.

Friday, June 22, 2012

There's Something Wrong If You Feel You Can't Go Pee

My old habits of sitting at the computer for 12 hours a day, like an OCD video game freak sucking back coffee and chocolate all day long had caught up to me. I was stressed and went to see my Doctor.

"Just say no to stress. Stress is an option." My doctor reminded me. She also told me that she has alot of film employees visit her with bladder infections, telling her that they feel that they can't go pee for lengthy periods. She told me how important it is to take time out to care for your health, even if it meand just walking away from your desk once an hour and stretching. Thats hard to do! We are all just human, and sometimes we find ourselves in a position where our health can become compromised due to our workplace.

For whatever reason, some folks find it hard to make a stand, and they get sick. Marriage is like film. Sometimes you feel you need to leave the one you love. But then it gets better. A new project. A better time. Ups and downs. But the downs shouldn't be too bad, or compromise your health.

The big picture arrives at some point. Are you the person who goes pee when you need to, regardless of whether or not you have been told to stay put? Or are you the person who waits and waits, because you want the next gig so bad? Is the biz causing you so much stress that you have other health problems? Unfortunately, the facts are that long term film employees generally have a shorter life span.

At what point do you make a change? We are lucky today. Today, walking away from the production line film industry does not necessarily mean the end of a film career. In fact, it can herald the beginning of endless new opportunities.

I remember the day I decided to make a change. I was in the craft service room. An "In Memoriam" poster was on the wall. It was my associate from 2 films ago. How sad. He was 47. He left 6 kids. I thought about what my Doctor said. I haddn't unlearned my bad habits. I was still revving high. I was not walking away from my desk every hour. I kept forgetting, procrastinating, "Just one more line..." 17 years of my life had just flown by, and all I did was work.  I had to stop and take stock. It was the scariest and most rewarding thing I ever did. I said no to the next gig. I had never done that! Was I crazy? The phone kept ringing. Every time I said no, I felt more confident that it was the right choice.

Some people sail through film, they take care of themselves, regardless of their schedules. They start the day at the gym. They are fit. They make fitness and health their priority, not the next gig. They not only last in the production line industry; they usually thrive. 

Health is everything.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The 4' Rule

Its not just me. Most Set Designers I know walk into their set for the first time and feel "Oooh, is it too small?"

Why does this always happen? A well seasoned Designer once taught me to always add an extra 4'-0" to the overall length and width of an average room. (I'm not talking about closet/small space sets: those are always shot with wild walls for shooting)

The reason is the Unit. The Unit will eat up at least 16 sq ft of room space. Even though you have accounted for the Unit on the stage, the crew on set will still need the space. The camera alone eats up at least 8 sq ft.

Its true. I never feel like a room is "too small" in a house. I only ever question the size of a set, because I have experienced an unhappy crew, I have seen how they shoot, the space they use. Its a rule that has served me well.

And no one has ever said to me afterwards, "Oooh, I think the set was too big."

Monday, June 18, 2012

Designing Destruction

Like the crumbling plaster brick wall, the signs of rot and damage are used to describe the age and history of our set. The Set Designer becomes the Architect of the rot. Their job is to design a believable set. Which walls are rotten or burned. Where the rot or fire etc. came from.

By illustrating the elevations, a Scenic Painter knows where to place the elements. Where the rot is located in the walls tells the audience about the building the set is in. Often the set being built is just a room. (A room in a bigger building. Or a single space.)

To ask a Scenic to place the aging elements based on a photo reference is a gamble. Although they are excellent at re-creating the look of the destruction, they often don't know the context of the room they are aging, nor do they all think about where the damage would come from in the building, or what the building exterior is made of. It is such an important step to add the scenic detail in decrepit elevations. Even just by Sharpie. It can so easily go so wrong. Its a really common oversight.

We don't go to school to learn how to destroy things. Architects and Draftspersons are trained to design structures that are meant to withstand the elements. Set Design often calls for decrepit. A Draftsperson coming into film from an Architectural or Engineering firm has been taught that they could be fired for adding illustrative elements to a drawing. Then they find they can become key players in designing destruction if they are in any way artistically inclined. They know "rot theory" and are good at it. Seek them out.

Its a complete reversal of what we have learned in school when we come to the Art Department.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Crumbling Plaster

Its a look we love. Exposed brick. Few Scenics can really master the look without creating a cartoon look.

The biggest problem I have stumbled on has not been the finish, or the technique. Often the scenic work is very well executed. The problem lies in the placement of the rot.

The plaster crumbles and rots due to moisture problems in the wall. This usually happens at the upper corners or the lower sections in the wall. Sometimes it occurs along a crack in the wall, where the plaster cracked when the building settled. It is rarely 'just in the midle of the wall'. There needs to be a story behind it.

Another tell tale sign of authentic broken-away plaster is the bricks that are eventually exposed, are often also partly rotten away. They were rotting behind the plaster for years before the plaster crumbled off. The mortar can even be proud, standing out like a protruding web.

There's great reference on line. Google Images: "brick+ crumbling plaster".  Have a look. Its actually pretty easy to tell which images are scenicly done, when you know what to look for.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

No Money and The Anti-Flat Set

When the money runs out, the flat building seems to be the first to go. I love a Designer that really thinks out of the box. More than that, I love  Producer who thinks out of the box. When there's no more money, creativity oozes from these people. They have great ideas and I love working with them. Designing awesome from nothing is the greatest challenge of all.

When there's no more money, there's often no more Location budget, and a Studio that can possibly be utilized more.

A Producer asked me once to design the back of the sets to be set walls. The effect was surprising. There was such an interesting feel to the ad-hoc set, that was fitting for the show. I don't think I could have designed such a set had I tried to think it up on my own. The nooks and crannies that occurred from the jacks, the strange irregular wall form that established the new set were so odd and bizarre: the Set had a fantastic sense of depth.

Another great idea that came from limited funds was to use a combination of cheaper materials, eg corrugate and fabric panels, and to combine them with lighting techniques. Custom Gobos excite me for this reason. A bland corrugate wall comes alive with wildfire paint or gobo patterns. It can be tricky to design a set based on lighting because of the action creating shadow. Its part of the challenge, and it can look incredible. The colours are fresh. The look is fresh. We're all happy to see something other than flats.

The sets always turn out awesome. Because they are extremely creative.  Of course, it depends on the set you are designing, and the nature of the show. Some sets demand flats, and there's just no other way.

Thats when the Production Office turns into the set!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

What the Gloss? Its Distracting!

One of my biggest pet peeves is a glossy exterior brick wall. It looks so fake. How does it happen? Eggshell paint or a semi-mat, even mat glaze. It has too much sheen for an exterior brick wall. Bricks have no sheen. You can argue that an interior wall has been painted with a glaze, although its a weak argument, as I don't know that I've ever seen that in real life. So why does it happen... alot?

One of the reasons that scenics love to use a sheen in their wall finishes is the application of aging afterward. The aging treatments are alot easier to apply to a paint surface that has a sheen. It is alot easier to work with.

Another reason that they like the sheen is because the colour is richer with a sheen. A great example is the difference betwen a flat black and a slight gloss.

Its a trade-off. How important is the depth of colour in the scenic wall? My eyes are instantly drawn to the light reflecting off the bricks in the background of a film. When looking at an unglazed, flat scenic wall, I need to remind myself that the movie isn't about the wall.

I'd rather leave it flat. Good scenics can create good depth with colour. I'd rather forgo the rich depth of tone that would be attainable with a coat of gloss or eggshell finishes. Background scenery that distracts is a nuisance, and to me, colour depth is not worth distracting the audience over.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Art Needs Its Own Union or Guild

There's a reason that most major film unions and guilds have a designated chapter for the Art Department. In Vancouver, the Art Department is somewhat of a disaster, as a result of the lack of independence the Art Department has.

Let me explain. In Vancouver, the union covers all of the pre-production trades. Hence, the majority of members are in the shop trades. The Art Department therefore has little clout when it comes time for negotiations.
The nature of the industry also affects the nature of the operations. Everyone wants to be in the Art Department. And anyone, knowing the right person, can get hired, even though they are not a member.

The latest trend in Vancouver is to hire a young Art Director, a keener, and to expect them to perform multiple roles, or give them a lesser rate, once they have taken the position. This works because the Art Department has no clout. The Art Department members are considered replacable on a dime. The person being hired will only be replaced instantly if they protest.

Hence, the wages have slipped, and, believe it or not, it is not uncommon in Vancouver for the person who is washing buckets, to be earning more than the Art Director.

That was not a typo. Art Departments need their own unions & guilds. Kudos to the cities that have addressed this.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Wash It All or Just The Spots?

Sometimes picture vehicles show up at the last minute. In fact, it is not uncommon for a Graphic Artist to have to create graphics for a vehicle that hasn't even been seen, let alone approved.

At that moment when the scramble is on to apply the graphics to the vehicle in time for the shoot, the question of dirt on the vehicle could arise. Often, a last minute vehicle equals a dirty vehicle.

Too often the poor vinyl applicator is being asked to hurry up, and get tempted to just wipe off the areas where the graphics will go. If they only clean off the area where the graphics are being applied, it will show on camera, and you will hate it. If you dont clean the area, and try to apply the graphics over the dirt, they may fall off, and its going to be hard to burnish them without making streaks.

If it happened, the best fix is to wipe or wash the rest of the vehicle in the same manner that the vinyl area was prepped; it will blend it in. A dusting of baking soda/fly ash aging over helps too.

Sometimes the last minute vehicles are old, and have old paint. If the paint looks like it is chipping or flaking, its almost always best to try to apply the graphics over the dirt. Even waxing an old paintjob isn't enough to prevent the vinyl from lifting the old paint. When the paint gets pulled off with the vinyls, it almost always ends up costing the company somewhat of a vehicle repaint.

Sometimes an entire vehicle repaint, because of a few peeled flakes of old paint.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Caution: They May Not Be Dingbats

A Set Designer I once knew was coming up with some cool galactic architectural details. He had a great idea: found a dingbat font on a free font site, and created a CNC relief profile. It looked really good!

Half way through the show, we hired a new Art Director. He was Japanese. He recognized the text going arount the cornice: Japanese phonetics! Check it out: Katakana pipe

Good thing the Designer wrote nice stuff!

Monday, May 21, 2012

After All That, Your Work Isn't Even Shot

Its a sad reality. You design a great set, but all you see when you watch the film is the set dressing. It happens alot. It depends on the setting, the scenery and the way the film is being shot. Its one of the perks to being a Set Dresser: Your work is the final layer.

It happens more on big features than on small films and TV, because there is more money spent, bigger sets, extra scenery created, more footage shot, and more that gets edited out. Paint suffers from it alot, often spending days on a finish that gets covered up or lit out.

Sometimes it works the other way. Sometimes the least interesting part of the set gets all the focus, to your dismay, or the most unlikely set dressing gets a close up.

Always good to know ahead if possible: What's the money shot?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Creative Brain Cells: Writing VS Visuals

I had coffee with a Writer friend once. We got talking about work. He was astonished, and brought it up that I was able to draft and calculate with all the music and hullubaloo going on. He was right about the atmosphere, but I found it far from astonishing. Everything I did, I did with music or movies on. So did everyone else. I wondered... is it just a creative type of brain cell that separated writers from visual artists? Like 3D thinkers or Photographic memories? I also wondered, because I diddn't have to turn off the music to write tweets, or short blogs...

Then I was given a large writing assignment. I have dabbled in many departments, and I had done a fair amount of short blog writing, I gave it a go. I sat down with some nice soft music playing. It kept distracting me. I could get a sentence or two down, maybe a paragraph, but it was painful. I kept wandering. I turned the music off and turned on a movie. I couldn't have... nothing... Soon the same. By the time the day was half wasted, I thought about my friend My very successful and talented, smart Writer friend, and turned it all off. For me, that was hard.  Think addict.

Within 15 minutes I was completely carried away, in my writing, in the silence, and within a week, I was writing all day, every day, I had to force myself out of the house, to eat, I began to look like a writer; frumpy sweats, boring hair (no offence) hell, I was even using the word "ominous" in my conversations. It was insane!

Later I looked back at the bizarre phenom. Had I used a part of my brain that I had never explored, because I had been playing music all the time my whole adult life? Since then I've asked other writers and artists about the noise connection. It seemed to be the general consensus. It was a great discovery. If you haven't tried it, I highly reccomend it.

I ended up writing a whole book!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Demoted Means They Can't Fire You

They say that there are no rules in filmmaking. But there are certainly rules for filmmakers. Sometimes you can find yourself in political hot pot. And if you are a newbie, you may walk straight into the fire.

I was fortunate to land a job on a TV series, when I first started in film. I was working as a Scenic in the Paint Shop. My boss loved me. He quickly took me under his wing, and he wanted to make me his protege. I was very fortunate.

But the film industry is a volatile place. He was let go. It was a battle of wills. It was above me. He left, his wife the Paint Foreman left, the Lead Hands left. I stayed with my crew of Scenics. We were to be re-hired with the next Head Painter. It had been agreed.

The next Head came in with hiis crew. We were immediately demoted. We were either given the worst jobs or commited to Labouring. The new crew took over our sets. Our half painted brick walls, our murals, our granite, our art...

It was purely political. We still had our paychecks, but we had lost our groove.

Needless to say, at the time, I was upset by it. Later I understood it better, and understand it now as being part of what makes the industry so tough. You gotta have a thick skin. Think blubber, too. Now, as a rule, if my Head quits, or gets fired, I leave too. I'll save myself the heartache.

The powers that be had agreed for us to keep our jobs, out of kindness, duty and principle. However, it was in our best interest to leave, and find a new pasture.

It's the Wild West. Always get back on the horse, and know when to gallop away when you need to.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Trick To Designing Film & TV (well, one of them)

A fabulous and well known Designer that I once worked with when I was just starting out, shared a great tip. It was one of his tricks.  I since have noticed it to be true,  and incorporated it with great success.

He said: "The trick to designing film & TV is to pick a theme, and carry it through".

In film and in the real world. It's true for any design, whether its Architectural, Interior or Industrial. So we often create Mood Boards.

Thats logical and straight forward, for a set build, as in Architecture; the mouldings carry throughout as a family, the colour palette remains consistent. It is a really important aspect of Production Design, especially in film, when scenes are shot in diferent geographical locations, because it prevents the audience from getting lost.

For a location / set / location match, it becomes crucial to notice the design elements that can tie the different locations to one, as is being depicted in the story.  Sometimes the PD will see it, and direct the Set Designer, however not always; this is sometimes an opportunity for the Set Designer to excel.  Often details like tie-in designs are left to the Set Designer's suggestions. Often this is one of those "small details" that when executed either well (never noticed) or poorly: can become a "big issue". To tie a scenic plug into a location, if there isn't a common feature to carry through and it needs one, sometimes its a good idea to create one, eg: conduit, greens... As a Set Designer pitching creative ideas, always have a photo reference to prove your design to be credible. It means you did your research. You diddn't just make it up, even if you did. It looks good and it builds their confidence in you.

For the successful overall look and style, the film needs a clear design, tasteful and appropriate to the story. The Characters also need design. Their wardrobe tastes, their furnishings, their car; all sells their personna to the audience. Consistency is key. Do they shop at IKEA? Sometimes they do! But I know people who also wouldn't be caught dead in IKEA.

And its been a really helpful tool for brain drain. Sometimes I have relied on the design and mood boards heavily for inspiration when I have felt over tired, and wandering off course...

Mood boards really help the production, however they often end up in the SetDec office (no offence). Best practice I've seen in action is to digitally photograph them and send them out as a PDF photopackage with the Tech Pack.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Reveal Your Butt : A Giveaway

A common problem in hallway shots is overhead lighting. Often, the design calls for deep headers, so that the elex can hide their lighting behind. I have worked in a few abandonned institutional buildings that are common filming locations; often set pieces are left behind from other shows.

I noticed alot of bad header joints on surveys. I thought, wow, I hope I've never done that by mistake... I thought about it. It would be an easy oversight.  It is common for an Art Dept to measure locations, and for a set designer to design the set pices for the location installments. A pilaster gets measured as 16", and the header often, therefore, becomes 16" to tie in to the location.

This creates a messy joint. In reality, often an Architect would set the architectural back, to create a reveal. An obvious plane shift is alot tidier to finish than a butt joint. A plastered finish is almost impossible to recreate on location. The joints often crack, are uneven, and look bad. The audience may never get a good look, but the crew will.

The best way to cover your butt, (wasn't intended) in drafting is always do all the necessary sections and elevations to really get the whole picture. Headers are easy, they get whipped out on the fly, I guess it happens really easily, often, and no one ever says anything. Stuff like that annoys the hell out of me. I don't care if ultimately the audience doesn't get a good look. The crew does, they spend hours sitting, staring at the walls.... and it looks sloppy.

And unrealistic. A building that is cracking at the beam intersection is questionable.  Its a Set-giveaway.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Sometimes You Just Gotta Quit

The best advice I ever received was before I even worked on my first film. It was "Just don't take anything personally, and you'll be fine" A Rock Concert Producer coaxed me to pursue my interests in the performing arts industry.

Its one thing to be in an Art Department in your local on a small show where everyone is from town, and perhaps the Art Director is a bully because they are threatened to keep their place in such a tight community of talented artists and designers, all vying for key positions. Those shows are easy to quit. You know its not personal, its competitive. If you can handle the shit, great; its not like they want to get rid of you. If life's too short for you, and the days are too long, whats the point in staying on a show? It becomes a personal choice for you.

Sometimes though, its not so crystal clear. I was working on a big feature; all of the personell above the line were from NY; I diddn't know any of them, nor they I. I was the 3rd and bottom Set Designer on the crew. The Assistant Art Director had hired the local crew: she was local. It was off to a good start.

But very apparently, the NY Art Director had a problem with me. I was drafting a barn. He insisted my math was wrong. It turned into 2 weeks of hell. He had me draft every intersection full size. He argued with me over math, which diddn't make sense. Math that the construction coordinator backed; then I wasn't allowed to communicate with the construction coordinator....

I quit after drafting over 80 plates in 2 weeks; none of which were ever to be issued to construction under my initials. The moment I quit, he came up to me, a completely different person. He was nice and kind! There was an impromptu byebye tea party in the Art Dept. 15 minutes later I heard I had been replaced.

The Art Director wanted to bring up his Set Designer from NY. And in order to do that he had to prove to the Union that he could not find adequate help here locally. This is the Film Biz. Never forget it.

Just don't take anything personally, and you'll be just fine.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Block Aging : The Art of the Scenic Scuff

The trickiest yet also the most authentic aging is the dings and scuffs that mar up walls. Block aging is the technique where an amount of aging product is applied with a block of wood to, scenically to recreate scuffs and scumbles on the walls.

Whats likely to have caused the damage in the first place? 

Just randomly block aging the wall can look really bad, because it will look like block aging. Block aging, like water aging, needs to make sense. There would be block aging perhaps where the kitchen chair hits the wall, along the baseboard, or scuffs by the front door from bags and bodies coming in and out, over time. A person with a wheelchair would likely have damage on the walls from the wheelchair scuffs.

The world outside is pretty scuff-proof. Ever noticed the bumpers in the elevator? They aren't hand rails. Likewise the bumpers in the hospital halls.  Metal kicks dont scuff so easily. Vinyl sheets hold up to alot. The institutions are designed to prevent scuff. Outside is where cars and shopping carts bash into the lamp posts. Bumbers are a pretty standard height.

Scuffs are where the action would be, they look really great and authentic when they're done right and not over done.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Aging Times

There are a few different factors regarding aging methods;  the surface being aged, the location of the set and the virtual age of the set.

Generally, interior walls of a set are aged with both a hand aging, like hand cleaner mixed with raw umber, and a dust age, which is a fine wash or dust age apllied with a paint sprayer. When the walls call for water aging, the aging is usually applied through a spritzer or hudson. If the aging is dimensional, products are added to create chemical reactions, which is how the bizarre and amazing aging examples are created. On a location, the surfaces are often sensitive, and dust aging cannot be used.

Some surfaces just won't accept water based aging, like metals, and plastics. Beeswax mixed with umber is a common fix for metals, and plastic is often successfully aged with a combination of spritz and umber spray can, streaming together onto the surface. Careful, that one's tricky, and you only get one shot.

Whether or not the set is outside makes a difference. Often the location prohibits standard aging products. Tempera paints are used commonly in environmentally sensitive areas. Wallpaper glue or hand cleaner mixed with umber will wash off in the rain. Beeswax aging is great, but you won't get it off a location wall very easily once you've applied it. If a location really needs aging, and the walls are too sensitive, the tuffback becomes a lifesaver. I'd look for a better location if it was that sensitive and needed that much aging...

How old is the set supposed to be? Are the inhabitants slobs? If you look around you in your every day life, you start to notice that actually, we are fairly clean creatures. We don't usually have blackened door jambs and crud along our wainscott. I see blackened jambs at the mechanic's shop or in the SPFX shop; even old abandoned bulding photos show minimal wainscot crud. But I see alot of that on screen.

Its really difficult to undo an overly aged set without repainting. And it's a difficult process to monitor, because nine times out of ten, the aging is happening while the set is being dressed and lit.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

#TheBestThing on the Catering Truck? Breakfast Burritos!

I couldn't live without them, so I figured them out. I ate so many, from so many chef's, I finally mastered the Classic Film Catering Truck Breakfast Burrito. I'll take em any time of the day.

You need:
Flour Tortilla shells
Eggs & Milk, scrambled
Aged Cheddar, grated
To suit:
Bacon, Sausage, Avocado
A wrapper

Put a dab of oil in the skillet and stick the tortilla on the hot pan
Add scrambled egg
Add grated cheese
Add Salsa
Add sausage bacon or Avocado

When the tortilla is toasted, golden brown, plop it onto a wrapper, fold it & roll it up, and wrap it.


Monday, April 30, 2012

Shit Flows Downhill

It happens. Shit hits the fan. And Shit flows downhill. At some point it needs to land somewhere.
Where it lands depends on a few things. If its an easy finger pointer, ie, the Art Department Assistant sent the wrong file, its easy. The Art Deoartment Assistant will wear a few; its to be expected.

When theres a problem with the build the plot thickens. There are going to be several factors, several departments involved and chances are, each one affected the other, and no one knows the whole picture. Shit starts to slide.

The Production Designer hires people to do the job. Its not the PD's fault, nor is it their responsibility: Thats where the Art Director comes in. This is where the Art Director gets a personality test, and this is why the position of Art Director is so hard. Its the Art Director's responsibility, therefore, the shit must fall on the Art Director. Even if the Art Director diddn't do it; the Art Director's job is to oversee the production of the Set Design. How the Art Director handles this shit is the personality test.

A lousy Art Director goes directly to blame the person they can find at fault. They are missing the point of their job.

A good Art Director wears the shit boldly. Lets it stop there. Then, they find out what happened within their department, or the department involved, and takes steps to prevent any more wildfires, and of course, there are plenty more, just around the corner.

Art Director is a tough gig.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Restricted Design: Location Walls

Sometimes you can't paint them. So some brilliant mind made us Tuffback. For those who are unfamiliar, it is a removable sticky backed paper, that holds up to painting. It is great for changing the wall colour on a location when you cannot paint it. It is excellent also for last minute installations, as it is quick and easy to apply. Depending of course on the wall features you are covering. Pipes and conduit are a bitch.

One film I worked on we tried to wallpaper the Tuffback. The location wall was fairly small and straightforward. The day before the install, we wallpapered sections of Tuffback, and laid them to dry overnight. The following day we took the rolls of wallpapered Tuffback to the location. As we were pulling the backing off the tuffback, the wallpaper started to separate from the Tuffback. The Unit was 2 hours away.

It was nearly impossible to release thr backing without separating the wallpaper. Finally we managed to get the tuffback up on the wall, however the wallpaper was falling off. So we spritzed the wallpaper glue to reactivate it. That was good, the wallpaper now stuck to the Tuffback. But now the damp Tuffback was falling off the wall. The Unit was 30 minutes away.

We had to pull out the staple gun and the snot tape.

We made it; it looked horrible up close because of all the trouble we had with it.  I'm curious if there's a better glue we could have used, but I never got to try it again.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Oops, The Set Caught Fire

It actually happens really easily.

Sets are built from dry materials. It doesn't take much to set a blaze. I worked on three films that suffered accidental fire damage. Fires are an obvious hazzard when dealing with fire elements on set, however, its usually other elements that cause the fires. The SPFX Technicians take extreme caution, they are trained professionals (most) are doing it safely.

It's the accidents that cause the fires. The set has an overhang that is too close to the fire. It gets hot while no one is noticing, until it is too late. The old Set Dec lamp, the wire is starting to overheat at the power outlet. It goes unnoticed until its too late. The painters painting the set in the rain. Desperately trying to get the paint to dry, set fire to the set by accident with the flame heat. The crew jacket that is too close to the propane heater...

As a Set Designer, keeping this in mind, adding notes of caution, pointing out the seemingly obvious is never too much. Even if it merely makes the crew aware of the potential hazzards, it is effective in fire prevention. A note above the header, and a quick illustration of the Set Dec Altar with flames shooting up, will be adequate to enlighten even a novice carpenter that they need to be concerned about potential fire. They would then address the issue with re design, or fire retardant, or both. Either way, without the communication, and pictures work best, the carpenters will have no idea there will be a fire burning 24" below the header. Not if its a Set Dec item. It could easily get overlooked. Until it's too late. And that's just an example. As a Set Designer you have a position where you can really make a difference in safety on set. Make notes. Point things out. Everything. I'm a big fan of illustrating drawings. In the real world a Draftsperson would be fired for it.

If you haven't watched the behind the scenes interviews on the second disk of Ridley Scott's Legend, you may want to. Its a really good behind the scenes story about how (in my opinion) one of the greatest indoor sets ever built tragically burned to the ground.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Fire Features & Why The PD Needs A Cast Chair On Set

Fireplaces are fairly straight forward. You need a fireplace, a spfx fire box and adequate ventilation. All the equipment is easily concealed off set.

When you design a set with fire features free standing from the walls of the set you are presented with the challenge of concealing the gear. At a minimum, you will have gas lines running from the flame unit to the gas tanks off set.

Of course it depends on the nature of the set, how you can go about solving it. There are creative ways to conceal gas line within scenic flooring, however a discussion is due with the camera department re: floor dolly shots.

Platforms and steps are great and expensive.

Set Dec sometimes becomes the optimal choice (as long as the dressing makes sense).

Where the flame source is placed in the set can also make a difference. If you know ahead due to good planning that there will be no dolly or action issues (LOL), you have more freedom to design floor features to conceal the pipe.

Sometimes, its a non issue: the shot will be too tight, or the lighting will be to contrasted to see the floor (wink wink)

Its always good to be on set when they are shooting. It's the PD's job to make sure the final scenic picture in the camera is the final scenic picture intended.

Give them a chair at the monitor. Its why you hired them.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

So You Think You're Not Good Enough? Read On

I fell into the Film Industry through a Theatre call. I was recruited into the Paint Dept. I quickly noticed the draftings and immediately identified with the area I wished to specialize in. I of course secretly allowed myself a 5 minute fantasy about being the Designer, but my rational thinking kept me focused on making a living.

I enrolled in a part time drafting course, which I excelled in. I decided perhaps I had potential, maybe I should go the distance, so I enrolled in a Drafting Diploma program that certified draftspeople for the architectural and engineering industry. I learned to draft houses, roads, rail, bridges... the whole gamut. I excelled and felt confident i had a healthy career ahead of me.

The first time my schooling killed my career was an offer to work on the X-Files. It was 6 weeks before my graduation. I decided that i ought to finish my program and get my ticket.

Lesson #1: X-Files credit is valuable in film. Drafting diploma is not. 

The next time my schooling killed my career was not immediately recognized. I couldn't get a drafting job! When I did get a chance to draft as an assistant, I was made to draw it badly. Constantly told to erase and redraw. I was being harassed over my drawings. I diddn't get it until a few years in, when I started noticing how all the drawings I was printing for everyone were so incorrect, drafting speak. Why wouldn't they let me draft? Clearly I had the trade cased, I was fast, wont anyone give me a break? I diddn't realise this when I went to scool, but I diddn't need to. I was one of the very few (2?) in our industry that was a ticketed draftsperson. Everyone was self taught. I was 'too good' visually, and 'too fast'. I was a threat.

4 years into my career, I finally had the chance to save the day. It was on a show with one of the best Art Directors in town. He was sold! Next show he had I was the new star Set Designer, overnight. That was great, but here I was, gone from zero to being raved about as one of the best Set Designers in town. There was alot of animosity resulting in my sudden fame. I felt it.
It reared its ugly head in the form of repression. The Art Department in my town was governed by its own members (not a good idea). They had the power to say if you can have a category or not. I was denied my Set Designer category for almost 10 years by my peers. I would only get a Set Designer gig from my loyal Art Director, who only worked once a year. I wasn't on the list.

Lesson #2:  Don't outshine the competition when you're just a pup.

I finally started to get accepted after 5 years , and was starting to get new Art Directors offer me work. I started having trouble physically though. The on-off set designing over the years had given me repetitive stress injuries in my arms. I decided to be a better Set Designer, so that I could get steadier work to prevent more injury (I still haddn't understood my overeducation problem). I took a VFX course, because I noticed a void in communication and understanding between the two departments. That was great, I thought. Now I can save the day more often. I can be the linchpin Set Designer!

It fell really flat. No one wanted to hear my know-it-all pitches. It was icing on my know-it-all, too fancy, over anal drafting. Not only that, but i made enemies by speaking out, being shot down and ending up being right ater costly rebuilds. (Why my best references come from the Construction Dept)

Lesson #3: Be sneaky about your knowledge. Suggesting issues pops questions. Stating issues pops challenges. 

Filmmakers today coming out of school know all about VFX. However, it is still a relatively misunderstood process in the Art Department. I was just an unfortunate Gen-X, caught in the tide of the old and new.

The lesson? Its not about how good you are, its how you play the game. I was too keen to be too good. I thought I wasn't good enough, when I was plenty good enough all along.

My Set Designer career is over. My injuries are permanent. It was over before I finally got my category. It was over at 36. It is not all going to waste, though.

Ironically all I can do now is be the Production Designer. If you don't follow your dreams, life may do it for you, but not the way you wanted it.

Furry Fun On Set

Animals are cheated alot in filming. They need special platforms, special surfaces, special rigs and special conditions. Animal shows have their own set of challenges.  If you ever get a chance to work on an animal film, I highly reccomend the experience.

A common animal stunt is the slide. Its an easy stunt for an animal to do, and if you are the Set Designer, you will be asked to design the slide. If a slide is built to a predetermined  slope, there's too much room for difficulties on set. There is no way for a Set Designer to figure out the slope of the slide from their desk. It is a formula that only the animal handlers and director can create with the actual rehearsal of the animal slide. The slope of the slide will dictate how fast the animal will slide. That is all important. On camera, the animal wants to slide perfectly. Not too fast, and not too slow. There's only one thing you need to do. Make it adjustable.

Just add a note for construction to a drawing like this. Its easy to build an adjustable slide; its problematic if a new one needs to get built, with your name on it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Backup Lesson Learned

I was attending a program that certified draftspeople for the Architectural and Engineering Industry. They had networked all of the computers in the class to a network hub, and taught us that in the real world, we would all be networked like this and they taught us to save all our work to the master backup drive. They taught us that we needed to backup every day. They taught us it could cost us our job if we diddn't.

Towards the end of the program, during the last 3 weeks, we were all working very hard. All of our projects were due for our final mark, a huge percentage of our overall scores. We were all working late. All of us were sweating it. It was crunch time.

One of those mornings, I arrived at class and something was up. Everyone was talking, looking around.... blank screens.... Who died?

I sat down at my computer. All my files were gone. Everyone's files were gone. Some of us lost a day or two, others lost too much and lost alot of marks. They just couldn't get it all redrawn in time.

It was the final lesson given to us from the drafting faculty.

Monday, April 16, 2012

5 Tips To Breaking Into The Art Dept

You've taken courses, worked for free, now you want to get paid. I am often asked how one goes about breaking in to the Art Department. Having been in both positions, Art Department Assistant looking to get in, and later as Art Director recruiting newbies during a feast season, I compiled a list of steps that you can make that really make a difference.

1. Have a Trade. Your Art Dept choices are Graphic Design or Set Design. Illustrators are moving into the Pre-Vis department. If you are an Illustrator, maybe check out the VFX industry. Its booming. If you have a trade, you will be indispensable to the Art Department when there is task overload; as a bonus you will get opportunities to add work to your Portfolio. Its OK to say you want to be a Production Designer or Art Director one day and your Trade is that you are indispensable on the internet and with Art Department organization.
Be clear. What do you eventually want to spend 12 hours a day doing? A Career as  Graphic Designer or a Set Designer can be an extremely challenging, yet hugely rewarding career. Follow your Dreams.

2. Own the Kit. Be Professional. You need a cell, a car, a camera, a computer, programs, printer, scanner. You need weather gear and sometimes a drafting board and your own chair. If you've got a Cricut papercutter or any other useful novelties, they will only help you be more useful.

3. Have a neat portfolio showing Art that is related to what it is you want to do. Make it a reasonable size. Often interviews take place in restaurant booths or trailers. Show what interests you. If you want to be a Graphic Designer but all you have is stuff you did behind closed doors, show it. You don't need to be an Art Superhero to make a really good and successful career in the Art Department. You need to be able to 'pump it out'.

4. Put it out there. Make a nice neat resume package and advertise yourself online. Fax your resume to current productions. I cannot emphasize this one enough. In our day and age of internet and social networking, the fax remains effective. You may not be in the Social Network where the jobs are advertised or referred. By faxing, your resume lands in the inbox in the Art Department. It gets physically handled. Now there's a chance it will get filed, or at least noted. Also, during the Production, sometimes they suddenly need extra help because it went crazy. If your happy resume is in someone's inbox, you are an instant source of help available. Its a powerful tool if you get the timing right. Keep faxing. You can locate Production Office Fax numbers on Film Comission lists.

5. Don't give up, and don't ignore other Departmental opportunities. Sometimes its easier to get your foot in the door through a less competitive department, where you are still working within the area of your goals. By working in the Paint Department, a Graphic Designer can become involved with Signage, which builds their portfolio, and connects them to key players in the Industry. Likewise, a Set Designer can make great headway as a Carpenter, gaining firsthand knowledge on how the Set is really built, giving them a leading edge when they make a break into the Art Department.

Last but not least, If you do get the interview, just remember. Get get the job, or be remembered.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Water On Set

Ka-ching!!!!! If I could go wild it would quite possibly include a water feature. Water is a powerful set design tool. It has its limitations, and it's a challenge with huge rewards.

The most common trouble with water features, eg aquariums and fountains, is the noise that they produce. Sometimes a fountain can be worked with without too much trouble, if it is an out door shoot. Inside, like with aquariums, the noise of the pumps are a real problem. It can be worked out, but it needs addressing ahead of time, not when the Unit decides it's a problem; you'll lose your water feature.

I love aquariums because they double as a layer.

Ponds are my favoirite. I love ponds because you get to play with the lighting on the water and the reflections are sensual. No lighting program can reproduce the natural beauty, or generate a mood like reflected water lighting.

Either the set is on a platform, the pond below, or the pond is a pool enclosed by a 'stone' wall. Depending on the size of the pool, you probably need an engineer to verify your floor can take the weight. If you want a Grip stirring the pool, it needs to be designed with an off-cam access, eg. against a wall.

Sometimes the set is half full of water, and nasty products like Marine Enamel need to be used. When someone tells me they need to use Marine Enamel for a set I remind; Marine Enamel is an extremely toxic product, and, ultimately some poor desperate painter will be nominated to use the product, and too often they are unaware of the hazards. Too often the shop crew take a design as a final, no negotiations. They will use the Enamel, even without the proper gear. They are dedicated.

As a Production Designer it is your responsibility to ensure that no one gets hurt as a result of your design. Sometimes there are other ways to do it. Coming up with solutions is what Production Design is all about.

Water = Expensive stuff!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rise & Run. Its Not About Your Morning Jog

In drafting up a set of stairs, the term rise and run refers to the height and depth of each stair.

There are standards that dictate a stair design, and variations on the rise and run matter in Set Design. If the Actor is using the stairs on camera, the rise and run ratio will dictate their movement.

In a standard residential setting, the rise and run is usually around 7 1/2 x 10. It varies, however, Architects usually work within the standard criteria of the rise and run adding up to 17 inches, within an inch of it. The tread is the total run plus the nosing.

In an old house, an attic stair would fall out of the standard. It would look right to have an Actor going up a steep stair. Likewise, a glamorous stairway in a mansion may have a lower rise and longer run.

Generally outdoor steps have an inch longer run.

On a side note, if you are designing concrete or stone stairs for your set; include an insulation note. Hollow sounding concrete steps sound like wooden steps.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Should You Date The Producer?

We've all seen it.

Struggling Art Department Female, dates Producer/Director etc. & PD's the next show.

It is the classic Hollywood faux-pas; the express route past all the BS to the top job. I'm not here to say don't do it, I'm just going to write about my observations.

The big warning given to young women starting in the business is: Don't date above the line, because if it doesn't work out, you'll (never work in this town again).  Not true. Its a game and if you are playing it well, if its your choice in games to play, you can come out a winner, for sure. No one knows where a relationship will go,  it can be a completly legitimate attraction, you may believe its marriage material; it just automatically holds baggage.

To just blatantly and falsely play the game to use someones power to get yourself a break is just callous. Producers have hearts too! Yet some consider it a legitimate way to get ahead for a woman; and I can understand some of their points. Its not a fair world, so why try to play like it is?

However, there is a price to pay. Again, its a choice whether or not you acknowledge the price...

The price is respect. From below the line. Most figures above the line have no idea how you got there.

Certainly you were referred.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Storyboards : The Undefinable Department

Are they not Art Department? They are Artists, they are often refered by the Art Department, however the position of Storyboard Artist is unique.

In most cases, they aren't designing or contributing to the esthetic look of the film, they are mapping out the shots for the camera. 

The Storyboard Artist is not hired by the Production Designer or Art Director, but by the Director or Producer, and works almost exclusively alone and with the Director. The Storyboard Artist works according to the Director's schedule, and they often work from their own studios.

You seldom find them in the Art Department, yet because of their artistic skills and connections they are part of the artistic community. Often they are given a table and chair in the hall. Sometimes their own or the Director's office. Its also common for a Storyboard Artist to be working out of a trailer on location.

Storyboarding to me is more like a visual AD. Its like an illustrated one-liner. Others place it within writing, Pre-Vis, Art Dept. or Production Office(?) Sometimes they do get their own department classification. It depends on the Production.

I have many many crew lists, and the position of Storyboard Artist falls into many categories. Like everything else in film, there are no rules, so just like the characteristically bohemianesque job descriptions the Art Dept Artists define for themselves, likewise the Storyboard Artist.

Their undefinable department.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Painted Linoleum Tips, Tricks & Limitations

One of the floors we used was circular and in a cave. To finish the edges we brought the dirt floor over the edge of the linoleum. Looked great.

Another asset was in the ability to hang the linoleum up on the wall and use a projector to plot the image.

It was a practical solution for a floor that we needed to reshoot periodically because it rolled up again nicely in between episodes.

The only real limitation we had using this method was in the minimum width of the lino. The trick to splicing the lino from behind with the most seamless results were in using patterns eg tiles, to tie the seam in with. It worked out fine; the seam was mostly covered by furnishings and hardly shot. It wasn't a 'floor feature' set like the one above.

The overall diameter of the one above was, however, determined by the 12' limitation on hand.

Restricted Design: Floors

One of the first productions that I worked on with a pro-active approach to set recycling was a low budget TV series. With set recycling and low budgets come restrictions in set design, as do locations. One issue in particular was the floor. We had several rotating sets and we wanted to change out the floor several times each episode. Repaints were a financial issue, time made it impossible.

When the floor cannot be painted there are few options. The new laminates that are coming out on the market are a new popular choice for stage, however on location the floor may be uneven; there may not be a way to lay it down. Carpets are easy, however often not an option for the set. Linoleum can be laid, sometimes this is a viable option. But sometimes the choices are too limited.

Large graphics can be printed; use a protective wax treatment or a repositionable product in order to prevent damage to the location floor when removing the graphic after the shoot. 

Another option is to flip linoleum over and paint the back. It's durable enough for the unit, especially if it has a floor glaze coat. Paper backed linoleum works best.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Got FG? The Wall Is Merely BG

Sometimes its whats within the walls that counts. In a toss up between expensive wall finishes and layering elements, unless we're talking about a padded cell or something like that, I always ditch the wall finish. Wall is BG. Layers are FG.

Layering elements give a set a sense of depth, in the case of using colonnades, or columns. The viewer can only see that there is space beyond, obscured. This can help to create suspense, or on the other hand it suggests scale. Colonnades are particularly loved in set design as they are functional to the filmmaker and to the design construction. They allow a series of rooms to be visible from one to the other, giving the camera more freedom to shoot. They help the room from being subjected to boring.

Factories and industrial facilities have vast layers of metal framing, pipes, conduit and materials. Great scenery for hiding, stalking, predator shots. Storage rooms and maintenance areas likewise are all great scenes for firearm scenes, where things can get hit, spark and explode in frame without causing overall set damage. 

Layers such as ornamental wrought iron create mystique. They look awesome in horror films. Confession booths are the classic layer look. A classic perforated metal, cloverleaf, is a really common grille. Looks beautiful with candlelight. Confession booths are a common build because in reality they are too small to shoot in. Other layering elements can be greenery, as seen in Legend with the use of Lilies. A trellis is also a good example of a greenery layer. Fabrics are beautiful in a window; nothing says 'its windy' or "theres a bad man outside' more than disturbed window dressing. Soji and other types of screens are also a great solution. Especially on a location where there is no build involved.

One note of caution; Stringy curtains and fine meshes can cause a moire effect, which you really don't want. There's nothing worse than annoying moire in the BG.

Most DOP's love to shoot through layers. They are a naturally occuring FG element that are a vital tool for a filmmaker, and will utilize them to create interesting and beautiful shots. They are an opportunity for creative lighting and can cast the most amazing shadows.

The walls sometimes just end up being a frame. Sometimes they don't even get seen.

It depends on the movie you're making.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Stupidity on Set: A Production's Greatest Wildcard

The set-building stage of the production has several stupidities that I keep seeing over and over again.
Crew misusing toxic chemicals around unsuspecting crew members: I once was sprayed in the face with stay-put. Now I'll probably grow horns. Oh wait, looks like I already am;)

Electrical and air cords all over the place: Once I saw a 12 step ladder get tangled up in a cable and it fell over, hitting a crew member in the head.

Crew ignoring painters tape across a set entrance: The floor's wet; they just painted it.

One of the saddest stupidities I keep seeing, however, is that one of being stupidly stubborn. Like the ratings system that is stubbornly resisting change, like the pot prohibition that is stubbornly preventing a viable economy: A design decision that is resisting a necesary revision because of, dare I say it, ego?

A  Designer that refuses to alter a design to accomodate shootoff issues, will most certainly cost the production an extra cost either in stand-by renovations or in post. A good Set Designer will be able to illustrate a shootoff issue on paper well before construction begins. If in doubt, ask the Set Designer for a camera section. Stupid extra production costs hurt.

It happens all the time.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Model of a Set That Caused A Massive Repaint

When I started in the Art Dept, I worked as an Art Dept Assistant for years. I was fortunate to have reeceived several model making assignments. Models are particularly useful when building an organic set, like a cave, that would otherwise be hard to draw.
One model in particular was, however,  a hard lesson learned.

I had built this beautiful model and painted it. The Designer approved it and it went to the shop. Later he told me that it needed to be repainted to look like a different rock type. I went down to the shop to paint it as asked. I based out the model in black and left it to dry before adding my light greys. My own personal model method.

Then 'Film" happened. I can't remember exactly the string of events, but I diddn't get back to the model in time.

Suddenly I had one very upset Designer on my hands and a full size black set on the stage.

Models are great. But here's what I learned: make sure they are right when you leave them in the shop. Shop people take our designs very literally. And painters can cover a large area in no time with a spray machine.

 Right: My Model before the damned revision

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Helvetica is the Ikea of Fonts

Helvetica is the Ikea of fonts. It has its place; selectively. It sends a strong message. Its safe, its generic, its proven acceptable design, its corporate. But unless thats the message being conveyed in a scene; thats not what filmmaking is about. Avoid it like you avoid Comic Sans.

Fonts are important. If any of you have ever gone font hunting online, especially when trying to find 'that font', you know the thick forest of font I speak of.

Fonts can give away your period set in an instant. Likewise they can give away fake road signs. They can make a piece of artwork or graphic look amateur or professional. Sometimes we don't realise it; sometimes it just comes across as odd. Or bad design. Fonts are a look. The look is of an era. They need to belong. Sometimes they need to be recreated; sometimes you can closely fake them.

There's alot of free fonts out there. Be sure to check they are royalty-free/public domain if you are using them on a production.

Its really important to research the fonts you will be using for your project. Its easy to be fooled by an old-looking font if you aren't well rehearsed in font theory.

 Its one of those "little things".

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rant: Why I Love The Colour Copier

Its the new Art Dept Hi-Lo-Budget must have. A colour copier. If you can master it, it will prove to be a valuable ally in achieving the seemingly impossible. So much so, I think having one's own colour Copier/Fax/Scanner would be a great asset.

During my experiment in finding out how lousy an Art Director I was, I had great opportunity to work on Lo-Budget under crewed gigs. I noticed how the colour copier was being used for so many more things than one would initially assume. Not only that, the scanner was an indispensable tool for all the pre-production departments who needed to share reference materials etc.

We made newspaper articles and printed them; just big enough to cover a 1/4 of a double-page size, good enough for the c/u. We printed obsolete wallpaper to patch damage done at a location. We colour copied the ground for covering up markers for the animal scenes. Last minute signage, spray glued to foam-core. Last minute Brochures...

Sometimes visual reference is the quickest and most direct way to convey a description of something. Most of us in the Art Dept have scanners. For the many crew that don't, the ability to quickly scan and email an image to a supplier saves an immense amount of time over the long run.

Sometimes, however, the networked copier can become easily abused. 100 8.5x11 reference images are so easy to send to print. Often, while printing, someone else sends artwork. The prints get mixed up. Someone grabs someone else's. They re-print... it happens easily. A visible and comical 'Lost & Found" box actually is quite effective, btw.

More and more Productions are choosing to go digitally with websites. As a Set Designer I think this is great; just don't make access limited to elite crew, please. Access to all the location photos allows us to go in and look carefully for missing bits of information or measurements without having to go back to the Location.

One last perk? At the end of the show, I used to have to make a trip to the repro shop in order to get some nice prints of my work. Now I just hit send.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Art Director. The Toughest Role

The one constant throughout my career was transience. I worked with so many different Art Depts. I noticed after a while a common problem. The Art Directors were often questionable. Questionable in the way that they weren't doing a good job managing their crew.

It also looked like a tough job. Stuck in the office, no creativity, blame, late nights, all-nighters...

I was educated about the "Peter Principle" early on in my career. I think it may be part of the reason.
But the apparent general Art Dept problem hinted of more.

Most people enter the Art Dept because they are Artists. The Art Director on a large Production has a non-creative role. Most think that the logical path to breaking into Production Design is via Art Directing. This isn't true because of the Peter Principle. Combine the two scenarios and you've got a bunch of wanna-be creative Designer types playing the role of Art Director. (A better route is Art Assistant or Set Dec)

Good Art Directors don't want to be the Designer (hence rare), they want to make it happen seamlessly. They are good at their job. Therefore their heart and soul is into their position. Good Art Directors need to be mature enough to promote the lower talent around them without feeling threatened. Good Art Directors do this easily because they are secure that they play a valuable non-creative management role. They are indispensable.

If you're playing Art Director and you know you suck at it, don't do it. It will do your career more harm than good. Art Directors are a different charachter/personality than most Artists/Designers. Good Production Designers know this, hire accordingly and are those Designers that end up holding onto their Art Directors for years.

You're as good as your team.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Crash Course on Pencil Theory

Lead = Its actually Graphite.

We all use HB pencils. HB=Hard Black.

This is the mid range of pencil hardness/blacknes. The softer the lead, the blacker the pencil, the harder the lead the lighter the grey.

Generally soft range leads: 4B, 3B, 2B and B are usually found in an Artists tool kit, while B, HB, H, 2H, 3H and 4H are Draftsperson's tools. Soft leads are smudgy, lending themselves more to Art. It isn't cool to have smudgy draftings.

Line weight refers to the thickness of the line. Because 4H pencils can be kept the sharpest, and because they are the lightest, 4H would typically be used for .03-5 light construction lines. 3H, a shade dark enough to solidly print, yet still hard enough becomes the .05 dimenson lines and the note leaders. Some hatches are effective in 3H. 2H is for overall detail object lines, hatch, preliminary draft; .05 - .07. H is for hard object lines (openings), notes and render shading. .07-.09. HB should only be used selectively as it smudges. I use it for ground lines, overall object lines and titles.

Most Draftspersons operate on a 3 pencil range. Less will never look professional. 

Before mechanical pencils were invented the Draftsperson had to create the line weights by hand using hard/soft pencil techniques. The skill level a Draftsperson had in mastering line weights largely defined their success.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How I Learned The Hard Way How Not To Colour Copy

Shit. It always happens when theres a last minute rush job.

I learned the hard way not to colour copy multiple full colour brochures without alternating images.

It was a Friday night brainwave from one of my favourite Producers, one I wouldn't want to let down in a million years. I loved this guy. Of course I'll whip up a brilliant brochure at 6:00pm Friday night for an 8 am Saturday shoot.

Burnt out after a full week, the designing took all evening and into Saturday am.

After a frantic last minute graphic designing session, complete with shuttle/to set/from set approvals and disapprovals,
with less than an hour before the brochure was scheduled to shoot, I was given a final OK.

So then I completely blew it. I printed all of the side A's. The copier gummed up and after only printing about 8 copies it began spitting nasty blobs all over the prints. I had no time to go to a copy shop. There was nothing I could do to fix the copier. It was beyond me.

On Monday when the photocopy technician came to fix the copier, he told me that when copying multiple full colour images, to always alternate the image so that the same-colour inks dont collect repeatedly in the same spot on the rollers.

Luckily for me, We had the approved brochure. We used the salvageable single-sidded ones for BG.

The Producer still loves me.

Monday, March 19, 2012

What Is Going On In Front Of The Greenscreen?

Its a question that a Set Designer sometimes needs to address. Sometimes the PD doesn't know that the height of the Scenery becomes a money decision, not a design choice.

When drafting a Facade of a building, for example, this is usually a non-issue. The building is tall, the Actors safely in front of the Scenery. The trouble arises with a scene like an Arctic Ice Floe, or a rocky hill.

When the film goes into Post and the Vfx Artists remove the green (or blue)  to replace it with a background, it is very easy when the greenscreen butts up to the static scenery. When an Actor is in front of the greenscreen, each frame must be rotoscoped around the changing actions of the Actor. This adds a huge amount of extra work in Post.

When you are drafting BG scenery for the greenscreen, find out what the shot will be. If the scenery needs to be taller than the Actor, its really important to do a shoot-off calculation based on the camera placement and the floorplan, to ensure the scenery is tall enough.

Sometimes it can be a bit shocking to find out your BG Ice Floes need to be 8-10 feet tall.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Jog Alot

Whether on location, or on stage, I have learned to incorporate jogs in the set walls.

Jogs add charachter to otherwise bland and awkward spans. Joga are natural, normal and help to create a realistic feel in the set.

Jogs are also a huge asset for wilding manageable sized wall spans. The joints are easily concealed in the inside corner. A sillicone caulk can easily be cut and restored.

I usually call them up in economical sizes; the nominal flat width, or a minimal-waste size like 8", 12" etc.

Jogs also provide excellent natural paths for set dec conduits and wires.

Pilasters can also be used as a joggy type wall detail. The only difference being that if they were pilasters, they would be as structural.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Surprise! The Wallflower may be an Actor.

- The Pygmalion Effect: the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, the better they perform -

"You'll never make it"

Most of us have heard this from someone at some point. Some of us hear it more. Those that are marginalized, small people, seemingly quiet people, Wallflowers,  you know the types.

Sometimes its true.

I am that person. I was expected to be stupid, and quiet. I played the quiet stupid role to make things easy. I wanted to get hired again. Speaking out caused trouble. I was a child Actor. Perhaps this enabled my pretence.

Regardless of their spirit, they are subjected to the Pygmalian Effect. For example,  I was often pulled aside and told to stop coming across as a smart ass. Instead, I was to merely hint at a problem, not point it out. I was terrible. I'm a geek. I'm outspoken. I can't help it. I see it as being part of a team. I couldn't 'get it'.

I had this problem because I too suffered from the Pygmalian Effect. I was a leader in a follower position. It almost broke me I stayed too long. I was acting a role that suited those around me. I developed low confidence, feelings of repression and general disrespect.

The truth was I needed to go stand up on my own. I needed to take the plunge and take a leader position, or get out. I had to believe I had the chops or find something else that could allow me to be who I was. With the support of the confidence a few key Filmmakers had in me, I took the door. I felt unready to take the lead at a full fledged union show level, but I felt that inevitably it was my only path.

This was when I discovered something really important about myself. I did go and get my own no-budget indie gig. I was really good at it! I blossomed. I came out of my shell. I was assertive. I became the real me. I felt it in my heart. Everyone loved my ideas, my confidence was completely restored. It was a huge rush.  I went home feeling like I was king of the world, and I wasn't paid a dime. Everything that was wrong with my career psychology was all of a sudden put right. I saw the light.

The lesson I want to share is this: If you are this small person, and you know in your heart you are a leader, and you are playing the low-expectation game, Don't ignore who you really are. Work towards it. Play the game if it makes life easier, but never give up on following who you really are.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Go Have A Picnic: Pick A Colour

Colour can look very different under different lighting.

In an unbelievable way. I have personally witnessed an entire room getting repainted, a Scenic Painter accused of using the wrong colour, and dumbfounded well seasoned professionals argue over it.

The problem arises under fluorescent lighting. Too often our offices and stages are lit under fluorescent work lights. In fact, the lighting used during filming is alot closer to natural sunlight. Its not always an issue. Sometimes its merely a slight disappointment or a delight.

I was working once in a large industrial south-facing building. There were a series of rooms connected that we were transforming into a Police Station. Only one of the rooms had direct sunlight,the others lit by fluorescents and spill from the exposed room. Even the spill wasn't enough to correct the colour change. Everyone on the survey had agreed that the back rooms had been mistakenly painted by a different colour, and the entire space was re-painted at huge expense.

It still looked the same.

Picking colours is a real challenge. I find that taking my Fan-Deck outside in the natural light tells me a much truer story for the upcoming shoot. And yes, I too have questioned some Designer's colour choices pre-shoot under shop lighting, only to be pleasantly surprised later on, seeing how much better the colours come together under the stage lighting. And vice-versa.

Its an art form picking good shooting colours. As a rule of thumb, if in doubt, go with a Heritage version of the colour you are looking for. They are Heritage colours for a reason.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Rough Times

I love Anaglypta.

For those that aren't familiar with it, it is a white embossed wallpaper that comes ready to paint.
It is one of the perfect solutions to a rough wall, both on a recycled set and in a residence or office. It can hide a myriad of wall imperfections.

Its classy. Period.

You can do amazing things with scenic finishes that play with the embossed pattern.

It looks fabulous on film.

It's a clasic wall covering.

It is really easy to apply.

Did I say I love it?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dirt Matters

Caves are great. They can be made in several ways. They are a Lighting challenge. A Scenic's dream.

One element that always bothers me if it is not addressed, however, is the dirt floor. It is a very common oversight to finish the Scenic walls, dump barrels of dirt on the floor, rake it out and call it a day.

What you are left with is a very unnatural intersection between the floor and the walls. This will make your cave look faker than faux.

There's a really good n' dirty way to fix it.

With a hudson of scenic wash dampen the edge first; the dirt can then be rubbed into the lower 12-24 inches of the cave wall and feathered out. As the wash/dirt dries it will blend in nicely with the cave wall, and goes a long way to ease the dirt/wall transition, leaving a very natural look.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Stove That Gave It Away

Stoves also deserve a mention. When I see a modern day kitchen on TV and its not flanked by cabinets on either side, I think: Set.

In an old house it is quite common to see stoves placed anywhere in a kitchen, along a wall, standing alone, without cabinets either side.

In a modern home, however, there are building codes in effect. Depending on where you live, of course, they differ somewhat in detail, however there are some basic safety standards that apply to stove placement.

A stove requires a minimum 12" cabinet beside it in Canada; It may differ in your Country. The minimum distances for interior design are also listed usually in the Architectural Graphic Standards.

Stoves are easier to wild when they are not stuffed between cabinets.  It's a valid filming argument. Its a foresight that can easily be remedied though, with gliders under the stove.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Old Fridge

A Classic.

Every Set Decorator I know jumps at the opportunity to roll a beautiful classy 50's refrigerator onto the set. Even though it is a relatively unrealistic appliance these days, even as a gimick they are rarely still used.

They look great. I love them too. They add charachter.

But they deserve a post regarding Set Designing.

They have unusually thick doors. Depending on where the fridge will be located that can pose a problem. When the fridge is up against a wall, it will require adquate clearance to the wall for the door to open properly. If it is amongst cabinets, it will need to stand forward enough to open the door properly.

What you have to do is measure the fridge floorplan with its door open, to ensure the door action will not become an obvious sore spot in the action.

And that brings me to another Famous Lie: "We'll never open the fridge door on camera".....

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Wild Times: When Scenery Flies

Usually, no matter how well a plan is thought out, shit happens.

I worked on a set once that was a house with a rather large central fireplace feature.The idea was to wild the fireplace to camera.

The set got built as planned, nothing unusual happened until they tried to wild the fireplace.

What was overlooked by the entire team, including yours truly, was the immense weight the fireplace aquired after all the scenic brick, spfx metal boxes were added to the construction. Adding to the dilemma was the carpet that was chosen to dress the set. It turned into an impossible wild; meanwhile the entire set had been built around it.

The solution was to fly the scenery, and uckily we were in a studio that had a roof system that could support the weight of the rigging.

When issues like this arise, it usually falls upon the Production Company to have the necessary Engineering inspections done to confirm the building can support the weight being supported from the roof trusses in the Studio. Sound Stages are designed for a rigging load, however, often the warehouses that lower budget films are shot in have either no existing load information on file, or are inadequate for the purpose.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sometimes You Need To Leave Town

I was told that early on in my career. All I wanted was a chance to draft. I graduated from drafting school with A's and already had a fair amount of industry experience, yet it took me almost 4 years to get recognized because it took that long to get a break. I was then an instant hit, and even though I still wasn't granted a professional listing as a Set Designer, I managed to keep myself busy enough as one from gig to gig for over a decade.

Making the break is the hardest part. Not only because you need to convince those in power that you are good at a job that you have never been paid to do, but you are in a competitive mindset.

The factory system that is film production on a large scale, is a toxic environment to advance in. If you are good at your trade, and you are making a good living, and you have no desire to apply for the PD or Art Director position, all may be very well for you. As soon as you are apparently making your way up, you are entering into crab bucket mentality. Crab bucket mentality happens when you put a bunch of crabs in a bucket; they pull each other's legs off trying to get out.

I went from being popular, as an Art Dept Assistant, to being unpopular, as an emerging Set Designer, to being popular as an established Set Designer to being unpopular again when I became unable to do repetitive tasks all day and decided it was time to focus on advancing to a career in napkin drawing.

I remembered the early advice. I felt like I needed to stay, but I felt so unsupported by my peers. No one would recomend me in the Art Dept. Yet I was always working. I felt indispensable, yet trapped. 

Years later I took the advice. I now have doors opening that would never have opened had I remained in the factory environment. I'm broke. Im free to grow. I can see the light. I may very well be back there one day. I know it will take years, but I believe its my destiny to keep going.

We each have a unique path in film. Mine is now doing Indies and building a reel. Many start out doing what I am now doing 17 years into my career. I am doing it all backwards. There is tremendous value in gaining experience in both film environments; indies and factory.
Without the Indie experience I am now getting, I would have only had half the experience I will need.
Without references, though, its still almost impossible to get the break. Pro-Bono gigs are a dime a dozen. But the paid gigs are the ones with clout.

If you are good at your job chances are you need to look outside your Department for references. Chances are that if you have a steady track record, if the Department Keys love working with you, you can probably recruit some very strong references.

It's called Playing The Game. Its different for everyone. Its never impossible.