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.