August 1, 2015

Where have you traveled that proved a lasting inspiration in your design work, and why?

Traveling seems to be a favored activity among production designers, whether during their time off or for specific projects. We asked four colleagues about their best travel experiences and memories.
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Neil Patel

Neil Patel is an award winning designer of theater, film, television, opera and dance. He has twice been recognized with an Obie Award for sustained excellence and has been the recipient of the Helen Hayes Award. 


These are the doors to Mehboob Studio in Bandra, Mumbai. I spent two months building and shooting sets for the Hindi feature DIl Dhadakne Do that I designed. The sets were linked to locations we shot in a cruise ship in the Mediterranean and on land in Spain, France, Italy and Turkey. 

I love working abroad and have always felt it to be integral and informative to my work. To see things in their context (architecture, fashion, pop culture) helps me understand how to integrate design with story and character and how it differs culturally. It is also just inspiring to see color, texture and pattern used in ways you would never see at home. Who knew how beautiful fishing nets would be in Turkey?


Here‘s some interesting electrics at Mehboob.

It certainly makes you understand that there are many different ways to accomplish the same task which is one of the benefits of working with foreign crews which is something I especially value. And then there is the food...

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Merissa Lombardo

Merissa Lombardo works as an artist, set decorator of feature films, and a designer of commercial projects, interiors, and a variety of creative collaborations. 

Traveling has always been an important part of my life. When I was growing up in Vermont my dream job was to be a long haul truck driver so I could spend my days traversing the states, sleeping out at truck stops and seeing a different part of the world every day. The trucker thing never did work out but I have been fortunate to spend most of my life on the road (and in the air!) whether for work or for pleasure.


I don't know if there is a particular place that has inspired me more than others but I think my favorite part of travel is getting to experience, observe, enjoy, and solve all of the unexpected mishaps that happen when on the road. I take great pleasure in the small things - just wandering around different small towns, villages, or cities and peering through windows into the lives of others. I like to see how people in different parts of the world use different materials to build their homes, construct their social gathering spots, build manmade relics in the middle of a vast country side and even  what parts of the chicken they will bring out on the plate.


The greatest inspiration or “lesson“ that travel has given me  is the ability to let go of the familiar and be open to finding new ways to solve problems and new resources - whether in a remote village in South America or a major city in Europe - I can always find what I need if I am willing to engage with strangers and explore the unfamiliar.

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Natalia Treviño

Natalia Treviño is a Mexican production designer living in Brussels. She studied Scenic Design and Art Direction in Madrid. Best known for her work on “Lucifer” by Gust Van den Berghe.

Curious observation comes natural when I’m visiting a new place or coming back to one. Traveling around Mexico has given me the opportunity not only to keep building my identity but to expand the references that later will have an impact on my designs. I’m very curious about discovering new materials and techniques, homemade artefacts and analog elements that keep resonating in the traditions and richness of my country. 


Studying in Madrid I became fond of Bosch’s paintings and I always wanted to translate the feelings I have about those characters and shapes into a design. Lucifer is set on Paradise, in a Mexican village and for the pre-production I had to travel back and forth to the location (Angahuan, Michoacan) to prepare amongst everything else, the highest décor piece: a 20 meter wooden tower built in the ruins of an old church covered by lava rocks; a complete challenge for our tight budget, the difficult terrain and for being careful not to damage the ruins, every piece of wood in contact with the stones of the church was carefully assembled by pressure and not by nails or screws. Working on this tower made me reconnect something about my studies in Madrid, Bosch’s paintings and the cultural mysteries of my own country resulting in a symbol that combines my passion for construction and the spiritual elements that the people from the village and specially my team of carpenters provoked to my own spirituality.

Individually and professionally every impression becomes part of you. As a Czech proverb says, 

you live a new life for every new language you speak, the same goes for a film, I find it fascinating 

that as a designer and filmmaker you are constantly shaping reality and time to create the worlds needed to tell a story and each project is constructed by all those experiences and impressions of everyone involved.

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Chad Keith

Chad Keith has designed the films “Martha Marcy May Marlene,“ “Take Shelter“ and the recently released “Kumiko, The Teasure Hunter,“ among others. 

I pick destinations usually to get away from the grind of our film world, but at the same time try to pick places to check out that have interesting history and culture.


My trip recently to Vietnam proved just that. I got away from the cities and visited and stayed in villages off the beaten track. Being invited into Vietnamese houses and embracing their raw living style was mind blowing. In my design I like to incorporate function over form. I always ask myself how is a set/location going to function based on whatever part of the world and environment it's in.


Traveling is the best, and we are lucky to have the time to enjoy other experiences between projects. Taking time to think about how we would do things differently in out work is definitely best figured out on the road.

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