Toni Barton is an NYC-based production designer that studied architecture at USC and theatre design at NYU. She is currently designing a Netflix/Marvel project and previously worked for many years as an art director and as an NYU adjunct professor.
Computers are a tool, but not the artist itself.
When building an art department, I prefer working with a graphic artist whose interests and talent extend beyond their computer and various software programs. I rely on their knowledge of history, art, architecture, typography and their ability to navigate comfortably from graphite to a stylus – with all media in between.
Creating environments can be specified thoroughly by the writer or only painted in as broad strokes – void of definitive details. While I am breaking down the script, selecting research, creating concept sketches and color palettes; the graphic artist is starting to conceive options to propel our discussion. I try to come to that conversation with clear conceptual parameters that lead to answers and further the conversation… Meaning, I am completely invested in hearing how the graphic artist understands the story development.
When the script lists artistic details all the way down to each piece of art, every book on the library shelf and certificates framed on the wall that has to be created verbatim to the script; I love the challenge of finding the character’s back story in the design of these elements, their hierarchy and placement in the environment. Over the arc of a television season, we design multiple elements that appear very similar but need to vary greatly. How many different non-descript posters are needed to plaster a venue wall, meet the clearance requirements, align with a color scheme and still allow for our hero concert poster to easily be seen? And how do you begin the design of the poster, that will turn into concert tickets and then finally an album jacket cover when you don’t even know the songs the character will eventually sing?
The graphic artist took the concept and created five different designs initially. These designs were not merely a matter of changing a serif font to a sans serif font strategically placed over a stock photo but exploring all artistic aspects of the concept. With the five designs, he then made three completely different title font selections of those designs – rendering 15 options in total. The time required to create this many options is not usually available, but his passion for the task led to more options than expected…and allowed for a thorough dialogue with the showrunner, supervising producer and director.
Often, amazing ideas come without prompting. While on another project we were looking for a specific wallpaper design for a hero bedroom in a decaying house in the woods. The graphic artist drew seven sketches of simple country life from a century past and proposed a unique toile wallpaper. Telling this story betrayed the recreation ideals of the past in this rundown house and its current occupants.
It doesn’t matter if the graphic artist is designing a neon sign, gallery art installation, newspaper article or a mad scientist’s computer screens in his technology lair… the conversation leading to the collaboration must be as open and exploratory as the tools that allow them to create.
To view Toni Barton's work: https://www.tonibarton.com/
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