What is your preferred method of making your design presentations?
“It changes for every story you’re helping to tell, every team you work with and every production.“
“Given that we work in the current Century, I do a Plan first, plus “napkin” sketches, then put it into Sketchup and then work with a concept illustrator and present the Producers and Directors with a sketch.”
“The nature of every project is so different from every other one, that I sometimes think we constantly re-invent the wheel.“
More and more the entire process of a “design” for a film, including during shooting, involves ongoing layers of PRESENTATIONS.
July 15, 2016
What is your preferred method of making your design presentations?
I love SciFi. Film got to me somewhere between a degree in design (1991) and a dawning career as commercial illustrator in Germany. That “more professional“ career was disrupted by a call to Los Angeles and total immersion into Hollywood’s then surfacing need for “concept design.“ Even today, I still try to find out what production design needs to be. It changes for every story you’re helping to tell, every team you work with and every production. What keeps it rewarding is to forget the process and become part of the audience.
The way I present design ideas changes throughout the production process. It is a reaction to what we're at in the production phase, the audience of the presentation and the purpose of the the pitch. By the time and resources available as well as (sorry) the importance of the occasion. You need to present and emphasize different aspects of a movie's (or any project's) visual - ideas and - anchors, depending on these parameters. Let me elaborate by production phase:
1. Before You‘re hired (,BYH not BCE)
I don't do “free“ before hire design presentations. It‘s work, to be taken serious. If there‘s a script or source novel, I‘ll read it. Do some visual research and possibly - if I have the time - a design breakdown. The interview with the director, producers or whoever is in the “opposing“ chair is about connecting. On a human level, on ideas, frameworks and procedures. All up for discussions at this point.
It is very unprofessional (against ADG rules and ethics) to expect a free presentation as opposed to a meeting. It diminishes the value of your work. You may leave behind a tease, but not the blueprint for how you see a project. As a designer we need parameters, we build our project framework collaboratively over time. If you want to do it by/for yourself, buy a canvas and exhibit at an art gallery instead (I'd love to, again sometime).
One of the parameters is inspiration, so we research and dig deep, a big one the director we work for. The interview is about feeling out His/Her vision and see if we can supplement or excite it. Not about free design sketches, pretty concept art and research. That's (at this point) for yourself to find your take on the project, make educated guesses on what could be. Doing and leaving presentation art for free is a “go ahead, copy my ideas and hire the cheaper guy“ - incentive.
2. Visual development (no, or hardly a script, = maybe an outline or source novel)
You‘re hired, now what? The reign of the Keyframe starts. During this time the presentation of visual ideas is continuous, may be formalized to anything - bi-weekly presentations cut to fit the meeting style, digital slide shows or collaged boards. InDesign Documents. Pow-WOW Pics. The audience is usually the director, writer(s) and creative producers. I like to prepare templates that work to pull images together and give a unified look to whatever we're presenting. At this point I'm usually doing sketches that are the basis to kick-off a dialogue with concept artists. If I can, I‘ll sneak in a few pieces of my own. Sometimes its easier to try things myself than art direct someone else. Storyboarding and previs may be used to pitch more complex ideas... Pitches made during this time are cycled into script ideas that later may come back to be visually reinterpreted.
3. Pre-production (some kind of script, more about budget) ...
And during Pre production tested with a priority on feasibility and execution. As now its about figuring out how to get it done. Visual research and pretty pictures are substituted and analyzed with previz, storyboards, block in set design, 3d concepts and location images. Frankenstein sets... Presentations now are usually more by set than the development-sequence.
4. Production (a ever evolving script, all about making the day)
Nobody has any time now. More than ever, its about bringing your images or other media to the point. To require the shorter attention span (because every one is focused on the shoot, today), and it probably has to be more portable, to be shown on set or location.
5. Post production and marketing (A closer to being compiled script, making it “gel“)
Happy times. Now you can work over actual footage, present comps over idealistic stills. Se what actually happened and trace paths long forgotten to see how to enhance the final product.
Did this make sense? Help? Hopefully. Still- its theoretical. Practically a lot of these production and design phases overlap as sequences and sets come and go, or schedules change. Much happens simultaneously.
Reading the question, I thought people simplify the issue too much, and it doesn't reflect job realities. So I hope this will be an incentive for young designers to think why and to whom they are presenting and how best to get a dialogue starting. In my eyes a dialogue is more important than a design statement. As much as I hate design by committee, you can make a statement and people say thanks - never to see you again. A dialogue is an invitation. It presents the opportunity to evolve an idea into something to surpass anything the involved parties initially may have hoped to achieve.
I stayed in New York for about ten years after completing my MFA at NYU, and moved to Los Angeles in the late nineties. I have worked as Art Director on large projects (”Jurassic World,” “Independence Day: Resurgence,” and “Jason Bourne” (for which I was the U.S. Art Director for Paul Greengrass), and I have designed smaller projects for television and film, most recently completed filming on “Vengeance: A Love Story,” with Nicolas Cage.
The nature of every project is so different from every other one, that I sometimes think we constantly re-invent the wheel.
Whether taking a first interview on a project or meeting with a director well known to me, I always break down the script (if there is one) and find out as much as I can about the director and their work, designers they’ve worked with, and habits of the line producer as well.
Most directors feel comfortable initially engaging in a conversation about color and texture with regard to sets as well as characters. It’s a good topic to explore before diving into more potentially intimidating discussions about architecture and furniture.
I almost always get immediate feedback on my preliminary palette, and that points me in the proper direction. I once had a director tell me rather emphatically that he could not abide green in any form, and that I should never use it in the sets- after we’d worked together for a while he was able to trust me to use any color at my discretion, and I was happy to give him a more complete palette than he’d expected. It was a very satisfying collaboration.
I rarely make sketches. I am much better able to communicate my particular vision with a rough model- in actual rather than virtual 3D, and it definitely gives a director plenty to respond to.
Rick Butler was most recently Production Designer for four Seasons of the CBS/ Warner TV series “Person of Interest.”
As I had worked originally in the Theatre, and am a voyager from that distant century (the 20th), which had the luxury of time to make presentations using dimensionally plastic techniques, I have always preferred to use “maquettes” (3-dimensional scale models) to present a design for TV or Film. In the past, I would do a sketch and groundplan for the set, and after a discussion with the director, when the design was accepted, I would move to the model. I think a scaled, painted model has always been the best expression of the Design Space, and the most useful tool for allied craftspeople such as the Draftsperson, Carpenters, and Scenic artist.
Given that we work in the current Century, I do a Plan first, plus “napkin” sketches, then put it into Sketchup to view as a dimensional wireframe, find the most dynamic camera angles, and then work with a concept illustrator (usually the incredibly talented Javier Almeijeiras), and present the Producers and Directors with a sketch. If there is still time, we will construct a “white” model, usually ¼" scale, to photography for an Dropbox, Pinterest, or other virtual presentation.
Richard Hoover has designed sets for theater and film for many years. Production design credits include “The Cradle Will Rock,” “Dead Man Walking,” “Ed Wood,” “Girl Interrupted” among others. TV credits include “NEWSROOM” and ”TWIN PEAKS.“
More and more the entire process of a “design” for a film, including during shooting, involves ongoing layers of PRESENTATIONS. They can be formal, conversational, detailed or general, but in the very fact that we are making film in collaboration with others, presentation must involve an understanding of the dramaturgical facts of story using all the tools of pre visualization we may muster.
AS A FIRST STEP
I write statements of theme and character which reflect major ideas and beats in the story. This happens through a series of readings of the script in which I gather my thinking both for large shape as well as detail. Ideas can be concrete or notional. The reading journey is a way for me to enter into the story and to find the glue that holds it together.
I often write in rather scattered ways scene by scene…allowing reactions, questions, and notes on detail to live together. In summation I consolidate, render theme statements and begin tossing imagery into the mix.
This is the beginning of the process which leads to one’s first presentation which, for me, is more often in the form of a LOOK BOOK.
A designer’s look book can be collage like in nature or rendered in dramatic beat order. The process is tough since, while we make stories for the moving image, the look book remains two dimensional, an object brought to a meeting. The work then is the making of a story “collage” in purposeful sequenced order that captures the tone and fundamental story flow as well as overriding major themes. The presentation represents your ideas pre-visualized for the film.
IT CAN TAKE VARIOUS FORMS
And may not be a book at all but may be a collection of objects, textures, bits and pieces of things that echo important feelings and ideas in the film.
I gather imagery in a sort of mix of factual research as well as tonal/emotional images. THE NATURE OF THE FILM will determine the pathway for the presentation. Historical films, of course, need historical information and fact , but here the demand is to find a mix of story emotion as well as fact. The presentation is a point of view and represents the voice, internal and objective, that you may use in visualizing the story.
For this kind of presentation (look book) the written document comes in to play. I cull chapter and verse into an outline that will eventually morph into a page count. In this kind of presentation, either in a booklet form or on the wall, the whole of the film is in question…In the interview process the look book exudes a visual opinion of the film and hopefully begin the process of work it self.
Things that might be included range from photography, sketches, paintings, material, color charts, bits of objects related to story detail etc. I keep a large image bank to sort through and constantly roam the net as well as book stores. Implicit in the making is also a search for shooting method, lighting and camera movement. At times imagery may only reference an idea of light in a scene or in a contexts of scenes. The LOOK BOOK either become a sequence of single images or a collage of same depending on the, I think, on the nature of the film.
OK, YOU GET THE JOB…
I find wall space and explode the look book onto it, adding other reference images and create an array of key images linked to themes. The layout of the wall may speak to the flow of the film scene by scene, or perhaps it is an exploration of subjective arcs, tonal images and character. The wall is a building area and under construction all the time and represents a place to cull imagery. I use the wall to present the whole of the film including location photos which will make the presentation more concrete.
DETAIL PRESENTATIONS FOLLOW
Here digital models come into play for specific settings along with illustrations. I tend to do my own drawings in pencil and if time add color. This is a process of communicating and thinking which both benefits the director as well as my crew.
If I have an illustrator (what a joy), the rendering process expands collaboration between designer and illustrator and then to director and director of photography. The presentation here is very specific, about a place and moment in time and speaks to lighting and final feel for the setting.
The presentation here may involve computer screen or print outs…depending on the needs of the director. If the set demands, make both a digital and a physical models at the same time. I love large models that will allow all involved to view from various angles. On NEWSROOM I made a large ½ inch model in tandem to a digital version. The digital model is an adjunct that allow camera movement and frame by frame boarding if desired.
Palette, implicit in all of the above, is laid out parallel to story beats or in a more general way: eg. as if the story moves from warm tones to cool etc.
SET DECORATION PRESENTATIONS
Are critical at this time. I encourage a layered approach: eg…do not glue down the photos! Allow the director space for conversation: illuminate the bad, keep the good. The idea is to arrive together at the desired look. In these presentations mobile boards are often used and brought to the director.
PRESENTATIONS DO NOT STOP
Well of course they start shooting…and thank the lord. But presentations of sets and, visual effect ideas, property, and other details may continue and enter onto the production line. As often happens reviews and revisits to ideas are common.
The mobile boards help here.
It is my hope always to get the director into the settings ahead of time for feedback. If I cannot get this to happen physically, I make layouts of in process photos, re-use illustrations, and provide basic dressing plans. If possible we do this several days before set opening.
OPENING A SET: THE FIRST TIME
Presentations occur in all the departments now in play: costume, hair and makeup, as well as property and set decoration. These occur at each set opening and may involve last minute discussions, searches and scrambles before rehearsal...We do not like these scrambles and hope that all conversation before these moments has solved the problems.
When I did MOTHMAN PROPHESIES, director Mark Pellington and I wrote a long document which became a written bible for the film scene by scene. Here great emotional detail was explored. Out of these meetings, a general summation was made and images were gathered. The bible was made available to the crew…with imagery in array in a room reflecting subjective and objective ideas in the film. Images were used that spoke to the light on faces as well as moods in rooms as well as exterior environments. We used topics such as FEAR, LOOMING, NIGHT ON THE FACE etc. We made the whole display in the emotional and often abstract terms, and did not worry about concrete things (such as locations) until the room felt right to us. The room was a grazing environment where images were culled while all in the crew were invited.
For MARSHALL (the story of Thurgood Marshall’s early years with the NAACP), I made a real look book organized around which included: a discussion of Jim Crow racism in 1940 (historical context), tonality of life in large eastern cities…(in which we wanted a more noir look), the nature of poor rural life in the American south, research into rail travel at that time, a discussion of court room lighting and architecture, as well as the life in Harlem (Marshall’s home town). Out of these pages, which I rendered in PHOTOSHOP, came a tool that expressed the whole of the film in story sequence as well has suggested the shape of the history we were about to celebrate.