Although the history of film is a relatively short one, many of us are inspired by masters of the craft from various periods. We asked four colleagues to name designers who impacted their vision and career.
“So many inspiring experiences, I find it hard to make a decision.“
“I have to hand credit to Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut and Karl Volbrecht as my first influences.“
“Personally, I find this question quite difficult since there are so many good works out there.“
“Two designers changed how I experience film. I was first aware of production design when I was eight years old watching Beetlejuice.“
September 23, 2015
What production designer has influenced your work the most?
Stuart Wurtzel's career spans four decades and his many credits include such films as “Hair,“ “Brighton Beach Memoirs“ “Mermaids" and “Hannah and Her Sisters,“ for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, as well as the mini-series “Angels in America,“ for which he won an Emmy.
Absolutes are hard for me. What’s my favorite book, color, film, theatre piece. Who is my favorite Director, Actor. What Production Designer influenced me the Most. So many inspiring experiences, I find it hard to make a decision.
How do I choose between the breathtaking beauty and scale of Ken Adam’s ‘Barry Lyndon’ or the hip style and humor of his early James Bond films or the rich color and chiaroscuro of ‘The Godfather Trilogy’ designed by Dean Tavoularis. Then there is the breathtaking visual storytelling of Hein Heckroth and Alfred Junge who created respectively ‘The Red Shoes’ and ‘Black Narcissus’ for Director Michael Powell and The Archers Production Company. Or the vibrant fever dreams of the Russian film ‘Shadows of My Forgotten Ancestors’. I cannot forget being swept away by the iconic imagery of John Box for ‘Lawrence of Arabia and his ‘Dr. Zhivago’, the first film I saw with my wife before I knew she would be my wife. The list goes on.
But when asked for the Most influential it would be close to home. If ‘Oscar’ is a tribute to talent, worth, whatever, he had three. The first awarded as a decorator for ‘The Hustler’ and then for his first Production Design, the stunninig black and white ‘America. America’ and again for the flamboyant ‘Funny Girl’. Gene Callahan, sadly gone, was a friend, a mentor and a bearer of sage advice. Some would say he was a curmudgeon, but always with the proverbial heart of gold.
We met in San Francisco when I was Resident Designer for The American Conservatory Theater. I drew for him and then painted on ‘The Candidate’. He said ‘Go East’, more opportunity. What wisdom. I assisted him in New York a few more times. I watched as he dissected a script page by page, interpreting the words and suggesting visual solutions. I stood with him and observed his attention to detail and the importance of different planes in space. He introduced me to key New York production people. It all stuck.
And then he suggested I meet Director Joan Micklin Silver for whom I designed ‘Hester Street’ and I realized he started me on my own film career.
Originally from Poland, designer Ola Maslik worked with puppet design before moving to theater and film, recieving her MFA from Yale School of Drama. Ola is currently designing the CBS TV show ”Madam Secretary.“
Personally, I find this question quite difficult since there are so many good works out there and production designers like Jack Fisk (There Will Be Blood), Sarah Greenwood (Anna Karenina), Kalina Ivanov (Gray Gardens) or Adam Stockhausen (The Grand Budapest) amongst others who have plenty to offer.
If I had to pick one artist who has influenced my work the most, there is no doubt in my mind that it would be Federico Fellini who closely collaborated with his designers (Piero Gherardi, Lamberto Pippia Danilo Donati, and Dante Ferretti) to realize his visions. Fellini as a visual artist is recognizable in all of his films. However, the film with the biggest impact on who I am today as a production designer was made by The Clowns.
Fellini’s color palette and their combination in a composition of a frame, the use of theatricality in this documentary were inspirational throughout my entire career, originally as a theater scenic designer and now as a production designer. All of my designs draw from it in an attempt to push his bold artistic solutions into new territories with the hope that Fellini’s influence will stay with me as I am searching for my own, independent artistic vision.
South African born Sharon Lomofsky designed such films as “Before the Rain,“ “Bring it On,“ “Man on Wire“ and “Robot and Frank.“
In 1981 I saw Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.” This was my first black and white art movie and it was a turning point for me. I left architecture school to seek a career in film. So I have to hand credit to Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut and Karl Volbrecht as my first influences. Other strong early influences include Sir ken Adams for the stylish, futuristic, architecturally inspired design of James Bond films.
There was no television in 1970’s South Africa so we grew up watching 16mm films on rented projectors in our homes. Woody Allen movies were popular in my household. Needless to say ”Mel Bourne,“ particularly “Annie Hall“ and “Manhattan,“ made a lasting impression on me.
I love Richard Sylbert and Dean Tavalaris’s work. The list is endless and I only have 200 words. The designers I love the most today still working are Patrizia Von Brandenstein and Jeanine Oppewall. All have an amazing attention to detail, superb use of colour and texture and create atmospheres that remain memorable long after the story has faded.
Born in Canada, Ethan Tobman designs film, television, commercials, music videos and photo shoots. His latest projects include films “Room“ and “Wilson,“ and the TV series “The Grinder.“
Film has always been my first love. I learned how to be a production designer on the sets of small independent films, where everyone was learning as they went along, and departmental responsibilities were often blurred as we each helped one and other get to the finish line of a mad-dash 25 day shoot. I’ve always considered myself to be a “film designer,” and I’ve always been in awe of the endless variety of finished products that can emerge from a film production.
So as we’ve watched this current Golden Age of television be ushered into our industry by the likes of AMC, Netflix, and HBO over the last several years, I’ve found myself asking if the term “film designer” would need to be broadened and if this side of the industry was something I should be exploring. When I was offered a period pilot for HBO this summer, it became the perfect opportunity to dip my toes into television and see if my experience as a film designer could be easily translated into this arena.
From the day I started, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the learning experience one moment then feeling entirely lost in the next. The pace is quite a bit faster in TV, the budgets are structured very differently, and terms like “amort” and “cross-board” are slipped into nearly every conversation. However for me, the biggest challenge was grasping the overall dynamic. Whereas in film there’s generally one voice that is followed, I quickly learned that in TV there are many. Admittedly I found this daunting at first, and like any film-lover I was somewhat uncertain as to how efficient a process like this could be. Initially I found myself concerned that a vision outlaid by not only a director---but also by a show-runner, writers, creative producers, studio/network execs, and more---could only lead to inconsistency and a scattered final product.
However, over the course of this HBO pilot I saw the distinct benefits of this structure. Every voice that I listened to offered an original perspective, championed unique goals, and raised interesting points to think through. Ultimately when all of this boiled down, what was left was a blending of the most inspired ideas and cinematic goals of all the ones put forward, and this piece of storytelling became the most enriched version of itself. The content on our flatscreens at home has never been more sharp and sophisticated than it is right now---perhaps this is one of the reasons why.