Maxim Jago, Director, MaximJago.com
Chuck Parker, Executive Director, Art Directors Guild, IATSE Local 800
Mark Andrew Reyes, Lead Theatre Technician, Hillcrest Center for the Arts
Marti Romances, Creative Director, Territory Studio (San Francisco)
Jayse Hansen, Fictional UI Designer for Film, jayse.tv
James DeRuvo, Editor-in-Chief, DoddleNEWS
Male Voiceover: The Digital Production Buzz is brought to you by KeyFlow Pro. Media asset management software, designed to meet the needs of work groups at an affordable price.
Larry Jordan: Tonight on the Buzz, we are looking at set design, with a side trip to Sundance. We start with Chuck Parker. He’s the Executive Director at the Art Directors Guild in Hollywood. This group represents Production Designers, Art Directors, Set Designers and the entire team of people that design and build sets. Tonight he explains who they are, what they do and what filmmakers need to know, to give their projects a sense of place.
Larry Jordan: Next, Mark Andrew Reyes is the Lead Theater Technician for the Conejo Recreation and Park District Cultural Unit at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts in Thousand Oaks, California. Tonight he shares his thoughts on the challenges of set design in a non-professional environment.
Larry Jordan: Next, Marti Romances is the Creative Director for Territory Studio. They create digital visions for on set effects like monitor walls, user interfaces and holographic images. Their film credits include Blade Runner 2049, The Martian, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Tonight, Marti explains what they do.
Larry Jordan: Next, Jayse Hansen is a Fictional UI Designer for Film. If you can think of a big name movie, Jayse has probably worked on it. Tonight, he talks about creating those holographic and virtual set pieces that enhance a movie. All this, plus a special report from the Sundance Film Festival, from filmmaker Maxim Jago and James DeRuvo with our weekly doddleNEWS update. The Buzz starts now.
Male Voiceover: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking, Authoritative: one show serves a worldwide network of media professionals. Current: uniting industry experts. Production: filmmakers. Post-production: and content creators around the planet. Distribution. From the media capital of the world, in Los Angeles, California, the Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to the Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry, covering media production, post-production and marketing around the world. Hi, my name is Larry Jordan. Tonight, we’re going to start with the news, then spend the rest of the show talking about production and set design. For news, we have our weekly doddleNEWS update, where James DeRuvo reports on the top stories of the week. Then, Maxim Jago reports from someplace warm, as he attends the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. This evening, he shares his impressions of the show.
Larry Jordan: Then we shift gears to look at set design. This is a subject we don’t cover very often and I’m excited to meet tonight’s guests. We’ll have a chance to talk about physical sets, virtual sets, production design, interface design, all the different elements that go into creating a believable reality on the screen. This will be a fun series of conversations.
Larry Jordan: By the way, I want to invite you to subscribe to our free weekly show newsletter at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Every issue, every week provides quick links to the different segments on the show, plus articles of interest to filmmakers, and best of all, every issue is free and comes out on Saturday.
Larry Jordan: Now it’s time for our doddleNEWS update with James DeRuvo. Hello James.
James DeRuvo: January is almost over.
Larry Jordan: It is almost over. There is hope, however, that Spring is on the way.
James DeRuvo: Oh yes indeed.
Larry Jordan: So, what have we got that’s news today?
James DeRuvo: Well, if you have been trying to upgrade your editing computers, by getting a more powerful, high performance graphic card, you may have trouble finding them.
Larry Jordan: Really?
James DeRuvo: Yes, because there’s a current crypto currency craze which includes Bitcoin. People are building these crypto currency mining custom rigs and what they’re doing is, they’re buying up all the high performance video cards out there, like the NVIDIA GeForce and the AMD RadeonPro, they’re buying them all up and so there’s none of them available for regular people who want to use them for video editing and gaming. It’s just the craziest thing.
James DeRuvo: These custom crypto currency mining machines are used to solve these complex mathematical problems pertaining to the block chain verification when you’re using Bitcoin or Ethereon to pay for stuff and so, therefore, with the current value over $20,000 per Bitcoin, is it any wonder this is happening. But nobody has any graphics cards and if you wanted to buy one used on eBay or Craigslist, they’re actually going for more than they sold brand new. It’s the craziest thing.
Larry Jordan: Well, it almost feels like we’re back in the Wild West again, I’m reminded of the 1880s.
James DeRuvo: You know what? We are experiencing a 21st Century version of the Gold Rush in California back in 1888. The websites and stores are sold out of these high grade video cards and what are available is fetching top dollar, so you’re not going to get one on sale either. Even Kodak is getting into this game with their own crypto currency and a machine that you can rent for $3,400 for two years and you have to give them half of your profits.
Larry Jordan: Alright, I’m going to hang onto my graphic cards. What else have we got that’s in the news?
James DeRuvo: Well, you know, you should get into the crypto currency mining gig, I know a guy Larry. But, what else is going on is DJI introduced a new drone this week called the Mavic Air and calls it the perfect aerial filmmaking tool. It’s about half the size of the current Mavic Pro and this new drone fits in the palm of your hand and so it’s very similar in size to the DJI Spark, but with retractable rotors, landing feet and a 21 minute flight time. It shoots 4K video at 30 frames per second and it has a redesigned three axis gimbal that’s recessed into the drone’s body, to keep it even more stable than the Mavic Pro.
Larry Jordan: Well, is this size reduction typical of what drones are going through today?
James DeRuvo: That seems to be the trend. Drones are getting faster, smaller, have longer battery life and better cameras. The Mavic Air is really what the DJI Spark should have been when it was announced nine months ago and with its super-smart features like gesture control, advanced pilot assistance and a cool new asteroid quick shot mode, which starts at a tiny planet and then zooms in right to you, like it’s an asteroid about to hit you. It makes to where almost anyone can capture that perfect cinematic aerial shot.
Larry Jordan: Okay, that’s the DJI Mavic Air Drone. What other stories are you following this week?
James DeRuvo: Other stories we’re following include, Apple may stop making the first generation iPhone 10 by next summer, RED provides more details on their hydrogen mobile phone and it looks like it’s going to be a game-changer, and the future is bright, literally, for SmallHD, as they’ve announced the 582 Bright external video monitor.
Larry Jordan: James, where can people go on the web to keep track of everything going on in the industry?
James DeRuvo: All these stories and more can be found at doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the Editor-in-Chief at doddleNEWS and joins us every week. James, thanks so much, we’ll talk to you next Thursday.
James DeRuvo: See you next week.
Larry Jordan: Bye-bye.
Larry Jordan: In addition to the industry news that James just reported, there’s another big event going on this week, the Sundance Film Festival. Filmmaker Maxim Jago is at Sundance and shares his thoughts on this event. Hello Maxim, welcome.
Maxim Jago: Hello there Larry, how are you?
Larry Jordan: I’m talking to you, it’s a great way to start any show. What brings you to Sundance?
Maxim Jago: Well, actually, I don’t have a film in the festival this year. I came to raise finance for film and to just get a sense of what’s going on, what people are interested in. But also, you know, Sundance is one of those festivals where you really do form new collaborations, you meet like-minded filmmakers and you create new projects, so it’s a great opportunity to connect with fellow filmmakers.
Larry Jordan: You could do that at almost any film festival, what makes Sundance different from other film festivals, such as Cannes?
Maxim Jago: Part of it, I think, is that it’s so cold. You know, everybody’s so glad to be out of the cold that you’re instantly friends. But certainly, I think, as an industry, there’s a tendency for people to hold back. You know, if you go to the Cannes Film Festival in France, it’s very VIP, there’s a lot of not being able to access things. In fact, last year, they were even giving away badges that said, “I wonder if they’ll let me in”.
Maxim Jago: But at Sundance, it’s a much more open-handed festival. I’ve heard lots of stories of people being on the bus into the town just bumping into famous A-list stars, who are taking the bus with everybody else, because it’s the best way into town. That closeness, as a community, I don’t know if I want to say it’s unique to Sundance, but there’s certainly a lot of it here. You know, the presentations, the talks.
Maxim Jago: If you want to know about how the industry’s working, there’s a lot of talk at the moment, at the festival, about financing films, because the new tax bill actually brings quite beneficial opportunities for filmmakers and so there’s a lot of discussion about new approaches to financing films and a lot of talk about international co-productions. It’s a good time for the film industry.
Larry Jordan: Well that’s a good overview What are some of the other highlights you’ve seen at the festival?
Maxim Jago: For me, the most exciting part is the release of new VR and AR and immersive filming experiences. You know, there are some great reviews of films that will make it into the world at large, but I rarely come to see films at film festivals, what I really want to see is about the ground-breaking use of technology and what we’re seeing, interestingly at Sundance is, VR experiences that are creating buzz as creative works. Not creating buzz because they’re VR, not doing so because it’s a new test of the technology but because the way the story is told is excellent.
Maxim Jago: There’s one place in particular that a colleague of mine at Adobe, Chris Bobotis, he’s Head of Immersive there, he went to see a film called Hero and what’s amazing about it is that, anyone who saw the film got a little gray tartan ribbon tied around their festival badge and the rules are that you cannot say anything to anybody unless they have one of those ribbons.
Maxim Jago: It’s a beautiful way to create buzz at a festival and a unique way, I think, of making it feel like you’re really participating in a project. People are really being moved by this stuff, the sense of personal presence within VR is now really being used, creatively and in storytelling, in a way that we just cannot do with 2D or stereoscopic cinema. That for me has been really exciting.
Larry Jordan: You are at the festival, not just to watch films, but also to participate in some of the sessions and you in fact spoke at one of the sessions. What did you talk about?
Maxim Jago: I was talking about some of the high-end workflows. You know, we’re moving towards 8K film production now. You know, importantly, you can be assigning a look and a feel for your media on location and the workflows are taking that look, those colors and bringing them right the way through post-production to your output. We were looking at how do you deal with these really high-end massive frame sizes and work with hardware to get them to play back?
Maxim Jago: We also had a lovely presentation by Vashi Nedomansky, who has a film here called 16 Below and he was talking about some of the challenges of producing that film, which is all in a very snowy, cold environment, but also it was shot in 6K and it was an end-to-end 6K production and that was pretty interesting to see how they overcame the technical challenges.
Larry Jordan: But isn’t 6K and 8K just an excuse for not framing your shots properly in production?
Maxim Jago: Well normally, yes, and as a filmmaker I’m a big fan of shooting maybe 5K for a 4K frame. It means that you save time on those debates on location, where you’ve got 200 people waiting for you to make a decision. You know, it can really help. But, actually, what Vashi did is make a 6K delivered film, so he actually shot 6K and delivered it that way and so, yes, it was pretty impressive.
Larry Jordan: If there was one take away that you had from Sundance, what would it be?
Maxim Jago: What it would be is that, there is hope for the industry. I think that, you know, I’ve been here mentoring some film students and talking to them about how to handle the festival and my number one piece of advice is, turn your head and look at the nearest stranger and ask them, are you enjoying the festival? Because everybody’s here to meet, talk, engage and network and I think that the tone of that engagement, during the festival, has been so lovely. There’s so much optimism, there’s so much of a feeling that storytelling and media really has an impact in the world, so I would say that. My takeaway would be optimism.
Larry Jordan: For people that want to keep track of your work and your writing, where can they go on the web?
Maxim Jago: Probably the easiest option is my website, maximjago.com and if you Google me, I pop up with that. All the usual suspects.
Larry Jordan: It will probably not come as a surprise to anyone listening that that is, in fact, Maxim Jago, Filmmaker, Producer, Author and Speaker and, Maxim, thanks for joining us today.
Maxim Jago: Thank you very much Larry.
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Larry Jordan: Chuck Parker is the Executive Director of the Art Directors Guild, based in Los Angeles, California. The Guild represents Production Designers, Art Directors, as well as a wide variety of artists working in film and television. Chuck is a professional Production Designer himself, with over 20 years experience in the industry. Hello Chuck, welcome.
Chuck Parker: Hey Larry, how are you?
Larry Jordan: I’m doing great. How would you describe the Art Directors Guild?
Chuck Parker: Well, the Art Directors Guild is probably the pre-eminent representative of visual artists who work in film and television, both domestically and worldwide. Our jurisdiction, however, is in the United States and Canada, but we have members who live and work wherever a production takes place.
Larry Jordan: I can believe that’s true. Tonight, we’re looking at set design, however that’s defined. But, before we do, could you clarify the typical roles of a Production Designer, an Art Director, or even a Set Designer?
Chuck Parker: Well, a Production Designer’s responsibility is to work cohesively and hand-in-hand with the Director and the Producer and the Cinematographer to realize the vision of the creator of the project and the Director’s vision. Now that can be done many different ways, usually it’s by a combination of stage work and shooting on location. That involves selections of palette, whatever elements of design they want to use, to be representative of character and moving this story forward.
Larry Jordan: Well, does that just translate into creating the physical environment within which the actors work, or is it more than that?
Chuck Parker: It’s more than that and it involves mood, as much as anything.
Larry Jordan: How so?
Chuck Parker: Well, there is that je ne sais quoi aspect about it that is different for every project, depending on what it is. For television, you know, we spend a lot of time in a van scouting for locations, trying to figure out the most effective way to realize the showrunner’s vision. Feature films, you have a little longer time to prep. You know, the Production Designer is working cohesively with costume designers as well, not just the Cinematographer. We’re overseeing props, the decoration of sets and overseeing the Locations Department.
Larry Jordan: Okay, well let’s just focus on stage work, where we have to build a physical set, or where construction of a set is involved. Does the Production Designer do that, or does somebody else on the art team do that?
Chuck Parker: The Production Designer oversees that. Now the Production Designer’s key person is usually his Art Director or, if it’s a larger project, his Supervising Art Director. These Art Directors will have teams of Assistant Art Directors and Set Designers working with them. Now the Set Designers are the ones who do the actual drafting, the real construction drawings. There’s also Illustrators involved, Storyboard Artists, who are working closely with the Director and taking information from the Set Designers. From these visions that the Storyboard Artists are determining, helping to translate what’s in the mind of the Director, to put onto two dimensional vision onto the page, so that we can see what is needed.
Chuck Parker: You might not have to design the whole set, you never know until you get it down there, until you get drawings and sketches.
Larry Jordan: What does an Art Director do?
Chuck Parker: An Art Director is the person who makes sure that the Production Designer’s vision is disseminated to all the important members on the team and follows through, to make sure it comes to fruition. They are more of the left brain to the Production Designer’s right brain, if you know what I’m saying.
Larry Jordan: Very, very clear. I understand that now. Well you’ve done a lot of production design yourself and I’ve looked in a lot of college catalogs and I don’t see Cinematic Production Designer listed as part of a major anywhere. What got you interested in this in the first place?
Chuck Parker: Oh gosh, I had no idea it was even available to me growing up. I came out here and I had a skill as a carpenter, you know. I had been a hippy carpenter and I had done some historical preservations, so that’s somewhat theatrical. I fell into a situation with some friends and I started building sets. We were doing primarily commercials. I came in to get hired by a company and they had some caves that they had built out of foam and I said, well what are these for? They said, these are caves, these are for Lucas. This is when the third Star Wars movie was being done and I thought, oh my goodness they’re doing Star Wars, so I’m going to go to work for this company.
Chuck Parker: I had to go back to San Francisco to finish up some contracts I had, I came back down, I said, well what happened to Lucas and what happened to Star Wars and they go, well what are you talking about? I said the caves. They said, oh that wasn’t Star Wars, that was a commercial for a serial called C3PO. You know, so I fell into doing commercials and advertising for two or three years, before I finally found my way into movies and television.
Larry Jordan: What are some of the projects you’ve worked on, before joining the Guild?
Chuck Parker: Well, before joining the Guild, I worked on The Abyss and then I worked for a bit on The Hunt for Red October and then Hook. That was as a builder. Just a couple of short years later, then I went from Hook and worked on The Player, the Robert Altman movie. Then, about a year later, a friend of mine asked me if I was ready to start art directing, he was a successful Production Designer. I joined up with him and started art directing and, within a year, I was a member of the Guild.
Larry Jordan: Well that is a perfect transition to tell us about the Guild. What does it take to become a member?
Chuck Parker: It’s not easy and it takes some people many years. You know, to be working on a non-union show, to be art directing, or set designing on a non-union show that flips, that becomes union, that gets organized, is a good way in. Now, there is less and less non-union work, so that is problematic. We do have a portfolio review and we also have a PA Apprentice program to get in. That’s pretty much it for right now. There is a side letter to our contract that allows for hiring of what’s called Off Roster Assistant Art Directors, if they have worked for a certain number of days, you know, in a craft that we represent already. That is a way that many people come in.
Larry Jordan: Do Guild members get royalties from the films they work on?
Chuck Parker: No we do not, sadly.
Larry Jordan: I can understand that.
Chuck Parker: I directed an episode of Monk, you know, which is a show I did in its entirety and Monk’s a gift that keeps on giving my friend, so you do enjoy royalties. Through the years, it gets lower and lower, it’s not as generous in the subsequent years as it is in the initial years. But no, we do not have that. Now the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employers, our mother union, we do have what’s called an IAP, which is an Individual Account Plan, where a certain percentage of everything you make is paid by the AMPTP into your account, so, in the end, when you retire, you have a lump sum of money, in addition to your pension. It’s the closest thing we have to royalties.
Larry Jordan: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a Production Designer and ultimately join the Guild, but mainly to start to practice the craft?
Chuck Parker: I would advise them to really pay close attention to art, the history of art, the history of design. Hone their skills, be able to communicate two dimensionally. Even the most simple form of drawing can be very valuable. To express depth, scale and proportion. I also studied folklore, you know, some material culture, just being aware of things out there in the world, objects, whatever, you know, it’s just important to be aware of physical reality. Also, master the elements of design, color, form, shape and texture and be well versed in the psychology of color.
Larry Jordan: For people that want to learn more about the Guild, where can they go on the web?
Chuck Parker: Well, they can go to adg.org. Art Directors Guild.
Larry Jordan: That’s adg.org and Chuck Parker is the Executive Director at the Art Directors Guild and, Chuck, thanks for joining us today. This has been fascinating.
Chuck Parker: Thank you Larry, my pleasure.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye-bye.
Larry Jordan: Mark Andrew Reyes is the Lead Theater Technician for the Conejo Recreation and Park District Cultural Unit at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts, and he’s been there since 1998. He designs sets and that’s exactly what we want to talk about. Hello Mark, welcome back.
Mark Andrew Reyes: Thank you very much, glad to be here.
Larry Jordan: In my intro I’ve described what you do, but how would you describe your job?
Mark Andrew Reyes: Basically, I work with the local theater groups that rent the facility and also I’m the Technical Director at our in-house children’s theater. They bring their designs to me and I help them realize their vision on stage, always understanding their budgets and suchlike. Then, for the children’s theater, the young artists ensemble, I am one of the Set Designers and Lighting Designers that also do the shows here.
Larry Jordan: We just heard from Chuck Parker, who’s with the Art Directors Guild, about creating sets for professional productions like film and TV shows. You create sets for education and non-professional projects. Is there a difference?
Mark Andrew Reyes: I would say there’s a big difference. I deal directly with young actors and their parents, so I think the level of working with the parents, that kind of sets a different bar than working in the pro sector.
Larry Jordan: But is there a difference in the set itself? Do you view set design differently?
Mark Andrew Reyes: I don’t think so. I think the idea is to realize the Director’s vision. You’re always having to work within the idea behind the original concept of the production, the director’s vision and the realities of budgets. I think, whether your budget is $20 or 20 million, I think you have to still follow the same procedures.
Larry Jordan: Well you’re not working with a $20 million budget, so what is it about your job that appeals to you? What do you like?
Mark Andrew Reyes: I love working with the kids. I have been with the Park and Recreation, off and on, since 1998. Just the energy you get off these kids, we work with them from ages ten through 19. We also work with them, trying to teach them technical aspects, so we have kids that are up and coming Set Designers, Lighting Designers and Sound Designers that work on our productions as well. I think that would be the main focus for me, I’ve always loved working with that aspect.
Larry Jordan: So, a bunch of eager young students and their parents have walked up to you and dropped a whole bunch of hand-drawn sketches on your lap, how do you determine what needs to be built?
Mark Andrew Reyes: We look at the sketches and we are fortunate in that we do have a lot of stock, platforms, flat, walls, set pieces and we have a lot of generic furniture pieces, so we’re very kind of very fortunate in that aspect. I see what can be done with our existing items. Then I see, okay, what do we have to build, what might we have to rent, what might we have to rethink as we go along those lines. Again, it always comes down to, do we have the time and the money and the resources to complete the project.
Larry Jordan: How do you convince a 15 year old that their idea is incorrect?
Mark Andrew Reyes: Oh, that’s really hard. Gently as possible and as tactfully as possible. We’ve had some times where we’ve had not just 15 year olds but young directors, any directors come in, and they have a great clear vision, they want to do this production in a certain way and they want these elements emphasized, this period style, or they love something about the overall look of the show. We just basically say, okay, this is what we can do, I can give you this, this this, this. What I try and do is tell them what I can give them, not what I can’t give them. It’s trying to let them down.
Mark Andrew Reyes: There’s also considering, we’re in a black box facility, so basically it’s an open stage. We have a lot of creativity, we have a lot of wiggle room there, but there’s also fire codes to consider, safety codes to consider and that’s a lot of times where we run into problems. When we deal with that, when we’re able to tell them, we would love to be able to do that but no we can’t have a giant bonfire in the middle of the set, no matter what you’re thinking of doing there. It just doesn’t work in Ventura County, no.
Larry Jordan: That gets to a bigger point. Who’s responsible to make sure that the cast and crew remain safe, when they’re working on stage or building a set?
Mark Andrew Reyes: If it’s our in-house production, ultimately I’m responsible for those. I’m basically responsible for the safety and making sure that everything is done properly. I come in and visit with the incoming productions. We have community theater groups that rent the facility and generally, through correspondence, emails, we get their drawings and their ideas and we work with them in that way. We also have a set of what we call a Tech Writer, which is a basic rules and regulations, what is allowed and what isn’t. There we spell out very clearly, so they understand, fire codes, restrictions. A big thing usually with theater is, are they using firearms or swords? Both things require special rehearsals, both things require special permission and consideration and safety regulations.
Larry Jordan: How much time would you recommend for a cast to get comfortable with a set?
Mark Andrew Reyes: I would say two weeks, that would be perfect, three would be fantastic. If the cast has three works to work on a set, there’s pretty much nothing that can’t be done. No matter how good a draftsman you are, or how great you use a computer program, a drafting program, or CAD drawings, there are directors that just cannot see what’s on paper and translate it to a rehearsal space that’s half the size of the theater. That’s nothing against them. They’re all working with trying to get the different levels and ideas of how high the platform is, how many steps that is. There’s only so much blue tape on the floor can really tell you. That would be the biggest thing there.
Mark Andrew Reyes: Several times you will see, when you go to a rehearsal space, they literally will have the set taped out. We’re fortunate here, like in our summer production, when we do our big teen summer musical, we actually are able to strip the theater bare, tape out the exact space and sometimes actually build the exact set, in advance, while the rehearsals are going on. Now that’s unique for us and we’re very blessed with that. Most of the time, theaters will move into a theater and the set that they’ve rented from Civic Light Opera halfway across the country will show up and they are praying and hoping that it is the same right set that they rented.
Mark Andrew Reyes: There’s a very famous story about a local theater group that rented a set of the Sound of Music and, when the truck arrived, it was the wrong set and they were opening within, like, six days. That was some quick thinking on their part.
Larry Jordan: Oh my goodness. What do you do with the set after the show’s closed?
Mark Andrew Reyes: If it’s standard stuff, most of our flats and walls are either four by eight, or four by ten, we keep them, we store them. I’ve got a shop area that’s kind of jam packed, as well as two storage containers that are full of stuff. I currently have the car from Grease, that we built for last year’s summer musical. We have people now call us up and like to rent it out. So for some things like that, we can re-utilize them, especially items like that.
Mark Andrew Reyes: We just recently did A Christmas Story the musical here, and there are some specialty props for that show, the leg lamp, the BB gun and stuff and now we’re looking at making those available to other productions as well. It’s just finding some place to store them while we’re waiting. Otherwise, a lot of times, that’s when the dumpster gets used and you have to say goodbye to things. It’s a hard choice.
Larry Jordan: It’s always a hard choice. Mark, for people who want to learn more about what you and your creative team are up to, where can they go on the web?
Mark Andrew Reyes: The website would be www.hillcrestarts.com and that provides information on our facility, on our programs here, as well as links to the Conejo Recreation and Park District and our own youth theater group, The Young Artists Ensemble.
Larry Jordan: That website is all one word, hillcrestarts.com. Mark Andrew Reyes is the Lead Theater Technician for the Conejo Recreation and Park District Cultural Unit at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts and, Mark, thanks for joining us today.
Mark Andrew Reyes: Well thank you very much, a pleasure to be here.
Larry Jordan: Marti Romances is the Creative Director of Territory Studio. Based in San Francisco, they specialize in motion design, visual effects and digital experiences for film, games and brands. Some of their film credits include Blade Runner 2049, Ghost in the Shell, The Martian, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Guardians of the Galaxy. Hello Marti, welcome.
Marti Romances: Hi Larry.
Larry Jordan: How would you describe what Territory Studios does?
Marti Romances: Well we do specialize in graphics that most of them are futuristic, or for real life technologies. Those graphics live on set and whenever we have a graphic that is not possible to recreate physically, we do upgrade on the post-production phase as well. Our niche, let’s say it’s creating those interfaces and all those visuals that they are playing on set.
Larry Jordan: Give me an example.
Marti Romances: A good example on set, surely you’ve seen The Martian, where they’re looking at those big screens in mission control. Those screens were three by three meter panels and they were big, big visuals that they were giving lots of cues and they were telling a lot of the narrative for each different scene. Those graphics are what we produce and sometimes it’s in a mission control, sometimes it’s in a spaceship cockpit, sometimes it’s in a CIA monitoring room. There are plenty of different contexts where we have to use those graphics and, as you said, Blade Runner, Avengers, each one has its different intricacies and different styles as well.
Larry Jordan: Do the actors see these, or are these all added in post?
Marti Romances: They see those and sometimes even we create interactive pieces, where the actors can touch and can interact with that, so the continuity and the narrative is tied to the script. Sometimes, also, there’s more background screens that help the context of each set. Also, what we hear from the actors and actresses, when they arrive on the set and they see that everything looks like it’s real and it’s working. It really helps for them engaging on their action and for each scene.
Larry Jordan: Who do you work under the direction of? I mean, the Director’s responsible for the whole film, but are you working under production design, or set design, or are you a standalone department?
Marti Romances: Usually we’re mixed with the art department and we are under the direction of the Production Designer and we also end up showing things to Directors. That’s especially in pre-production, when we are establishing the styles for each set and character. I would say the Director and Production Designer and, therefore, the Art Directors for each different part of the film.
Larry Jordan: What’s the process for creating one of these inserts? Walk me through what you do.
Marti Romances: First of all we read the script and we identify whatever we will need to create graphics for in the scenes. What we do is, we go through a research process, for whatever we have to create graphics for. If it’s for a Marvel character, we try to dig into all the background story and what kind of technology this character will be using. Then we start doing a bunch of references and mood boards with the Production Designer and Directors, to start narrowing the style and to see the looks that they are after.
Marti Romances: Sometimes those references come from all sorts of different things, not specifically user interfaces, but sometimes we just show things like undersea creatures, if they’re looking for a more organic look and feel, something we did for Prometheus, for example, that ends up defining lots of our graphics and also the color palettes.
Marti Romances: We start defining the style with the different elements that we’re going to be using in our designs, color palettes, typography, graphics, some Directors really want to go very real life, like we did with Ridley Scott and The Martian. Other ones, they really want us to approach it in a more futuristic and fantasy world that they’re trying to recreate and that’s usually what Marvel asks us to do.
Larry Jordan: Once we’ve done this exploration we start designing, we start bringing some of our work in front of the Director and Production Designer and when they agree that that’s a good direction, then we start producing the volume of screens. We design all those screens, or all those projections or holograms and then we animate them to live on set and holograms that are not possible to recreate in real life, then we save that for the post-production process.
Larry Jordan: What’s your deliverable? Is it a series of still images, or an application, or a movie or what?
Marti Romances: For the on-set graphics, on background screens that are not tied to any narrative, we deliver looping videos that simulate those systems working in the background. For more hero screens, that have to be tied to a narrative, they have to tell the story. Then we deliver either cue points on the animation, so that they can trigger those whenever they need to happen during shooting, or interactive pieces, if the actor or actress needs to interact with them.
Marti Romances: Sometimes we’ve produced over 500 screen designs for a film. We were around 500 screens for The Martian, for Avengers, but maybe for Blade Runner, Denis wanted less screens on set, he wanted to keep it a bit more real, so we ended up producing 100, but they were all very thoughtful. The process that we go through is very thoughtful, we don’t do things just because we try to elevate that set design. At the end, the Unit Lights and the Directors of Photography, they really like to be able to put the lens here and there and so that the screens are also part of the lighting of the set. It’s a bit of a mix, depending on who you work with.
Larry Jordan: It’s an interesting blend of both visual design and technology, it seems to me.
Marti Romances: It is and we’re very happy. With this process, especially when we’re trying to create something for the future, it’s almost like sometimes we see how our designs later on can influence new ideas. We can influence new technologies that may be coming a bit after, when these technologies are available to us and we can relate to lots of things we’ve seen in movies, like all the touchscreens and the screen gestures we see in the iPads and iPhones nowadays. We see how Minority Report, back in the day, was starting to introduce these ideas before we even had like touchscreens and multi-touchscreens.
Marti Romances: We really like to be in that middle ground between technology, what could be done in the future, how we imagine it and how we push this technology to the next mile, to see how that can end up affecting and influencing our real life technology that we may be using in 20 or more years. We’re just trying to help Directors tell the story. Sometimes they will need to spend a couple of minutes with two actors, talking about what they’re going to do to try to solve these problems, by showing a screen or a graphic that tells how we’re going from A to B, however, the audience need to understand that in a second.
Marti Romances: That’s very useful for Directors to get a shortcut to telling that story and those narratives through graphic design. That’s our main focus, just to make sure that we can help them with their creations.
Larry Jordan: Marti, for people that want to keep track of what you guys are doing, or maybe hire you for their next project, where can they go on the web?
Marti Romances: They can go to territorystudio.com and there we have examples of the work that we’ve created, both for real technology, for sets, for VFX, title sequences. They can look there and we’re more than happy to talk. We have an office in London and in San Francisco and we keep expanding and growing.
Larry Jordan: That’s territorystudio.com and Marti Romances is the Creative Director for Territory Studio and, Marti, thanks for joining us today.
Marti Romances: Thanks Larry, it’s my pleasure. Amazing show.
Larry Jordan: Here’s another website I want to introduce you to, doddlenews.com. doddleNEWS gives you a portal into the broadcast, video and film industries. It’s a leading online resource presenting news, reviews and products for the film and video industry. doddleNEWS also offers a resource guide and crew management platform, specifically designed for production. These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings provide in-depth organizational tools for busy production professionals.
Larry Jordan: doddleNEWS is a part of the Thalo Arts Community, a worldwide community of artists, filmmakers and storytellers. From photography to filmmaking, performing arts to fine arts and everything in between, Thalo is filled with the resources you need to succeed. Whether you want the latest industry news, need to network with other creative professionals, or require state of the art online tools to manage your next project, there’s only one place to go, doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: Jayse Hansen is a Visual Storyteller who creates fictional computer user interface designs for blockbuster film franchises like The Hunger Games, Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars and many more. Whether designing and animating R2D2’s holographic map to Luke Skywalker or Tony Stark’s J.A.R.V.I.S holograms and heads up displays, Jayse has created iconic interfaces that help tell the stories we love and shape how we view the future. Hello Jayse, welcome.
Jayse Hansen: Hello Larry, how you doing?
Larry Jordan: I am really excited to be chatting with you, because you make the impossible magical. It’s really, really cool. How would you describe what you do?
Jayse Hansen: That’s always a hard question and it’s basically a super niche in the visual effects world of feature films. It has to do with anything that actors are interacting with, little devices, little computer devices or computer displays, on up to holograms that are in the scene, like R2D2’s hologram and stuff like that. Also, heads up displays, so when Iron Man slips on his mask and he’s got all these graphics, all that stuff needs to be designed, animated, composited and so there’s usually a small team on that. I lucked out and tended to get jobs where I was designing a lot of that kind of stuff.
Jayse Hansen: I’m like the fan boy still. Every job that I do I’m like the geek fan and I totally geek out on it.
Larry Jordan: What first got you interested in creating real looking stuff that doesn’t exist?
Jayse Hansen: I mean, I started out doing like print design and then doing kind of commercials and stuff and I met a guy named Mark Coleran, who does this type of work and he’s done it for all kinds of films, like The Island and Mission Impossible. When I saw his reel and all that crazy cool stuff, which I’ve always loved, I guess I just never thought that that was somebody’s day-to-day job. Basically, after I saw that, I did not sleep until I made sure that was my day-to-day. For the past eight or nine years, that’s pretty much all I’ve done and I love it. Like I said, I have a fun time doing it.
Larry Jordan: Well, not only do you have a fun time doing it, you’ve got a passionate fan club that’s following along behind, that’s coming up with kinds of comments on our live chat.
Jayse Hansen: Oh that’s awesome. Yes, I pay them.
Larry Jordan: They’re cheering for you in the background. How do you coordinate your work with the Director, the Production Designer and the Art Director?
Jayse Hansen: It often depends on where we come in during the filmmaking process. We can come in anywhere from, where it’s in concept phase and it’s that time where we’re usually working with the Art Director, or we’ll come in while they’re filming, which is also a lot of the Production Designer. Then, a lot of times we’ll come in after the fact, after everything’s been filmed and we’ll do it as a post-production process, where we’ll work with the Visual Effects Supervisor mainly and the Director and the Editor.
Larry Jordan: Well, are your set elements available to the actors to use or see on set, or are they having to imagine what it looks like because they’re all going to be added in post?
Jayse Hansen: A lot of times it’s both. We try to give them as much as possible on set and actors, obviously they love that, so, like on Mockingjay, we came in, I worked on that with Cantina Creative and, also, Phil Messina was the Production Designer on that. You know, trying to get everyting on set for the actors to work with and explain the thought behind the UI, so they kind of feel confident using their advanced computer system.
Jayse Hansen: Then, sometimes, it’s the hologram, it’s kind of really hard to do that on set. So what we’ve done sometimes, like on Robocop, we did a bunch of designs where they printed them out on these large nine foot tall acetate pieces, they hung them up and then the Director could kind of shoot through the hologram to plan his shot, the actors could work with it, then they’d take away the acetate and they’d film it with nothing there and then, in post, add it all back in.
Larry Jordan: Let’s go back to Mockingjay, just to give us an example. What were you creating, what scene was it in and what did the actors have to look at?
Jayse Hansen: Okay, for instance, in a lot of the scenes, especially Mockingjay One, we did Mockingjay One and Two almost at the same time, but this was all filmed in Atlanta on a lot of sets there and stuff. They lit pretty much the entire scene with our monitors, which were anything from small iPads, I think they had about 23 iPads that they snuck into different things. You know, you put a different bezel on it.
Jayse Hansen: The Set Designers are amazing, you know, they had such detail on it. You’d have this thing that looks like an old school, you know, Cold War era kind of thing and behind it it’s just an iPad. So we had everything from iPads to these large rear projection screens that were like 50 foot wide. In Mockingjay One they kind of told the whole second half of the story through these large projector screens, so Katniss and evil President Snow, they’re doing it all between these screens that have these UIs around them and so it was very important that, you know, with this very emotional scene going on, that they have something for them to react to. Also, you know, there’s glitching on the screens and stuff like that, that’s all got to be reflected when they’re filming close ups on their faces and stuff like that.
Jayse Hansen: That’s pretty much, you know, an example of how we would do that. A lot of times we’ll do temp graphics and then we’ll finish on that one. In particular, we do a lot of temp graphics as well and then, in post, replace them out through some smoke and magic visual effects, with more detailed versions.
Larry Jordan: Okay, well let’s take a step back. You’ve now been locked into a room which has no air, no water and no food and the script to the soon to be produced Star Wars is now sitting on your lap. What creative process do you go through, as you’re reading this script and trying to decide what you’re going to do?
Jayse Hansen: Oh you were there. Star Wars: Force Awakens, Episode Seven was my dream project, I hunted it down for like a year, trying to find out who was working on it and then finally got a call. I got to work on it with my buddy Andrew Kramer and Navarro Parker, some really good guys. The scenario was kind of like, okay, we’re going to reinvent the look of Star Wars, but we’re not going to reinvent it completely. We need to really tie it into that 70s kind of retro vibe.
Jayse Hansen: We’ll get these kind of directives often from the Director and from the Visual Effects Supervisor, we’ll read through as much as we can. In that case we had a lot of footage that was already filmed, so I’ll study that and go through it. Then I’ll sit down with pen and paper and just sketch it out. I’m not a very good artist, so the first rule is, allow yourself to draw really badly and just get the ideas out. Then I’ll try and tighten it up and show that to usually the Visual Effects Supervisor and get a read on it. Then I’ll go in and start making it real in Illustrator and Cinema 4D and After Effects.
Larry Jordan: What happens when you disagree with a creative decision a Director has made, or that they’ve got a vision that’s impossible to create?
Jayse Hansen: Oh I never disagree. What I usually try to do is try to do both scenarios, I’ll try to do exactly what they ask for and I’ll try to do, you know, my version that I think is better and, of course, try to make the version they ask for look not quite as good. You know, I’ll add a flash frame here or there, I’ll desaturate it a little bit. That often will have them go for my version. That’s one technique.
Jayse Hansen: The other way is, you know, sometimes with things like on Avengers, we had a request for fitting a bunch of 3D models into the graphics that would have to be reduced really small and that makes it hard to read. But, to compound that, they were 3D models of aliens, so it was something that we just can’t recognize that easily, especially really tiny. I kind of just did it with graphics instead and then explained why I didn’t do it with the models. Luckily, they really liked the way I did it, with symbols basically, with graphics.
Larry Jordan: Jayse, for people that want to hire you for their next project, although I suspect you’re probably booked for the next 30 years, where can they go on the web?
Jayse Hansen: They can go to my website, jayse.tv.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, jayse.tv and Jayse Hansen is the Jayse himself, maker of the impossible and making it look believable. Jayse, thanks for joining us today.
Jayse Hansen: Larry, thank you for having me again, appreciate it.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye-bye.
Larry Jordan: You know, I was just thinking, a set provides the geographical center to a film or a video, but a set is more than just four walls and a floor. Think about the last time you were looking for a house to buy, or an apartment to rent. Walking into the empty room defined by floors and walls and ceiling gave you a sense of the space, but it wasn’t a home. It wasn’t until you filled it with furniture and all the small things we collect throughout our lives, that converted that space into a home, a place that represents us. It’s the same for a set, simply putting up a wall, or putting a chair in the middle of an empty room doesn’t make it personal. It isn’t until we fill that space with the things that represent that character, that a space looks lived in and believable.
Larry Jordan: Too often, we allow the technology to drive our thinking, but we aren’t truly defined by our technology, instead we’re defined by the small objects on our desk, or the art on our walls, or the colors of our rooms. It’s the design of what’s in the spaces that we inhabit that breathes life and believability into our characters. That’s where the magic of set and production design live, in making the spaces our characters inhabit look lived in and believable. In fact, the first things we notice about any actor is where they are, what they’re wearing and the objects around them. This forms a picture of their character before any words are spoken, or any plot points developed. Walls are good, furniture is better, but we can understand a character simply by looking at the room, even without any people in it. Just something I’m thinking about.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests this week, Chuck Parker with the Art Directors Guild, Mark Andrew Reyes with the Hillcrest Center for the Arts, Marti Romances with Territory Studio, Jayse Hansen, Fictional UI Designer, Maxim Jago, Filmmaker, and James DeRuvo with DoddleNews. There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find thousands of interviews all online and all available to you today. Remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter, that comes out every Saturday.
Larry Jordan: Talk with us on Twitter @DPBuZZ and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Our theme music is composed by Nathan Dugi-Turner with additional music provided by smartsound.com. Text Transcripts are provided by Take 1 Transcription, visit take1.tv to learn how they can help you. Our Producer is Debbie Price, my name is Larry Jordan and thanks for listening to the Digital Production Buzz.
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