Intentions of project

What are the most effective methods and processes used by production designers, with particular reference to British film? Do particular methods and processes lend themselves to certain film genres, and do these affect the Production Designer’s use of colour and style?

The aim of the project is to investigate the different methods and processes used by current production designers in designing for film. The study will examine the benefits of each method and discover whether there is a particular ‘type’ of film that each method is most appropriate for.

The study will investigate the various methods employed by current practitioners working within the film industry. The research will focus on three-selected production designers to analyse and compare their different methods to identify the advantages of each. This research will be gathered from interviews with the production designers and from current debates on the changing methods.

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The resulting information will be used to create different interpretations of the same scene using their different styles, processes and methods. Any results on the most effective method will be determined from questionnaires created for this purpose.

There is insufficient research on the subject of production design. Most of what exists focuses on the history or technical skills but not on the processes involved in making creative decisions on what is most appropriate for a film. Recently there have been more interviews with current practitioners in various websites, magazines and books. This means the information is available but sporadic and limited.

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Therefore I will also consider other important factors in production design such as the use of colour, how colour is perceived, its cultural associations and its ability to reveal more about the narrative, which could be considered to provide an emotional short cut for the audience.

In addition the study will consider the issues of technology replacing traditional methods. The use of technology may challenge traditional ways of thinking and working and make designers create in an innovative way. However the process of using a computer rather than the tactile traditional methods can make the designer more detached.

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I hope by focussing on current practitioners and comparing their different methods of working I can identify the advantages of each method and whether there are particular processes and styles that lend themselves to different genres of film.

In order to examine how the processes used in designing for film can influence the final set design, I will look at three designers with different approaches and use each process to design a set for the same scene.  I will start from the beginning each time and identify whether or not the design changes and where the influences came from. I expect that using computer aided design will increase the experimentation with shape, but it will be interesting to see if it provides a less true depiction of colour and texture.

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The first designer I will study is Eve Stewart.  As a result of previous research, I have chosen to study her way of working as she uses the more traditional process of designing for contemporary filmmaking. This involves using a series of sketches to test ideas before arriving at the final design. She then translates these into technical plans to be built by her team. I will look in particular at her work on Les Miserables (for which she won a BAFTA), The King’s Speech and the television series The Hour.

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For the next design process I will be examining the work of Alex McDowell, particularly his recent work, as he favours using 3-D rendering software to create his designs. He also uses this pre-visualisation to show where actors and cameras need to be which allows him to work out precisely how much set will be required for all the shots.

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The final production designer I will examine is Sarah Greenwood, known for her work on Anna Karenina, Atonement, Sherlock Holmes and Pride and Prejudice. Sarah Greenwood’s method of production design seems to be heavily influenced by her team. She builds up a good working relationship with the director, draws inspiration from locations and prefers to work with people she has worked with before. She often uses the concept artist Eva Kunst who uses Photoshop to collage the design together. I chose this as the last method as I hope to acquire the advice of a director and cinematographer to further influence my design choices.

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I have purposefully limited the process each production designer usesfor this test as most production designers will use varying methods to meet the needs of each film. Therefore I have chosen the most typical method used by these production designers.

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