From the time she was a child, Youjia Qian always had a great interest in the arts and fashion. She learned to play the flute at a young age and began painting very early in her life. Music was always a great passion of hers, with an eclectic playlist featuring many genres. She enjoys expressing her attitude and emotions through clothing and accessories, which she has all her life.
“I think clothes show the characteristic of one person and the style that they want to express at that day. Same as artworks, dressing is also an art. To me, being a stylist enables me to help others to show their attitude with clothes,” said Qian.
Now, Qian is a celebrated stylist and art director, and a leader in her industry. She has worked on many successful music videos, such as “Say Less” for Roy Woods, “Devil in California” by Burna Boy, “Talking to Me” for Gab 3 and “Hollywood Angel” by BEXEY and Gab3. She has also made her mark with commercials, working with the famous department store Barneys New York earlier this year on their “Starwalk” campaign.
“I think the greatest challenge as an art director is pre-communication, since the visual effect is hard to express with words. Sometimes customers are not able to imagine what you want to express and then I need to prepare so many cases and proposals with clearer visuals to let them know what I want to express finally. I always make sure to discuss everything with my client in detail. Any problem that arises can be overcome with patient communication,” she described.
Such an attitude is why the art director was approached by newcomer DeathByRomy to take on her debut music video. DeathByRomy needed an experienced professional at the helm to make the project a success, and she knew Qian was just the person. Qian enjoys working with young artists, giving them insight into what it takes to make a hit video.
“I am very happy to work with female artists and hope to cooperate with more girls and new artists in the future,” said Qian.
Qian was eager to work with DeathByRomy. The two had an understanding that the video would have a slightly more feminine feel, and as the two are both female, they found it easy to strike a balance in what they both envisioned. They spent a lot of time discussing the details prior to shooting. They decided to use a dreamy color to express the feeling of youth, while interspersing a lot of cute shots to express a girlish feeling.
“I think this new artist is very willing to try new ideas and styles, so the actors in the audience are some of her own friends, and the cooperation with everyone is very harmonious and happy. We can also know what kind of things and styles young people like now through the communication,” said Qian.
The video was released in June of this year and was published by Elevator. Watch it here to witness Qian’s artistry first hand.
Phenix Miao was eight years old when he began drawing. He believes art is part of his blood. His great grandfather owned a famous antique house in Shanghai, and that passion for design passed through generations. Growing up, his house was always full of antiquated artifacts, and even at a young age, Miao became fascinated by them. As he grew, his love for art and design only intensified and he became interested in decorating, arranging, and building a scene. There was only one path for him that made sense, and it was becoming an art director. Now, he is celebrated in both China and abroad for his art direction, and he has no plans of slowing down.
Whether it be with film, television, or commercials, Miao constantly shows viewers just how much talent he possesses. In the 2016 movie Shanghai Sojourner, Miao helped transport audiences to Japanese-controlled Shanghai during World War II. In the acclaimed film Lottery, Miao created a fairytale like world to show the euphoria of a starving, young orphan getting his hands on a winning lottery ticket. Using his commercial senses, Miao also helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars with his work on a crowdfunding campaign for Itron Battery. He is extremely versatile with a love for what he does.
“Art direction and production design is a large part of telling a story, so I insist on harmonious and mindful designing. When I’m creating a scene, I make sure to consider the person that will be in it and whether the scene corresponds with the one who lives/uses it. Sets are like extensions of the characters,” he said.
Miao once again achieved this with his work on several commercials for Lepow. The technology company manufactures mobile accessories such as the portable power bank, external battery, and the smart bag. Starting in 2015, Miao took on the role as art director for the premiere commercial for Lepow’s TV Show Box. From there, they made a follow up commercial showcasing the product, and a year later, another long commercial showcasing the brand as a whole.
On the set, Miao was responsible for the entire visual experience. He aimed to make everything the director imagined into the scene a reality. He designed the color and artistic style, selected the best and most suitable materials, maximized every detail, and designed the design space. As the leader of the creative team, he aimed to take the big picture and divide it into small, tangible tasks that would be easy to complete within the timeframe they were working in.
Working closely with the director, Miao discussed every shot individually, wanting to understand the exact feeling the client was looking for. Every aspect was important to create an entire world in the set, from colors to the smell, even though viewers would not experience that. Miao shows such commitment to every detail of a project, that it makes everyone he works with greatly appreciate his talent.
“Phenix is a great leader of the art department and ensures everything goes smoothly. He is essential as an advisor, balancing out my ideas and feelings of the clients through his work. He is a comprehensive creator with a deep understanding of filmmaking, more so than any art director I have worked with. He is constantly curious and always eager to learn new things. In terms of production design, Phenix has an ability to take even the largest set and make everything extremely detailed. Even when I can’t describe exactly what I want, he finds a way to not only make it, but he produces work even better than I imagined,” said Peter “Zhen” Pan, Director.
Miao and Pan have worked together multiple times in the past, and Miao is always the director’s go-to art director. Their personal relationship has transformed to a friendship over many years of collaboration, and Miao knows how to transform Pan’s vision into a reality. Miao appreciates Pan’s different taste and feeling about color and the “rhythm” of the set and props compared to other directors. He understands Pan’s “language” and this connection ensures productivity and efficiency on set, as they communicate seamlessly.
“We work like a family and talk to each other directly no matter what the opinion or issue is. On set, everyone makes sure to do their best work possible. The Lepow commercials were no different. It was a great time and wonderful teamwork. All the guys try to help one another. Working on a series of commercials has allowed us to become familiar with each other, and it is a very relaxed working environment,” he said.
The campaign has been a great success both for Miao and Lepow. Despite this, Miao doesn’t think about what he has achieved when he sets his sight on a new commercial. When he sets out to make something, he expects success because otherwise he would not live up to what he knows he can do. That is what makes him such a formidable art director and production designer.
“We put so much wisdom and effort into these commercials because we had a goal, which was to make Lepow feel satisfied and see sales growth from our work. When that happens, I don’t celebrate, I just know that for the next one we should do even better. The series turned out beautiful for sure, and that is our work. That I can feel proud of,” he concluded.
When Mitch Crook recalls what initially sparked his interest in design, he credits an inspirational art teacher from his youth. Mr. Dominic Culkin, from Crook’s high school in Hertfordshire, England, would inform his student about exhibitions to see what books to read, and what magazines to buy. This teacher’s ability to connect his class to art and design opened up a world and sparked a passion for a young Crook that shaped his entire future, and he still possesses today. Little did Mr. Culkin know the impact he would have on not only his pupil, but the United Kingdom as a whole. Crook is now the Founder and Creative Director at his company Hotel Creative, a design agency behind some of the country’s most renowned retail advertising campaigns.
Despite not having heard of Mitch Crook before, you have most likely seen his work. His company, Hotel Creative, is a multi-disciplined creative consultancy based in London. His team specializes in concepts, visual design and art direction for brand communications, experiences and pinnacle retail. They pride themselves on great ideas, quality production and a high standard of delivery, combining attention to detail with a no-limits attitude. With Crook at the helm, he constantly impresses both colleagues and clients, and after seven years in business, Hotel Creative has become a leader in the industry.
“I have never come across a more brilliant, talented and charismatic Creative Director than Mitch. I am constantly astounded by the innovative experiential campaigns he creates on behalf of his clients,” said Marcus Price, Associate Creative Director R/GA, New York.
Collaborating with Nike, Hotel Creative was responsible for many of their most successful product launches, directly contributing to increased awareness and commercial sales. Through his work, Crook has been partly responsible for Nike being the dominant sportswear brand in retail across the United Kingdom and Western Europe.
“Nike is the best brand in the world. Their vision for the future is streets ahead of their competition. I’m a massive Nike fan, love their product, love their demand for excellence and how innovative they are across all fields of play. The way they took on soccer with a clear mission to be the biggest brand was outrageous, but totally Nike and look how they’ve achieved that over the last 15 years. So much of what I see in Nike reflects why I set up Hotel Creative, we share similar creative goals to do things that haven’t been done before,” said Crook.
Specializing in apex visual experiences for luxury brands, Crook is a Nike brand expert and a global design influencer. Earlier in his career, before Hotel Creative, Crook was given great insight into working with Nike whilst working his way up in the creative world. At the time, online shopping was beginning to take off, with e-commerce sites like Amazon and eBay beginning to emerge as the giants that they are today. Despite this, Crook had a vision for retail that went against this trend; he believed that physical retail could still be more successful than ever if more of an artistic and creative approach was taken, making it bigger and better than ever. It was this idea that sparked the creation of Hotel Creative, and he pitched his concept to Nike UK, and they agreed to be his founding client. The promise of work gave Crook the courage and confidence to launch his own agency, and Nike has been his principal client ever since.
“Mitch has been responsible for, and involved with some of the most iconic Nike campaigns in the world. He always looks to push the boundaries of retail design,” said Adrian Fenech, Senior Brand Director, Nike Inc.
Crook’s loyalty and passion for Nike is evident in Hotel Creative’s work with the sporting brand. His direct experience with the company and his understanding of the field gives Hotel Creative an intimate knowledge of what works. Crook says his team pushes their own boundaries every single day to consistently produce high-achieving results for Nike. Nike respects this, and gives Crook a lot of creative freedom to explore new and unique ideas, something that has become a bit of a trademark for Hotel Creative, as no other creative consultants have achieved for Nike what they have. Crook treats every project through a fresh lens, and he does not have one house style that Nike simply adopts. Every single campaign is different, and each is visually stimulating for consumers.
“We have to react, find new things, new techniques, continually adapt our creative approach to what will excite and capture the imagination of consumers and what enhances and communicates Nike’s product,” he described.
Such an approach makes Nike the best and most challenging client in the world, according to Crook. Not only do they work with Nike on local territory campaigns around the UK, Hotel Creative also works on them at a global creative level, creating future campaign directives that set the tone for their creative rollouts across the world. There is never a moment with Crook’s company is not dealing with Nike. Projects typically take about four weeks, sometimes even less, but can last up to three months. The creative process involves Hotel Creative presenting a number of creative directions and refining them to align with Nike’s product and their audience. Every day is different, processes and order are often hard to impose, but they have built up a lot of trust between each other. Crook knows what is expected of him, and never rests on his laurels.
“Nike have an unnerving sense of the future and that futuristic vision excites and inspires me. Over the last 30 or so years they have transformed into such a globally innovative brand, continually pushing technologies to create new products for both elite sports and everyday consumers. This cutting-edge approach is a magnetic force for many creatives and I’m proud of what we’ve achieved working with Nike, given they have the ability to pick the best,” added Crook.
With such a passion for his work, there is little doubt as to why both Crook and Hotel Creative have become international success stories. Crook never let his connections with Nike die down as he was building his business, and he encourages all those who look to follow in his footsteps to remember, it’s not what you know, it’s who.
“Study, work hard, play hard. Work the system and build your contacts. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals. Look who’s doing work you love or aspire to do. Contact them and ask if you can assist in any way at all,” he advised. “All knowledge is good knowledge, even if it’s a bad experience, it is something you know not to do again. Always learn and reflect on what you did and what you could have done better. Then you are ready for next time.”
When Hanna Petersson sits down at her desk, ready to take on a new art project, she doesn’t simply decide what looks good. As an art director, an appealing design is only a small aspect of what makes her work extraordinary. She has to design everything with her client in mind, thinking of end goals and the brand’s message. It is much more than artistry, it is intelligence and savvy, and Petersson embodies all of those things. She is an extremely in demand art director, working with some of the world’s largest companies, and she has no plans on slowing down.
Throughout her esteemed career, Petersson’s artwork has created dynamic advertisements for large brands, most recently Häagen-Dazs, Canon, Pringles, and T.J. Maxx. Her talent has earned her the reputation as one of Sweden’s best art directors; she is known for her creative imagery, and her artwork captivates. Millions across the globe have seen her work and may not have even known it. This is exemplified when she took on a project for Samsung, one of the largest and most well-known companies in the world. Working with WorkShop in Stockholm, Petersson took on the visual development and concept illustrations for the Samsung retail experience, called Experience Zone, which was a three-month installation at the three largest train stations in Sweden; Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo. She worked on the concept development of these pop ups and also created imagery used in the pop up to drive foot traffic. The Experience Zones attracted more than 200,000 people that came to look at the new Samsung products and interact with them.
“Samsung is one of the leading technology companies in the world, because they are not afraid to test things that have never been done before and they really embrace innovation to bring their brand and products further. They are a joy to work with because they understand that in order to really create the best experiences with their products, they need to trust in the creatives who work on developing campaigns and promotions for them. This makes for a great client-creative relationship, which is a good recipe for success,” said Petersson.
Initially, Samsung was looking for a way to promote their new products for the Christmas season, and wanted to target the three largest cities in Sweden. When reaching out to WorkShop, a Swedish company that specializes in branding and marketing for large companies, WorkShop knew Petersson was the right person for the job. She and her team immediately began coming up with a wide range of ideas that involved different ways of creating activations around the products. During this whole process, Petersson would bring ideas and also add conceptual sketches that she would then show to Samsung. She would describe the ideas and to get approval by the client to continue with a certain direction of the ideas, and then she started producing a physical space that would be inviting to a passerby, causing them to engage with the Samsung products that would be on display.
“When the creative agency I worked at was going to start this project, I was a part of the concepting team who came up with what the project was going to look like and how it would be possible to execute. The work was a lot of fun and I got a chance to experiment with new ideas and to bring innovative solutions to the table. The project was a great opportunity to really see a project from start to finish and I wanted to be a part of that journey and to make sure that I did everything in my power to make the project as great as possible,” Petersson described.
When Samsung approached WorkShop about the project, they knew they wanted the best team possible to help promote their brand. At the time, Petersson had already worked on a number of projects at the agency, constantly impressing those she worked alongside with her talent for concepting and coming up with innovative ideas even under a tight deadline. When building the Samsung team, Workshop knew Petersson could not only bring great suggestions to the project but also that she is a joy to work with. She also had a skill for putting down concepts and ideas on paper as sketches and illustrations showing exactly what she and the other creatives were imagining, so they knew that she would be a very useful asset to have on the team from day one.
In the end, Petersson’s contributions to the Samsung Experience project were essential to its success. She came up with different activations, ideas and designs for the final product. She consistently had innovative ideas and also produced conceptual illustrations for the ideas showing designs and potential activations. These sketches were used to sell the ideas to Samsung and to make them a reality, by being the guidelines for how the pop up location was built and designed. As the project went live, Petersson also helped with creating new events and designs for the pop up locations, which helped to further bring more people into the Samsung space and to increase sales by making more people try out the products and engage with them in a creative and fun way. This drive once again impressed all she worked with.
“Hanna has worked with several of WorkShop’s clients, including Swedish Match, Samsung and Apoteksgruppen. For Samsung, she participated in the creative process of developing a setup for a pop-up concept that was later realized at the central stations in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo,” said Helena Hammar, Head of Projects & Consulting at WorkShop when Petersson was working with the company. “Hanna was a very valued employee and is solution-oriented, tremendously good at sketching, and has an ability to adapt to the missions at the same time as she has a personal creative expression. Her willingness and ability to take responsibility and to constantly evolve makes her very versatile and strong as a creative.”
Beyond colleagues, Samsung was extremely satisfied with Petersson’s work. Not only did she help increase their sales, she helped engage customers and the model was then carried to other countries. Petersson then worked on another project for Samsung, creating illustrations for maps that were used to engage visitors in different stations during the Winter Olympics. Evidently, Petersson is truly an exceptional art director, and she loves every minute of what she does.
“There was so much to enjoy from working with Samsung. Not only did I get to try out new ideas and see them become reality, but I also got a chance to work with some really nice collaborators and to work together to ensure the best possible end product. I very much enjoyed seeing a project through from first day until the end and all the work that went into making it a reality. It was a lot of hard work but it was all worth it and seeing different ideas going from a sketch on a paper to a produced design or activation was incredible. It was really proof of how an innovative idea that I came up with can become reality and actually create value for people and for Samsung,” she concluded.
When Ji Young Lee was ten years old, her mother took her to the musical Alibaba and 40 Thieves. She was fascinated not only by the magical set, which had a flying carpet, moving cave, exotic Arabic costumes and music, but also by the dynamic reactions the audience displayed. It was then when she fell in love with this strange world created through the set, and that was the day she started to dream of becoming an artist who designs sets. She was amazed by how the set design could create an environment where people could escape from their ordinary lives and mundane scenery and experience a fantasy world. She still experiences this amazement to this day, but the difference is, she is the one creating that feeling for others.
As an internationally sought-after Art Director, Young has realized her childhood ambitions to their fullest. She has put her touch on the award-winning films The Bird Who Could Fly, and The Sacred Mushroom, as well as the new UFC commercial with Academy-Award winner Charlize Theron. She also worked on the upcoming virtual-reality film Delusion: Lies Within, and got to experiment with a whole new world of art direction.
“I’m very strong at telling the story through colors, mood and imageries, which people will see in the set first, and also I love paying attention to detail which is necessary for virtual reality films, because people will look around 360 degrees and walk around and lean forward to see the set and props closer. I like overcoming challenges with a hardworking team,” said Young.
Initially interested in the project because of her enjoyment of interactive theatre, Young knew she wanted the challenge of designing for a virtual reality set. In Los Angeles, there is a popular interactive horror theater show called Delusion, which she had a great interest in. Skybound Entertainment, founded by Walking Dead Creator Robert Kirkman, decided to produce the virtual reality game version of Delusion into a feature film.
“I had never worked on a virtual reality film before, and I was curious about the process. I also wanted to work on fantastical or surreal set, and I believed Delusion was going to be a great opportunity for me to learn something completely different,” said Young.
During the 1940’s in the American South, Delusion: Lies Within is about the reclusive author Elena Fitzgerald, who built a zealous following with her Stygian Ascent series; an epic of dark fantasy following the life of young Mary on a quest to be rejoined with her mother. To the larger world, Miss Fitzgerald was a beloved novelist, yet to Daniel and Virginia, she was everything. They’ve wept over the lives and deaths of her characters. They’ve dreamt of walking in her world. A world now out of reach as Elena went missing before the fifth and supposedly final book was written. For years there was no sign of Elena. In its place rumors of madness, murder, and something otherworldly persisted. Most of Elena’s fans quietly mourned the loss of a finale yet Daniel and Virginia refused to let go. The worlds, characters and stories must continue. Thus, the two decide that Elena needs their help to finish what she started. To close the chapter on a world left untended. Leaving their grim reality behind, the two begin their search.
“Creating surreal, fantastical and eerie world was my favorite part of the job. There is still some sort of reality that needs to exist in the set, like period furniture or period costumes, to make it believable, but I could be creative and use my imagination. Also, I was so grateful for our art department crews. This was mentally and physically very challenging project, but everyone respected my opinions and worked very hard with positive attitudes until the end. I loved working with them,” said Young.
Young focused on the aesthetic of the set. After reading the script and looking at the production designer’s reference images, she started to come up with the color palette and mood for each set and create art works for the main set dressing, such as murals on the ceilings or paintings, and drafting for certain customized furniture or window. The ceiling murals were very important for the director, and Young made sure to realize his vision. She also maintained a strong line of communication with Production Designer Kevin Williams, who knows after working with her that Young is one of the best.
“Working with Ji is akin to having a second brain. Not only does she instinctively understand the projects that are given to her, but she’s able to add a level of polish and professionalism that enhance the challenges she’s faced with. On set, she maintains a level head and is able to offer up solutions and artistic flourishes that inevitably bring a greater level of depth and beauty to the tasks at hand. I would hire her for any future project without hesitation. Ji is exceptionally detail oriented and focused on delivering a perfect product. Her design instincts are supremely keen and driven to tell the best visual story in her own unique style,” said Williams.
Attendees at the San Diego Comic Con earlier this month had the opportunity to see the feature of Delusion: Lies Within at Skybound Entertainment’s panel, but for those that missed it, the film is expected to be released next year.
Katsuya Imai is more than an artist. He is a storyteller. His passion for art that started as a child, painting and building models, transformed into something much more as he grew. His love for movies became more prominent; not just watching them, but observing them, noticing the craft and skill that took place behind the scenes. With interests like these, it is no wonder why Imai became a production designer and art director. However, it is his talent that has made him the success he is, and recognized as one of Japan’s best.
Throughout his career, Imai has had the opportunity to work on projects that he was already a fan of throughout his life. As production designer on the film Ninpuu Sentai Hurricaneger: 10 Years After, he was able to design for his childhood heroes. While working on the films and television series The Next Generation Patlabor, he was able to do the same.
“I have loved the animation in the original Patlabor films since I was a student. I watched these so many times and have some books about the art setting and method of directing in them. I have knowledge of these background, so it was very helpful to design it,” said Imai.
The Patlabor franchise includes three films and a television show. Therefore, The Next Generation Paltabor has many background stories that do not need to be mentioned in the script. Imai has worked on many different aspects of The Next Generation Patlabor, including the film The Next Generation Patlabor: Tokyo War.
“It was very exciting. I was so happy that I could read the new script of the film. The script was connected to Patlabor: The Movie 2. That is my favorite film. I really enjoyed designing it. I thought it was one of my dreams coming true,” said Imai.
As a fan of Director Mamoru Oshii’s films (Ghost in the Shell, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, and the original two Patlabor films). Imai also wanted the opportunity to work alongside one of his filmmaking heroes. He immediately impressed all those he worked with, and contributed greatly to the film’s success.
“Katsuya had years of experience and was very skillful, so we could leave the shooting to him. He is very serious and calm as art director. He always directed surely to the other crews,” said Supervising Art Director, Masato Ando.
The film tells the story of an attack that takes place on Rainbow Bridge in Odaiba, Tokyo by the fighter helicopter `Gray Ghost`. Two days earlier, the Gray Ghost was stolen. The perpetrators are followers of Yukihito Tsuge. Yukihito Tsuge planned a coup of Tokyo 13 years earlier. The leader of Special Vehicle Section 2, Keiji Gotoda, sets out to stop the terrorists. It went on to be an Official Selection at the Montreal World Film Festival.
“I was very happy to hear that. It’s always an honor that the film I worked on is watched by many audiences,” said Imai.
As Art Director, Imai went to location scouting, trying to find the perfect set for the film. His knowledge of the Patlabor series were designed elaborately and rated highly by the fans. This made him an asset to the television series The Next Generation Patlabor as well.
“Normally working on a television show, we shoot each episode at a time. We are given the next script during filming the previous episode. The production has to reflect the review and reaction from the audience to the script. However, this project already has all 12 episodes scripted in the pre-production. This made it easy to plan and design the whole project,” said Imai.
The show is a story of a world where giant robots are built and used for labor, a special police force of robots is created to handle crimes relating to these machines. Imai built two full-size robots. Each one was eight meters high. This made the series a bit conspicuous.
“While we were filming, fans were not aware of a Patlabor revival. However, we had to do shooting at the location with a full-size robot. It was impossible to hide it because it’s too huge. Some people noticed that robot and posted the photo to Twitter. All the Patlabor fans were excited on Twitter,” said Imai. “We ended up using the full-size robot for the promotion. It’s huge and attracts people. The Patlabor fans said the film became reality.”
Episode 10 of the series went on to be screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2014. Without Imai’s keen eye while designing the set and special props, such as the iconic robot, the show may not have achieved what it has. Fans of the original series were immediately enthralled with The Next Generation Patlabor, enjoying how true it kept to its base story. Imai, as a big fan of the show, knew exactly what was needed to win over the hearts of other fans, and he definitely succeeded.
Creativity has always been a fundamental aspect of Mark Nicholson’s life. As a child growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, his artistic side was evident even from a young age. Over time, this childhood hobby developed into much more, and now, Nicholson is an internationally celebrated Art Director.
While working on several high-profile campaigns around the world, Nicholson’s talent has directly led to the success of each project he has worked on. He created the concept for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation competition to “Make millennial’s care more about charity work and causes happening around the world,” and their campaign Plight Map went on to win the prestigious Cannes Chimera Award. While working as an Art Director for the rebranding campaign of 118118, the project went on to be nominated for a British Arrow Award. He has worked on several popular commercials with the world’s most recognizable companies, such as Nike and Microsoft. He also contributed greatly to the success of the Adidas Break-up Service campaign.
“Adidas is iconic. It’s created work globally that has pushed advertising into new territory. This, combined with my natural interest in Asian culture, seemed like a match made in heaven,” said Nicholson.
Break up Service was a multi-media advertising campaign for the latest Japanese inspired safety wear fashion range from Adidas Originals. A film, print campaign and website followed a young man that worked for a fictional ‘break-up’ service and the danger that falling in love creates. The film won a Silver Cannes Lion Award at the prestigious international festival, as well as a Bronze BIAA.
“The campaign is one of my proudest pieces, the team we worked with in Japan – especially the award-winning director Kosai Sekine, it was all fantastic. Learning first-hand about Japanese culture whilst on location allowed us to adapt the script as we went, working with the Japanese team to make it as authentic, but as entertaining, as possible,” said Nicholson.
After having previous success with TBWA London on a campaign with the Chelsea Football Club and Adidas, Nicholson was immediately sought-after for the Break Up Service project, knowing that he had the exact skillset needed. As the Senior Art Director, Nicholson first created a mixed-media campaign idea and presented it to the client to secure funding for the project. He wrote the script, and oversaw storyboarding, design and branding. The project required a unique knowledge of Japanese subculture, which was a specific skillset that Nicholson possessed. After funding was secured, he was responsible for finding and collaborating with an authentic Japanese director, refining the script and making creative decisions whilst production was already underway. While filming in Tokyo, he was responsible for all on-set creative decisions. He also oversaw a fashion shoot that was in tandem with the TVC, advising on location and models. He was the creative advisor for the online content that a third-party agency was creating. There is no doubt that his work was instrumental in the campaign’s success.
“I had the pleasure of working with Mark while serving as Executive Creative Director at TBWA London. He was lead Art Director on the Adidas Originals campaign about a fictional Break-up service in Tokyo. Mark ran the project under demanding timescales and cultural challenges and he was rewarded with a Cannes Lion. It was an amazing piece of work,” said Al Young.
Because the film was set in Japan, Nicholson’s knowledge of Japanese culture proved to be a great asset. He has always had a longtime love of manga and anime, like the classics; Akira, Ghost in the Shell and anything Ghibli. He found that this, combined with his work on the Japanese influenced work I created for 3Mobile at WCRS, gave him a good knowledge of Japan.
“How wrong I was, there was so much more and it was fun learning along the way,” said Nicholson. “I had to create a huge style presentation. Introducing Japanese fashion styles, locations and cultural nuances. We introduced the client to Japanese Pleasure Hotels, Capsule Hotels and Cosplay so we had to be prepared. I researched Tokyo’s relevant scenes, modern Japanese art, designers and comic book pop-culture, and then created thorough presentations for the client. The more familiar I got with the culture the more interesting our ideas became, but I also had to be very mindful that we didn’t come across as a predictable Western brand looking into Asia. Authenticity was paramount, and luckily the culture naturally allowed itself to be weirdly authentic.”
As well as the film, Nicholson and his team ran a poster campaign that reflected a distinctive Asian art direction. They also created a commerce website dedicated to the campaign, which had several more fake content films showing Japanese fan girls humorously confessing that they use the break up service. The website even included a video from Akira himself, emotionally describing the origin of his service, when he had to tell his mother that his father was breaking up with her.
“Working on this campaign was fast and fun. The shoot was exceptionally smooth. The planning was exceptional, and the final product was amazing,” said Nicholson.
With all the work that Nicholson did, he still managed to overcome the “all work and no play” mantra, taking advantage of his surroundings.
“It was my first visit to Asia so that was an experience that had been a long time coming. Outside of filming, I was able to absorb the local art, animation history, and the Godzilla museum,” he concluded.
You can watch the Adidas Break Up Service film here.
As the production designer on the films Mira, Mal de Ojo, Second Love, To See the Sunrise and the multi-award winning film Slut, Yihong Ding has proven that she has the malleable creative vision necessary to set the perfect stage for any story regardless of the genre.
As a successful production designer and the leader of the entire art department, Ding has to do far more than just design every set in a production so it perfectly fits the story. In order for members of her department to be able to effectively build what she has envisioned for each set, she has to be able to guide each person on her team on the best way to execute each build, something that can only come from experience.
Ding laid the foundation for her professional career early on by working in every aspect of the art department and it has definitely paid off. Ding’s work in the art department on the series Birthday Boy and Chasing Life, a set dresser on the feature film Caught and a scenic painter on the film Mandala, have been integral to the success of the productions, but more importantly, these achievements helped her get to where she is today.
Over the years, Ding has also art directed an impressive list of productions including Ryan Velásquez’s film Drowning, the documentary A Man Before His Time, as well as several commercials including a campaign for Microsoft Outlook’s app.
For the Microsoft commercial where she had to build a café on a sound stage, Ding recalls, “We had a really busy shooting schedule, so everyone was constantly moving. For art department we always have to be one step ahead, so when the team is shooting, we will go ahead and start dressing the next set, and when they move on, we will come back and wrap out the set that they were shooting.”
The combined knowledge that comes from Ding’s experience working as an art director and production designer allows her to function at a higher level than those who work as either an art director or production designer because she knows the tools that each person requires in order to do the best job.
“An art director focuses on how to achieve the look. They are the second hand to the production designer. Their main job is to keep the production designer focused on the design, rather than getting distracted by practical problems,” explained
Ding. “I enjoy being an art director because I think it is necessary… And it helps me to be a better leader when I am production designing. You don’t want to make your ideal design sound ridiculous so it helps to work as an art director because then you know what is achievable.”
When she’s art directing Ding knows exactly what questions to ask the production designer in order to nails their vision and make sure she nothing gets lost in translation. And when the roles are reversed, she knows exactly how to break down what she wants for each scene of a production in a way that is clear and manageable for her art director.
These may seem like minor aspects of the job to outsiders, but when your department has a $100,000 budget to furnish a house with Victorian furniture, but your art director returns with a truck full of Edwardian furniture, the whole production suffers. While the differences between these two styles might only be noticeable to the trained eye, you can bet the director, producers and production designer have done their research, so not only will the shooting schedule be delayed as the art department scrambles to replace the furniture, but the art director has successfully branded themselves as a no hire for future productions.
For the inexperienced art director or production designer the level of detail Ding devotes to her work might seem insane, but that is what it takes to work in the big leagues, and to her, it’s all in a days work.
In 2013 Ding’s creativity was put to the test when she was hired on as the production designer of the film Maria Bonita. A beautifully shot film from multi-award winning directors Jacob Lundgaard Andersen (Dustland, Rumspringa), Gareth Dunnet Alcoce (Contrapelo, Veladora, Wild Horses) and Camille Stochitch (Interstate, Les Grands Espaces),Maria Bonita follows a South American woman as she transforms from a sweet and innocent girl who lives and works on her family’s farm into a fierce guerilla fighter.
The story Maria Bonita brought to the screen had no dialogue, so the narration of the unfolding events and changing tones of the film were driven by a combination of Ding’s captivating set design, the soothing music of Pedro Bromfman and the emotional expressions of the actors.
Earlier this year Ding production designed Chloe Okuno’s dramatic film Slut starring Molly McIntyre (Halloween Hell, Ditch Party, The Want Dick Dickster) and Oscar nominated actress Sally Kirkland (JFK, Valley of the Dolls, Bruce Almighty, Days of Our Lives).
Set in Texas in the 70s, Slut follows Maddy played by McIntyre, a nerdy teen who reinvents herself in order to get the male attention she’s never had; but, when a mysterious stranger comes to town, Maddy’s new look gets her much more than she bargained for.
As the production designer of the film Ding created a physical environment for the film that fit the 70s era perfectly from the plaid couch in Maddy’s grandmother’s living room and a grandiose amount of wood furnishings down to the old school television set with adjustable nobs and the pink quilted bedspread in Maddy’s room.
Ding set the tone of Maddy’s dreary small town life in Texas by designing the girl’s room with soiled floral wallpaper that is missing large portions of the paper exposing the dirty wall underneath in some places and barely hanging in others.
While decorating the sets for the scenes in the film drew on Ding’s creative side, she was also tasked with designing a break away floor and ceiling for a scene where one of the characters, and we won’t spoil it by telling you who, falls through the second floor bedroom into the living room ultimately hanging themself to death. This aspect of the production required Ding to factor in multiple variables in order to get the best shot, as well as logistics concerning how to keep the production schedule on track and continue shooting after the floor breaks.
“There were many different ways to approach this, but I wanted to give the director and the cinematographer the best option to shoot this,” explained Ding. “We built the whole living room with a breakaway ceiling and a hallway with a staircase, and a bedroom with breakaway floor on a platform. We had to build a separate puzzle breakaway floor piece so that it could be replaced with the real wood piece when we were doing the stunt.”
Nominated for seven awards at film festivals around the country, Slut won the Best Cinematography Award at the HollyShorts Film Festival, the Jury Prize at the Las Vegas International Film Festival, the Audience Award at the Atlanta Film Festival, the Festival Trophy Award from Screamfest, the Bunny Award from the Boston Underground Film Festival, as well as an award from the Sun Valley Film Festival.
Ding, who recently wrapped production as the art director on the upcoming comedy series Chasing The Dream, has propelled herself to a place in the industry that takes most people decades to get reach, and she continues to impress us with every new project she takes on.
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