Tag Archives: Production Design

Production Designer and Art Director Katsuya Imai brings life to ‘The Next Generation Patlabor’

Patlabor2_by Eri Kobiki
Katsuya Imai on the set of The Next Generation Patlabor

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.

Patlabor3_by Hitoshi Ohta
Katsuya Imai on the set of The Next Generation Patlabor

“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.


Production Designer Shuhe Wang contributes to the delightful horror of ‘Inside Linda Vista Hospital’

Making something from nothing is what all filmmakers achieve every day. They are creators, they are storytellers, and they are artists. Shuhe Wang knows this well. She takes the pages of a script and transforms them into sets. She creates a visual world, turning each nothing, such as a meaningless prop, into something, creating a masterpiece. She is a one-of-a-kind production designer.

While working on films such as Stay, Dancing for You, Red String, and Cartoon Book, audiences were given the opportunity to see Wang’s ability to transform a drama into a completely immersive experience, making it evident why she is considered one of the best. However, this past year, Wang has brought her extraordinary talent to a new genre: horror. Working on the film Inside Linda Vista Hospital, Wang’s production design skills were on full-display, helping to fully immerse audiences in the terrifying story.

“This is a classic horror style film, so I focused more on how to show and even amplify the emotion and tense by color, texture and overall set dressing. Even each small prop can be an important storytelling step. That quite an adventure for production designer,” said Wang.

Inside Linda Vista Hospital tells the story of a young girl who wakes up in a hospital surrounded by police covered in the blood of her boyfriend. With the help of a video camera, she slowly pieces together what happened, and she may not like what she finds.

“Horror stories are connected with our real lives, but with different point of view. I needed to find and create the elements to scare the audience and keep the emotion of the storyline in the right place, and at the same time the elements should make sense in the world.
Color and tone are always the most important parts in designing a horror story. Even a tiny subtle difference would affect the whole feeling of the set,” said Wang.

The film has gone one to do exceptionally well at some of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. It was an Official Selection at the Festival de Cannes Short Film Corner and the Pasadena International Film Festival, it won Best Director and Best Horror at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, Best Editing at the United International Film Festival, and Film of the Year at the AFMA Film Festival of Young Cinema 2017.

“Horror story is always a popular style, but there are a bunch of these type of films that are terrible when it comes to actual storytelling, that is what divides a good horror film from a bad one. This film is a good one because it shows a tense, strong and simple story, which perfectly matches the horror genre, so I think the film totally deserves all those awards,” said Wang.

The production design directly contributed to the film’s success. She had to design in accordance to many special effects and stunt work, and the film is set in a true historical building, and the cultural importance of this influences the story in an important way. To make the set highlight this, she researched and applied this to her work.

“It was a dramatic and kind of emotional showing story. I watched a lot of classic experimental and psychology films to get more inspiration and insight into how to let the audience feel the inner world through the production design,” said Wang.

This commitment to both the genre and the film impressed all that worked alongside Wang on Inside Linda Vista Hospital. The director, Jun Xia, knew no one else could do the job but her.

Working with Shuhe was a great experience, she was familiar with each of the details of the whole story, and her plan for working was effective for the shooting process. Shuhe is sensitive with color and designing, and she knows how to create and decide the correct textile and color to present the emotion. That is actually a really important part of the horror genre,” said Xia.

Xia approached Wang to work on his film, knowing he needed the best to make the film the success that it eventually became. When he sent Wang the reference of the visual style, so knew she wanted to take part in the project, as it was quite similar to the style she always loves.

“I felt confident and interested in designing this film after talking about the film and the story. Jun is a talented horror film director, he is always enthusiastic, and he is really insistent on what he wants which is good for making a great film,” Wang said. “What I really liked was how I could see how the set dressing worked so well when the lights and performance came together. It makes the visual complete and seemed like we accomplish the original idea of the director.”

There are many nuances to production design that are easy to get lost in the big picture of a film, but with Wang as the designer, audiences are sure to take in each and every part of it.

Production Designer Andrea Leigh essential to award-winning video for Thugli’s “Sic Em”

Production Designer Andrea Leigh

Andrea Leigh is not just a production designer. She is an artist. She is a creator. She produces a specific world, completely designed with the goal of portraying a message, or developing a character, or evoking a feeling in an audience member that no human being on the screen saying their lines could. Being able to do that through her work gives meaning to every job she works on, and she is outstanding at it.

Working on several award-winning and celebrated projects, such as the film Friends Like Us and the web series Whatever Linda, audiences and critics at the world’s most prestigious film festivals have appreciated Leigh’s work. She also has worked on many celebrated commercials, including the award-winning Prickly for Scotts Weed B Gone, the viral E.L.F. Play Beautifully advertisement, and the insanely popular 2015 Teleflora Mother’s Day campaign that received international media attention and 11 million YouTube hits. However, Leigh’s success does not end there. She has also worked on some captivating music videos, including Downtown for the Juno award-winning rock band The Sheepdogs, as well at the Thugli music video Sic Em.

“The guys of Thugli were great. They loved the director Amos LeBlanc’s vision and loved how we brought all their ideas to life,” said Leigh.

Amos LeBlanc has directed a controversial video that was widely successful, and he had won “Best Video of the Year” the previous Much Music Video Awards (MMVA). The tone of the Sic Em video was dark and thoughtful, and this made Leigh want to work on it.

“It was great working with the director Amos Leblanc, he had a very clear aesthetic image that he wanted to portray, clean, modern, dramatic skyline, lots of smoke and special effects. He was always interested in hearing what kind of changes I thought we could make art direction wise. It’s nice to have your creative vision valued when shooting something so specific and thoughtful,” said Leigh.

Music videos are usually long days packed with many shots and not enough time, but this was a two-day shoot that Leigh used to her full advantage, and had the time to do exactly what she wanted. That also meant they had that magic hour lighting two days in a row, something she describes as quite spectacular.

“That’s one of my favorite shots in the video, where the guys are all standing in single file formation with the magic hour sky behind them,” Leigh described. “The cast was a blast to work with. It was a night shoot so naturally things can get a little silly when everyone’s trying their best to stay awake. Lots of jokes, lots of laughs. It always helps on a long shoot when the cast and crew hit it off.”

With the help of Leigh’s eye for production design, the video went on to win the Much Music Video Award for “Best Dance Video.” The music video also earned over 75,000 views on YouTube, sparking widespread popularity among fans and critics. Leigh says she feels like they really accomplished something with the video, and the producer Geoff MacLean says it wouldn’t have been possible without her help. MacLean is a very respected and accomplished Executive Producer. Vision productions is an iconic production company that has produced work for several internationally renowned artists, such as Prince, Rihanna, Drake, The Weeknd, Calvin Harris and countless more.

“The music video is, thanks to Andrea, a fascinating visual production which instantly captures the attention of the viewer. She coordinated closely with the director, the choreographer, and other experienced creatives on set to determine the placement of the props, and the organization of the set. While the entire production is a visual achievement thanks to Andrea, specifically her work arranging the set for the dancers, as well as the props and décor for that segment gave the music video its down to earth and ‘back to the basics’ feel, which was the goal of the client. I credit a great deal of the video’s success to Andrea’s leading role, and attribute her with much of the music video’s all around commercial success and critical acclaim,” said Geoff MacLean.

“Andrea’s achievements throughout her career are reflective of top performing production designers and art directors in her field. The success of her productions is indicative of this fact, to be sure,” MacLean added.

Watch the Thugli Sic Em music video here.

From Hundreds of Commercials to Hit Films, Production Designer Hank Mann Sets the Tone

Established production designer Hank Mann has seen, and created it all. From designing over 200 commercials, including his famous Go Daddy ad with Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mann has also created the setting and tone for Sarah McLachlan’s Ordinary Miracle and Nickleback’s How Your Remind Me music videos, constructed sets from scratch while collaborating with the art department, as well as managed film crews and budgets on feature films, all simply to create the director’s vision.

“Every job has its own unique structure that is revealed as soon as I read the treatment and script,” says Mann on his beginning stages of design.

His passion to work in film started at age 5, when Mann impressively created Super 8 stop-motion movies. The urge to work in film and design never left him, as he studied Film Theory and Sociology/ Communications at Queens University.

Mann worked various other crew jobs before landing his first major production design job on a global Ford Mondeo commercial starring David Duchovny (The X- Files, Californication), which carries a Twin Peaks / X-Files like surrounding and tone.

After designing commercials for McDonald’s, Burger King, Nike, Best Buy, Audi, Subaru, Toyota, Advil, TBS, Nickelodeon, Fisher Price, just to name a few, Mann decided to go back to working on films.

Mann prefers working in the realm of film and television because “in the process of production designing I really get into the characters – their history, their successes, their faults, their stories. Film and TV allow for a complete submersion into a character’s life.”

And by doing so, the audience can visually comprehend the depth, and perspective, of a particular character and their setting.

In 2008’s Kill Kill Faster Faster, Mann’s first feature film as a production designer, spectators can clearly establish the film’s gritty, suspenseful tone and enticing nature of each character and their drive in the narrative.

Produced and directed by Gareth Maxwell Roberts (The Mortician, Writer’s Retreat), Kill Kill Faster Faster focuses on an incarcerated man named Joey One-Way, played by Gil Bellows (Alley McBeal, The Shawshank Redemption). Joey is paroled from prison after receiving an offer from a producer named Markie, played by Esai Morales (La Bamba, NYPD Blue), for a script Joey wrote behind bars. However, Markie is in over his head when Joey has an affair with Markie’s girlfriend.

For this particular film, Mann established a color scheme for the characters, not only to support the storyline of the script but to work within the budget of the film. “I chose to put a lot of initial resources into establishing a colour hue for each character so that regardless of how little money we had, at minimum there was a common tone the creatives could all work towards.”

The film garnered two wins in 2008 for Best International Feature at London Independent Film Festival (LIFF), as well as Best Editing at the HD Film Festival.

In 2010, Mann worked on the action-drama film Repeaters. The film starred Amanda Crew (Silicon Valley, Charlie St. Cloud), and Dustin Milligan (90210, Silicon Valley). Directed by Carl Bessai (Sisters and Brothers, Emile), Repeaters follows three friends who are trapped in a time maze, similar to the film Groundhog Day.

At the 2011 Leo Awards, Repeaters was nominated for 10 awards and won for Best Supporting Performance by a Female in a Feature.

Mann continued to work on films in 2011 on the set of Reinout Oerlemans’ Nova Zembla, a historical Dutch drama which centers on a team of explorers who travel from the North East Passage to the Indies, while encountering rough weather conditions.

The film was shot on location in Iceland, Belgium and Canada, where Mann created a slew of captivating sets.

“My initial approach was to research as much as possible, visiting real locations and reviewing online sources and then extracting the most interesting and iconic bits to then combine into our stage set builds,” says Mann.

Like his other two films, Nova Zembla received recognition and was nominated for two Rembrandt Awards and received a Golden and Platin Film Award.

This past year, Mann recently wrapped up commercials for Nissan and PetCo, as well as a six screen art installation he worked on and collaborated with Oscar winning director Denys Arcand (Barbarian Invasions), and installation artist Adad Hannah. The piece is entitled The Burghers of Vancouver, and was inspired by Rodin’s The Burgher’s of Calis.

The installation premiered in Paris earlier this year and ran from February to May at the Montreal Museum of Art.

From Film to Fashion, Production Designer Claudia Simoes Sets the Tone

Born in White Rock, Canada, a small town just outside of Vancouver, production designer Claudia Simoes has used art across various mediums as a means of communication for as long as she can remember.

As a child, Simoes excelled as a painter, dancer and photographer; but if you had asked her at that time what she wanted to do in terms of a career, her answer would have vacillated between the various art forms she loved. In reality, none of them singularly held the potential to encompass all of her talents.

“I changed my mind so much as a kid I was kind of all over the place, I had wanted to be a dancer for a really long time I even thought of opening my own dance studio, but I was about 12 with that dream… I wanted to be a painter at one point – I had a crazy obsession with Frida Kahlo in high school,” says Simoes. “Everything that I had said I wanted to be always had something to do with art and entertainment.”

It wasn’t until Simoes attended the prestigious Vancouver Film School for visual art & design that the young creative found a funnel for all of her diverse talents through production design.

About discovering the career she was clearly destined for, Simoes explains, “It was a great feeling, I got insanely lucky to be able to find a career that combines everything I love, not everyone gets to experience that.”

One of Simoes’ first professional projects in the industry was the music video for Mackenzie Porter’s debut single “I Wish I’d Known.” As an integral contributor to the set and production design of the video, Simoes used her artistry to create a shabby chic look within an old warehouse that perfectly accompanied the sweet country style of the song.

After working with Simoes on the music video for “I Wish I’d Known,” production designer Caitlin Byrnes enlisted the young genius’s contributions on the feature film Preggoland.

Preggoland, which was released last year, starred Oscar nominated actor James Caan (The Godfather, Las Vegas, Elf, Middle Men, Get Smart) and multi-award winning actress Sonja Bennett (YPF, Random Acts of Romance, Stained, Rise of the Planet of the Apes).

The winner of the Best Screenplay Award at the Fargo Film Festival, the Best Film Award from the Omaha Film Festival and the Most Popular Canadian Film Award from the Vancouver International Film Festival, Preggoland followed Ruth (Sonja Bennett), an unwed and childless 35-year-old who fakes a pregnancy in order to fit in with her friends.

Early on in her career Simoes wrote, directed, produced and production designed the film Always Midnight. A beautifully shot black and white silent film, Always Midnight revolved around an abusive relationship brought on by drug addiction.

“It was very dark,” recalled Simoes. “I knew I had to have very strong production design for this film because there was no dialogue, so I did a lot of research on what props would stand out in black and white.”

In 2013 Simoes wrote, directed, edited and production designed the film Sh*t Winos Say for the Vinos Film Festival in Whistler, British Columbia. Yet another testament to her talents as a filmmaker and production designer, the film was chosen as one of the top eight out of over 300 submissions; and it went on to receive astonishing praise as one of the few films selected to screen at the festival.

As a filmmaker, Claudia Simoes knows exactly what it takes to get a story across visually, a facet of her skillset that has made her an integral contributor as a production designer on a wide range of projects. What sets Simoes apart from other production designers working in film and fashion is her vast knowledge of lighting and overall design, and how the two blend together to create a desired mood on film.

Having worked as a professional photographer in the past, her expertise in lighting has been a rare asset to all of the productions she has worked on. Simoes even led several lighting workshops while in Vancouver over the last few years.

As the production designer on Ruby Starling’s video “27 Club,” her work garnered international attention last year when the video was featured on Black Magazine’s BLK TV. What’s more—she even designed the shirts featured in the video!