Tag Archives: Production designer

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”

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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.

The Art Department’s Leading Lady, Yihong Ding

Yihong Ding
Production Designer and Art Director Yihong Ding

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.