“There are few films that show how much the art department pays attention to details. In the film Room, the art department team studied the sun’s movement and bleached the part of the wall where the sunlight comes through the shed’s skylight and hits. They believed most of the objects inside the room should have some sort of stories because the five-year-old main character personifies every object. In Danish Girl, the set starts with the gloomy grey bedroom in Copenhagen where the main character couldn’t find his real identity, and then it shifts to a colorful room with beautiful floral pattern wall and Art Nouveau style architecture in Paris where he finds his real identity as a woman and starts blooming. I love art directors who are storytellers, who transfer the words into imagery by conceptualizing, using imagination, and creating the mood with emotion, style, and feeling,” said Young.
When Ji Young Lee talks about what it is to be an art director, one immediately understands that this is someone who not only loves what they do, but someone who appreciates every intricacy of their craft so fully that their passion and commitment are unrivaled. Young wanted to be an art director because she wanted to create a world that affects people who are watching the film; she thought it was fascinating that she could make the background world that helps people believe the story, whether it is real or fantasy. This is exactly what she does, and this vision is evident on every film that features her name in its credits. Director Ryan Betshart says without Young, he would not have the success he does today.
“Ji was my art director for two projects, the first being Paper Chase, a music video that has played Ann Arbor Film festival, which was a highlight of my career. Ji did so well and was so exciting and thoughtful to work with that I hired her for my next short film The Sacred Mushroom Edition,” said Betshart. “Working with Ji helped my career so much so that I intend on hiring her again on all my future projects. Her attention to detail is second to none – no one has an eye for set design like her – meticulous yet on budget and fast, a true professional. Her communication with the other departments, as well as with her own crew is clear and effective in ways I have rarely seen on set. Things get done, and so quickly and quietly one would think magic was being used to make everything perfect. Does this make Ji a magician? Does she have magical powers like a sorcerer? I’d say yes. Everyone on set respects her. The actors love her. She is the first to show up and the last to leave. I wish I had met her sooner, my previous films would all have done much better!”
Such accolades, although flattering, are not what keeps Young going. For her, it is all about her work. The Sacred Mushroom Edition is at the beginning of its festival route, and has already seen tremendous success. It premiered at Portland Underground Film Festival on April 9, followed by the prestigious Mammoth Lakes Film Festival on May 25, the Moviate Underground Film Festival in Pennsylvania on May 28, and internationally at Winnipeg Underground Film Festival in Canada on June 1. None of this could have been possible without Young’s artistic eye, and yet, she remains humble.
“It feels very surreal and exciting to have the film be doing so well. I don’t know much about experimental films, so I had no idea what kind of films our film was going to get chosen with for the festival. I’m just very glad that now I got some experiences in experimental film, which was the world that I never got to explore before and got these great festival opportunities by working with my great friends,” said Young.
The Sacred Mushroom Edition is an ode to the 1978 version of Kenneth Anger’s film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and its peculiar use of Electric Light Orchestra’s album ‘El Dorado’ over images of a ritual orgy between gods. The Sacred Mushroom Edition finds two fallen angels arguing over ELO and their lead singer Jeff Lynne’s affiliated super group The Traveling Wilburys – and his connection to the dark side.
“I watched the original film and loved how stylized the set design was. It was visually stunning and very artistic. Most of the films I’ve worked on wanted the art department team to stick to what’s exactly written in the script in terms of creating the set, but Ryan loved to hear about team members’ interpretation on the script and discuss with them which sometimes led to something unexpected. This film helped me to use more imagination and understand sometimes the filmmaking is less about form or content than it is about context,” said Young.
Although Paper Chase was a music video that focused on more digital manipulation of the video with a minimum set, The Sacred Mushroom Edition was the exact opposite. The film required two different sets, with strong contrasts between the two. The film starts in a backyard, and then it transitions into a darkroom. For the backyard, Young made some colorful choices for the set dressing, because she wanted to create brightness and lightness. For the dark room, she wanted to create some intimate, gruesome and cluttered environment, and therefore put different materials and furniture that had great textures for the set dressing.
“As this film is an experimental film, what it says is very abstract and poetic. The good part is it’s very artistic and unique film, but it could be difficult to understand for the audiences who used to watch the traditional narrative films. Therefore, my job was to provide some sort of device that would allow the audience to connect themselves with the film, so they don’t feel total alienation,” said Young.
There is little doubt as to why Young is considered one of Korea’s best recent art directors, and even less doubt that we will continue to see her name attached to many high-profile l films for years to come.
Art Director/Motion Graphics Designer Ilya Tselyutin specializes in a field of media technology so advanced that it almost seems he’s straddling a unique cusp between day to day creative facts and out of this world science fiction. Already recognized as a master in his field—a fast moving discipline that combines graphic design and animation in motion picture title sequences and television commercials—Tselyutin also excels in the exotic field of spatial augmented reality.
“This is also known as projection mapping, video mapping and 3D mapping,” Tselyutin said. “One of the earliest public displays of projections onto 3D objects was Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride back in 1969, but it wasn’t until the early 2000’s, when more advanced tools and software became available, that artists began using projection mapping in artwork.”
“It is a special technology used to display moving objects on various surface as a video projection, so, for instance, an entire building can be turned into a multimedia installation and become a part of a compelling story.”
The California based Tselyutin’s singular palette of skills, both as a creative artist and technical innovator, made him particularly well suited to explore this territory, a long-standing interest which he first he became involved with as a university student back in his native Russia. His fascination with 3D graphics, animation and design coincided with formal training in computer science and provided an ideal confluence for opportunity when the technology first arrived in the country in 2009.
“I was working at Channel One Russia as a broadcast designer,” Tselyutin said. “I was constantly exploring other areas of 3D motion graphics and the ways it can be implemented. And when I heard the Radugadesign agency was looking for 3D professionals to work on something that was quite new and challenging I was eager to try it.”
The Moscow agency was the perfect new professional home for the talented, ambitious Tselyutin, and he quickly distinguished himself in the vital new field. “I saw great potential in this and left my job at the TV channel to focus solely on 3D mapping and augmented reality,” he said. “And 3D mapping technology was unheard of in Russia when we created the first car projection show for Audi in the country.”
Created for the 2011 Audi Car Design Awards the spot featured graphics that changed the colors and tires of a 3D car model and established Tselyutin as a fast-rising 3D sensation (see it here). “I took part in all of the 3D mapping projects while working at Radugadesign,” Tselyutin said. “We worked on commercial projection shows for such clients as Audi, Samsung, some national mobile operators and many others.”
Tselyutin’s dedication and groundbreaking achievements benefitted everyone involved. “Working with Ilya was always a very pleasant experience,” Ivan Nefedkin, Radugadesign founder-CEO, said. “He was one of very few professionals in Russia who completely understood the specifics of 3D augmented reality. There was no really a university degree for what we did, so there were only a few people who could do the job. He always went extra mile to support our team by overtaking the hardest tasks to make sure the project is delivered on time—on the Audi projection show, he would stay up working all night. Ilya played a critical role in establishing Radugadesign as one of the country’s leading media agencies.”
Tselyutin’s professional reputation as an innovator and visionary quickly spread throughout the international media world. “Right after we produced that first car projection show, many agencies in Russia and abroad started implementing the same technology,” Tselyutin said. “I was invited to produce a projection show by the National Institute of Technology Kartanaka, Mangalore, India, who were quite impressed by what we were doing in Russia. I began receiving many offers from all over the world, and decided to move abroad.”
Currently residing in Hollywood, where he serves as Art Director/Motion Graphics Designer at the prestigious Trioka agency, Tselyutin is still breaking new ground, always expanding and elevating his technique. “Working on those challenging projects helped me master a great variety of new skills,” he said. “The most important knowledge I gained was learning how to successfully generate dynamic visual effects on static footage for a completely immersive effect. This proved to be very useful later on in my career,
Taken with an already impressive roster of achievements, the influential Tselyutin’s future potential is limitless.
“Ilya has a unique set of skills,” Nefedkin said. “From the advanced technical knowledge he acquired studying computer programming to his outstanding graphic design skills—he always came up with new creative ideas, challenged himself and the whole team, and pushed the boundaries of what was possible. Our clients loved it. He never ceased to amaze us with his both creative mindset and perfect technical execution.”
Diego “Couts” Coutinho did not always know he would eventually be considered a top art director and motion graphics designer in his country. He started working at the age of eleven, fixing cars. A year later, he began working in a chair factory. During his time there, he learned what hard work really was, and what it meant to succeed. At the age of 20, he went to school to study graphic design. He was the first in his family to go university.
Despite his humble beginnings, Coutinho quickly became one to watch. He has been recognized worldwide for his talents, winning awards and festival selections. Yet, even with all he has achieved, for him it is still about doing what he loves.
“The art director is one of the people in charge of the project, so if it goes wrong, it’s your responsibility, but if that’s okay you’ll get your laurels too. In this position, beyond the possibility of having more space to act, I feel very stimulated with the possibilities to explore my own ideas and solutions for the project,” said Coutinho.
Coutinho’s success continued when he worked on the film Wish You Were Here? to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the famous D&AD Awards for design and advertising. Design and Art Direction (D&AD, formerly known as British Design & Art Direction) is a British educational charity which exists to promote excellence in design and advertising. Widely considered one of the most prestigious and difficult-to-win awards in design and advertising, D&AD celebrates the finest creativity each year across a diverse range of disciplines.
“It’s a dream to be part of the 50th anniversary of such an important festival and to play with such groundbreaking pieces of art direction and advertising. So, for a festival of such importance like D&AD to give us the opportunity to promote next year’s awards is fantastic,” said Coutinho.
The spot summarizes the five decades of the awards in a creative and unusual way, recalling memorable pieces of design and advertising that won the coveted pencil-shaped trophies. The over 20 references Coutinho’s team picked from the immense D&AD archives were reinterpreted, using various techniques like 2D and 3D animation, stop-motion, live-action and puppetry, all the while swapping characters and narratives between the ads. The resulting fragments were sequenced in a free-associative way, with elements from a scene “trespassing” onto the next creating a flowing, surrealistic narrative that reflects the ambiguous, unpredictable nature of memory.
“It was great to work with such creative freedom. Of all the work I usually do, this one was like the ‘cherry on top’ because of the creative freedom we had and all the extra fun we had along the way,” said Coutinho.
Wish You Were Here? went on to win multiple awards, including one from D&AD itself, the Wood Pencil for Branded Film Content & Entertainment online. It also won the Silver for Visual Language and Graphics at the Cannes Lions, the Gold for Title Sequence at Ciclope 2015, the Bronze in Motion Graphics at LIA, and the 2015 Merit Award for Broadcast & Moving Image/Animation at One Show.
“I like the touch of mood that is important for the pacing of the film. I believe that it is fun for people in the field, who know the history of design and advertising, to try to identify all the references,” described Coutinho. “And receiving awards in many festivals for this project was an honor and a privilege.”
In this movie, Coutinho worked on the creative team, responsible for creating what would happen in the film. The storyline connects one commercial into another, and he had to think about how to merge two or three commercials in just one shot. After this, he created motion graphics and designed the posters of the movie.
“We began exploring ideas and concepts of what could turn out to be the film. After many suggestions, we got the proposal that summarizes, in a creative and unusual way, five decades of the Awards, all the while recalling memorable pieces of design and advertising that won the coveted pencil shaped trophies, mixing the commercials in a not your typical look-back piece, however,” he described. “The biggest challenge was to implement the concept of ‘let’s put mixed commercials in one spot’. The answer was gradually emerging based on associations, sometimes associations between elements in each commercial, sometimes in action or even free associations.”
The result is not a movie to be viewed from the perspective of the common market, in which technical elements as a clear identity, typesetting, and color work clearly permeate throughout the video, according to Coutinho.
“The final product asks for a moment of questioning about what is happening in the video, a fact that is obvious when we pay attention to the way how the track was built,” he said.
To create the posters, Coutinho used the same logic that was used to create the movie. He picked over some references from the D&AD archives and reinterpreted them in a fresh new way. The result of the posters come from mixing references of the Wish You Were Here? campaign, and other posters that were awarded in D&AD in the past. He used some materials that had been used in the creation of the short, and kept the references consistent with the identity of the campaign.
“Highly motivated, Diego has an amazing professional attitude that always brings a huge production value to any project he is involved,” said Diogo Kalil, a motion designer and 3D animator on the project.
You can view Coutinho’s work on the posters here, or check out the full video here.
With a dazzling visual style, an acute eye for design and a keen ability to overcome unexpected challenges, animator-art director Angela Yu’s boundless technical capacity and artistic creativity are remarkable. Moreover, she has an innate knack for approaching projects with a transformative originality that frequently redefines and improves upon the initially proposed concept.
Yu’s spent her entire life preparing for this, going all the way back to her childhood in Bejing, China. Yu became fascinated by comics, anime and manga books at an early age, covertly defying her parents’ strict bedtime rule to read them by flashlight under her blanket. “I always loved to draw and became obsessed with beautiful things and I wanted to know how to create things like that,” Yu said. “Manga books were my earliest inspiration for drawing—I’d doodle the characters all over my text books. I also loved watching animation, especially Japanese anime—“Dragon Ball” and “Sailor Moon.” I still watch anime these days, such as “One Piece.”
“I grew up in a very traditional family in China, and though I dreamed of being a Manga artist or animator as a kid, I never thought I’d have a chance to do it in reality—because for all my life I had made decisions based on whether or not they would impress my parents,” Yu said. “But when I was 22, I came to America and was studying at Michigan State University, just as my parents planned. This gave me a chance to view my culture from a distance, with a different perspective, and it gave me the space to think independently and the courage to pursue what I really wanted for my own life.”
Once that decision was made, Yu, with an MA in advertising from MSU, did not hesitate. “I studied Motion Graphic Design at the Ex’pression College for Digital Arts. Since I graduated, I’ve worked at studios and agencies such as Goodby Silverstein and Partners, Oddfellows, First person. And I worked on projects for clients like Google, Yahoo, Cisco, Comcase, NBA, Motorola, GE, Adobe.”
“I love telling stories carrying a message that matters to people. It needs to be meaningful. It can be either an artistic short film or a commercial project. As long as I feel what I am creating has a purpose, I find it fulfilling,” Yu said. “It’s all about how strongly I believe in the message I work on, even on a branding video for a digital product. If I believe the message in the video will make a difference to the brand, to people who work for the brand, then I enjoy what I am doing.”
Once Yu brings her talent to bear, the results are impressive. The ability to enhance and elevate has been a hallmark of her career; if Yu is brought in to consult, she’ll envision something that takes the entire project to a higher level; when Yu finishes a task, it often assumes a life of its own, garnering more notice and appreciation than anyone expected, whether a promotional film or a rock music video.
As Dorry Levine, Digital Media Strategist at ReThink Media, describes her: “Angela was easy to work with, very accessible, met every deadline, was flexible with our ever-changing requests, and turned out a phenomenal project that people are still talking about. The video she animated for us was even covered by the New York Times. I’d work with her again in a heartbeat!”
Yu’s artistic vision is a marvel in its own right. Her gorgeous animated short, “This is California,” is a perfect example of the animator’s rich aesthetic. With stunning visual design and flawless animation, it depicts some of the Golden State’s most iconic spots in an arresting, irresistible form that earned Yu the Best Animation award for 2015 at the IndieFEST Film Festival.
Yu’s already impressive roster of successful jobs with some of the world’s biggest companies underscores both her illimitable potential and singular gift for expanding the parameters of any design or animation undertaking. “Angela is the type of person that makes the seasoned artist step up their game, while also reminding everyone what that fire looked like when they first started,” said Mike Landry, Creative Director at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.
Most importantly, Yu loves what she does: “I see animation as music written in pixels. I don’t play music very well, but I am fortunate to find animation as the medium to express my creativity,” Yu said. “To this day today, I still enjoy spending the whole afternoon nerding out a motion curve in the graphic editor. It is a very ‘zen’ feeling. I enjoy my craft, and I never stop creating original content. I want to keep developing myself as a better animator and designer.”
The accomplished art director, M. Cagri Kara, has established himself as a valuable talent in the advertising industry, and is known for his brilliant, visually stunning work with brands such as Audi, Lamborghini, Frito-Lay, FOX Television, Yamaha and Coca-Cola.
Kara’s art direction was on full impressive display with an ad campaign celebrating the Coca-Cola Company’s 50th Anniversary in Turkey.
The campaign advertised the global beverage corporation, which was founded in Georgia in 1892, and was aimed at representing the special Turkish way of optimism. The prints changed the spelling and logotype of the iconic soft drink to Koka-Kola to befit the brand’s pronunciation and spelling to Turkey’s vernacular.
The campaign’s theme encompasses security, positive tolerance and the healthy concept of living in the moment opposed to remaining stuck in the past. The ideas of optimism were linked with the Cocoa-Cola philosophy of promoting happiness, and ultimately reached the targeted Turkish audience with great success.
“The campaign’s message was clear. I didn’t want to use too many graphic elements for the print version, or in the television commercial,” said Kara. “Instead, we opted to use optimistic Turkish words that were positive, clear and strong, as in the word ‘mutluluk,’ which means ‘happiness’ in Turkish.”
KARPAT, a leading independent advertising agency in Istanbul, produced the campaign. KARPAT’s Creative Chairman, Karpat Polat, said, “Cagri was undeniably a lead contributor to the success of our company and in particular, the Coca-Cola 50th Anniversary commercial campaign.”
Prior to hiring Kara at KARPAT, the pair worked together at DDB&Co. Istanbul Group, where Polat served as President and Chief Creative Officer, and Kara, as an art director.
“From the inception of the Coca-Cola project to its completion, he [Kara] was fully attentive and engaged throughout the process, producing fantastic results day after day that led the campaign to wide acclaim and roaring success,” Polat stated.
The Coca-Cola advertisements were shown on live TV and spanned billboards, bus shelter ads and print ads featured in many magazines, each emphasizing Coca-Cola’s trademark and their stand-out color, red.
“Coca-Cola’s red is already a pretty strong reminder for the brand,” Kara said. “Because of method, our point became very clear. Instead of being overly descriptive, we only used Coca-Cola’s iconic red, their very recognizable cans with the letter ‘K,’ and the positive, optimistic words to work for us. In this case, less was very much more.”
Kara’s work on the Coca-Cola 50th Anniversary campaign was immediately well received, earning him the distinguished 2014 Crystal Apple Award for Best Integrated Campaign for his work.
Regarding this achievement, Polat explained, “This is an enormous honor, even for an art director of Cagri’s caliber. I can positively state that we could never have achieved this without his leading expertise and creative vision.”
In addition to Kara’s success with the Coca-Cola campaign, the prestigious art director has also been awarded a Crystal Apple Award for Most Creative Social Media Campaign for his work with the cosmetic brand Polisan, and the Cannes Lions Bronze Award from Finansbank’s “Evolution,” a 2013 Cannes Finalist.
“As his multitude of impressive credits clearly indicates, M. Cagri Kara is among the most sought after and prolific art directors working today. His aptitude for visual design and aesthetics is second to none, and his instincts for delivering the best work possible for a given project position him as a formidable talent nationally and internationally,” Polat said.
No matter how skilled the cast and director are, how polished the script is or how astronomical the budget may be, a film will never reach its full potential without an art director capable of bringing its visual essence to life. Haisu Wang has dedicated years to becoming one of the best in the industry, and has an incredible list of credits under his belt earned while working at some of the most prestigious firms in the world.
Wang, while in China, was an integral part of the Emmy award-winning BASE-FX visual effects production company. BASE-FX has worked with every major studio in the U.S. to produce some of the most stunning and revolutionary CGI effects in 21st century film and television. Wang worked on two of the three projects for which BASE-FX earned Emmy wins. The first was HBO’s gripping World War II series The Pacific, produced by Academy Award winners Tom Hanks (Best Actor – Forrest Gump, Philadelphia) and Steven Spielberg (Best Director – Saving Private Ryan, Best Picture – Schindler’s List). The Pacific won eight Primetime Emmys; the effects work done by Wang and the BASE-FX team was recognized with the 2010 Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Television Miniseries.
The second, Boardwalk Empire, is the critically-acclaimed HBO crime drama starring Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Reservoir Dogs, The Big Lebowski). Boardwalk Empire was nominated for 57 Primetime Emmys and won a total of 20 in an array of categories between 2011 and 2015. For its visual production work on the series, BASE-FX won the 2011 Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Television Series.
After two immensely successful years at BASE-FX, Wang moved to Los Angeles and was accepted into the prestigious Production Design program at the world renowned American Film Institute. It was there that he further honed his already sharp talent for visual production and established his reputation as an extraordinary art director.
In 2014, he was the art director for two films – Contrapelo and Day One – which were both honored with a long list of accolades and critical praise. Both Contrapelo and Day One also caught the attention of Academy Awards judges and were on the top-10 shortlist of nominees for the 2015 Best Live Action Short Film award.
Thanks in no small part to Wang’s position as art director, Contrapelo has taken the festival circuit by storm. It won the Phoenix Film Festival’s award for Best Live Action Short Film and was nominated for Best Overall Short Film at both the Calgary International and Oldenburg Film Festivals. At its core, Contrapelo is a philosophical film about the gray areas of morality. When he discovers that the man in his chair is a cartel boss, a Mexican barber grapples with his desire and opportunity to kill the vile man responsible for innumerable deaths and heinous crimes.
“Because the story is set in a small town in Mexico in the 1990s, the main challenge was recreating the Mexican barbershop interior and the abandoned travel agent office – the hideout used by the leader of the drug cartel – in a soundstage in L.A.,” Wang said. “My personal challenge was designing these two main sets in a short amount of time, and also quickly gathering a really effective construction team to build them in one-and-a-half weeks.”
With his extensive 3D computer design skills, Wang was quickly able to create a digital mock-up of the sets. This enabled the director to visualize blocking and plan shots in earnest, and allowed the crew to prepare camera and rigging placements to meet those demands. Construction crews used Wang’s designs to begin building the sets while all of the planning was being done simultaneously using the same shared computer layouts. Rather than having to wait until the sets were completed, Wang’s quick thinking shaved weeks off of the tight production schedule.
Day One, the emotional true story of an American interpreter in Afghanistan, was also a top-10 Academy Award contender for Best Live Action Short Film. Though the film was set in the Afghan desert, it was filmed in the desert outside Los Angeles. The terrain proved a significant hurdle for the production, but once again Wang was able to apply his high-tech know-how to navigate the situation with ease.
“One of the main challenges of this set build was the uneven ground condition in the desert,” Wang said, describing another instance where his technical expertise proved essential to a production’s success. “I was able to use my digital skills to analyze the topography of the desert location, and I created a 3D model of the real location. I then helped the designer create the set in my 3D replica model.”
A huge critical success, Day One centers around a recently divorced woman joins the military and is deployed to Afghanistan as an interpreter. On her first day in the country she encounters a terrorist bomb-maker and his wife, who has just gone into labor. Her life is forever changed when she must help the woman deliver the child. At the 2015 Academy of Television Arts and Sciences College Television Awards, Day One received Emmys for both Best Drama and Best Directing. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Los Angeles (BAFTA/LA) also awarded the film’s director, Henry Hughes, with the 2015 award for Best Director.
Hughes says, “Haisu’s vision and rare skill using digital software to create some of the most challenging sets for ‘Day One’ was invaluable to our production, especially considering the geographic challenges of the location. Without his contributions it would have been nearly impossible to construct these sets in the amount of time and within the allotted budget. He is definitely a huge asset to the film industry.”
Wang’s skill, experience and qualifications put him in the same class as many lifelong industry veterans. A person with Wang’s talent and drive is a rare and precious asset in this business, and his awe-inspiring list of credits and accolades continues to grow every day. He is a master of the craft, gifted with an instinctive ability to visualize and execute both the subtle and the overt artistic and creative nuances of a film. A film is only as good as its art director, and when a film calls for the very best Haisu Wang is will be there to surpass even the highest expectations.
Regardless of whether he’s working on a film, music video or television series, leading art director Badr Farha let’s the director’s vision for a project guide his work. The versatile nature of his creative vision compounded by his intuitive approach has allowed him to nail the mark every time.
As an art director Farha has achieved unparalleled success in the international entertainment industry garnering attention in recent years for his work on the films “A, B, C or D?,” “The Last Conversation,” “More Than Words,” “Deliver Us,” “When Negatives Collide” and many more.
It is no coincidence that practically every project that Farha has art directed to date has received coveted accolades. The film “A, B, C or D?” earned the awards for Best Short Film and Best Cinematographer at the Golden Pomegranate International Film Festival in China, in addition to being chosen as an Official Selection of the prestigious NYC Independent Film Festival and the California Independent Film Festival; and the films “More Than Words,” “Negatives Collide” and “The Last Conversation” were all shortlisted for the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.
Back in 2014 Farha leant his inimitable skill as an art director to the film “Deliver Us” directed by Laura Elisa Pérez Rebullén. The film, which followed a young activist who unites his people in a peaceful protest against their government, was included in The Cable Show’s Imagine Film Challenge hosted by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), which was juried by industry heavy weights such as Oscar Award winning producer Nick Reed and Golden Globe Award winning actor Rutger Hauer.
Farha helped create the bleak and somber tone of the film with his use of barbed wire spun across the tops of fences, sadly forgotten stuffed animals nailed to wooden posts and an abandoned baby carriage surrounded by trash on the street leading to the protestors’ meeting location; and, in the face of tough competition, “Deliver Us” proved victorious at the Imagine Film Challenge taking home the Best Film Award and a $10,000 Grand Prize.
Farha’s far reaching talent has also helped him gain traction as both an art director and production designer for music videos with some of his past work including the music video for famed EDM DJ Rusko’s hit song ‘Lytah,’ as well as the music video for Tisha Campbell Martin’s new single ‘Steel Here,’ which was released in September and already has over one million views on YouTube.
He also recently finished art directing several episodes of the new television series “Seven Years Switch,” which was purchase by the FYI network earlier this year, as well as the upcoming feature film “Goetia,” which is currently in postproduction.
To find out more about how art director Badr Farha got to where he is today, and what drives him to create the powerful work he does, make sure to check out our interview below!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
BF: I’m a Dubai based filmmaker currently residing in Los Angeles. After graduating from the American University of Beirut with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, I worked in advertising at Leo Burnett as a communications executive for 2 years handling GM communications in the Middle East.
In 2006 I decided to pursue my adolescent passion of filmmaking, a world completely unknown to me at that point. While studying, I managed to direct several independent music videos while in New York City under the Irreverence Group, LLC.
My insatiable yearning to truly understand narrative storytelling led me to pursue my masters in Los Angeles and soon after I directed “The Last conversation,” a film that was accepted into the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Right now my passions lays in other below the line areas of production, and the films “More than words,“ which I art directed, and “When Negatives collide,” which I production designed, were also shortlisted as part of the Cannes Film Festival this year.
So how did you first get into art directing and what led you to this path?
BF: During my time spent pursuing my MFA in filmmaking and in April of 2014, I was brought on board to art direct a film titled “Deliver Us,” which was created as a part of the Imagine Film Challenge, a 48 hour Film Festival that took place during The Cable Show. We won the competition and received 10,000 dollars. It was a great milestone and looking back it served me as the universe’s tiny vibration or whisper to continue on this trajectory.
Can you tell us about how you approach your project from the time you’re hired on to art direct through the time of filming?
BF: Depending on the scale and scope of the project, I am either hired as an art director and/or production designer. My process has been the same throughout my career thus far. My first question about any project I consider attaching myself to is always the same and that is to ask for a script (shooting or otherwise).
Earlier in my career and for experience sake I was never too concerned over the content that would be generated during my employment onto a project. As the years have taught me, I have a gravitational pull towards stories that come from a place of truth and those that speak to the human condition. I realize my efforts are best served if I am passionate about the story being told, more importantly, if I can find a way to relate or identify to certain characters within the story, then I am able to serve justice to the film at hand or in discussion.
After having read the script and if I find that I am able to serve the film, further discussions are typically had with the director during preproduction that would entail the director’s vision in terms of color palette, stylistic choices and references of what the movie visually communicates in terms of aesthetics. During this time I make SketchUp presentations to communicate my ideas of what construction of the sets would entail in terms of design plans, budgets and turnaround time, granted that these are pre-visualizations and are not in fact practical locations. Once approved and in parallel, set dressing and conversation with costume designers will have been spearheaded to make sure all involved stay within the scope, palette and framework of the vision of the film.
Congratulations on the films “When Negatives Collide,” “More Than Words” and “The Last Conversation” being chosen as official selections of the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, that is a huge accomplishment!! Can you tell us about your work on these films?
BF: The film “When Negatives Collide” centers on a lower class teenager whose world is turned upside down when the hidden secrets of her past suddenly resurface, and force her and her mother into a painful examination of their lives, their relationship with one another, and their mutual faith, which might heal the damages from the past.
I am extremely happy with the work I’ve done on “When Negatives Collide,” the story takes places in 3 spaces so knowing that ahead of time allowed me to fully explore and flesh out ideas I had to create the complexities of the characters and their environment. With such an emotionally loaded script, I knew the prop selection choices would be fundamental as we shot in practical locations. Moreover, discussions on color palette were extremely important and were discussed very early on for this film as it would have to remain consistent from wardrobe to props etc.
The fact that it was accepted into the 2015 Cannes Film Festival is a great milestone for the director, and I was extremely happy to be a part of the film and family of cast and crew.
The film “More Than Words” examines family, drug addiction, and the limits of love and self worth, all seen through the lens of a couples’ relationship as they face what seems to be an inevitable fate. In the story, Rachel and Nick return to their hometown in rural Colorado to greet friends and family while seeking a solution to Nick’s recent diagnosis with a rare brain disorder
As the threat of possibly dying from surgery or the condition itself loom on the horizon, Nick separates from Rachel and his mom Alli, and he begins recklessly acting out. When Alli suggests Rachel repair the past with her own family as Alli tries to work on Nick, Rachel returns to her home to discover a drug addled mother and her younger sister Bryce enabling the situation. Rachel finds her whole world crumbling around her as she tries to find the words to convince Nick to tempt fate and chance surgery to correct his life threatening disorder.
The director wrote the script so I knew it came from a personal space and time in his life. I was extremely excited to work on this film primarily because we got to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico for three weeks to create the worlds in which these characters lived. The characters were fully fleshed out in the script, so I had a real sense of who they were when moving into the project. I came in with a clear sense of tone palette and set design elements, which brought the story to life.
It was fully immersive and completely isolated in terms of where we actually shot the film and the fact that there was no reception or connection to the outer world. This forced everybody to stay present during production times.
A funny story from the production was when we had to create a trailer park scene in a grimy part of town, so one of the days we went all around town scooping up garbage and waste from the local dumpsters to set the scene and bring the story full heartedly to life. The waste also comprised of food, which drew in all sorts of bugs, termites, and ants to the surface of the ground, which ended up trickling into the DP’s shorts! That was definitely not my proudest moment and a lesson well learned. Having been accepted into the Cannes Film festival is wonderful, and I’m extremely happy I got to work on such a wonderful film.
I directed and art directed the film “The Last Conversation,” which also garnered attention during this year’s Cannes Film Festival and definitely, it was a great accomplishment textually, but when I caught wind of this news I don’t remember fully enjoying the moment. I had been art directing a feature film in Northern California called “Goetia.”
It was at that point that I learned that in our field a sense of accomplishment or pride over your own accomplishments isn’t ever fully realized, because moving on from the work you’ve done is paramount. The quote “You’re only as good as your last film” rings very true, and I find a deep sense of satisfaction when I learn of a new script and when I get to work on it, once it’s done it’s done. I have to let it go, regardless of where it goes and who sees it, that bares no relevance to the present.
I remain humbled by the response to the film and the fact that it was well received.
Can you tell us about some of the other projects you’ve art directed so far?
I worked on DJ Rusko’s music video ‘Lyta,’ which I thoroughly enjoyed. Just by having read through the treatment the director’s vision was clear and I knew the execution. Even though it wasn’t story boarded or even shot listed I knew a lot would have to be thought in scene and on the day of (improv), therein lies a major risk of it being a blessing or a curse. Luckily it proved to be a blessing.
I’ve art directed 3 of Julian De La Chica’s music videos in New York City, which have gathered over 100,000 views to date. At the time of production budgets are usually next to none, so a lot of the world that I along with my team have to create end up having to be extremely resourceful and limited. With this limitation I find comes the greatest challenge and if you’re able to serve absolute justice to the projects completion, that’s the greatest satisfaction you can hope for.
I got the opportunity to art direct Tisha Campbell Martin’s music video titled “Steel Here,” which was a great experience and I am really happy with the end result. I hadn’t seen her since her days on “Martin” and this was her breakthrough moment into music. I appreciate both the music video and film worlds, but in terms of fulfillment I find total comfort and enjoyment in the process of working in film as it’s far less forgiving, which is justified simply by the fact that you have time to fully create these characters’ worlds.
Why are you passionate about working as an art director?
BF: Being entrusted to decide on what goes into a frame is a grave responsibility that not too many people understand, at least the audience at large, when they watch a great film. Art direction always suggests consistency in themeless color tones, a “natural sense of placement,” being meticulous and attention to detail. These are some of the things I’ve always noticed in myself, and I have questioned the natural timidity and yearning I had in my earlier years, but they’ve proven to be useful in creating sets and deciding on the overall creative approach.
Can you tell us about any of the challenges you’ve faced on your way to the top of the industry—or any memorable “aha” moments where you felt like “hey this is the key to success”?
BF: Sometimes in this field when I have a minute to re-charge my batteries, I often think of something someone said to me– “Your own intellect can very much work against you”– at the time I never really understood it, but I now live by that very notion, which is simple really and with time I have learned to accept it. I tend to over analyze situations and dwell in certain moments far after the moment has passed. Milan Kundera’s book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” speaks to this very notion and answers it beautifully and provided a great breakthrough moment that has gravely helped me navigate in this industry.
What have been a few of your favorite projects so far and why?
BF: Every project I work on is always my favorite because the process is always the same for me. The projects that are less volatile are the ones I tend to worry about , which typically begs further questioning.
What would you say your strongest qualities as an art director are?
BF: I’d say I am highly adaptable, meticulous and detailed. It helps that I possess excellent communication skills, both personally and professionally.
What projects do you have coming up?
BF: I will be working on the feature film “1982” and the documentary film “Free America.”
What are your plans for the future?
BF: I’d like to return to my first love of directing, but thoroughly enjoy art directing in the present and plan to continue down that path for the next 5 years.
What do you hope to achieve in your career?
BF: An Oscar. No more, no less.
What kind of training have you done, and how has it helped you in your field of work?
BF: Being on set is the best training in this field. I have seen my work grow over the past few years, or rather my eye has become sharper creatively.
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