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Production Designer Spotlight: Hank Mann

Production Designer Hank Mann
Production Designer Hank Mann

The visual component of a film production is an aspect often taken for granted. Combining elements of creativity with the ability to adapt the surrounding environment to fit whatever a film, television or commercial project calls for, the production designer is responsible for setting the cinematic stage. As the main head of the art department, the most labor-intensive aspect of the entire production crew, a good production designer needs to be as much of a leader as they need to be a visionary, while also being mindful of the production budget.

Hank Mann possesses all of these qualities, and then some. With an international upbringing that included the UK, Australia, and Canada, Mann’s career as a production designer has made him a sought-after asset to international film and commercial crews.

Mann’s reputation exploded early in his career as the production designer on a commercial for Ford Motor Company starring David Duchovny. In the production he was responsible for recreating an iconic American diner with a retractable roof (for filming) out in the UK countryside. The project was a success and since then Mann has designed sets on location around the world for clients such as L’Oreal, Infiniti, Audi, Barclay’s Premier League, Benjamin Moore paints and much more.

He is also a sought-after production designer in the music video industry—in fact, he was the production designer on the video for “How You Remind Me” by Nickelback, the most-played song of the decade for 2000-2009 (Neilson Research).

The video garnered over 135,000,000 views on YouTube, and the band went onto receive four Billboard Awards and four Juno Awards for the hit song. In the video Mann created a set that fused crisp modern elegance in the set design to a pre gothic-looking cinder block frame. The result was a contrast without prior labels, and sets a distinct tone for one of the most successful music videos in history.

For much of his career Hank was based in Vancouver, British Columbia, a hotbed for diverse film projects. Throughout his time there he was able to design a whole spectrum of challenging sets and locations, allowing for a rare type of versatility in his background.

“In Los Angeles a Production Designer will specialize into a niche field such as period pieces, sports movies, or science fiction, because there is enough volume of projects in each field being made to support niche skills,” he said.

“In Vancouver I have found that the diversity of experiences on all the projects over the years has made my problem solving skills quite acute. One day it’s designing a yurt village to be built in the mountains, the next it’s designing a kid’s bedroom circa 1981.”

Mann has a gift to be able to transform a setting to look like somewhere on the other side of the world. On a recent Arby’s commercial Mann turned Cape Town, South Africa into a street the looked identical to a main street straight of the USA.

For a Subaru commercial Mann and his team created a gigantic tornado-like storm with additional special effects such as explosions, flying boats, wind and rain – all on a perfectly sunny day. He has even created a prehistoric village deep in the rainforest on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island for the award-winning Discovery Channel docuseries Before We Ruled The Earth.

As important as the creative aspect of production design is the managerial side of things. In that role Mann has earned his reputation as a good delegator, able to synthesize the many moving parts of an art department such as set design, costumes, props, special effects, and more, all while keeping the producers happy and on budget and co-creating a vision in sync with the DOP and director.