Tag Archives: Production Design

Production Designer Elisia Mirabelli creates new worlds through her artistic eye

For Canada’s Elisia Mirabelli, Production Design is an element of acting, inhabiting another person, stepping inside of their world, and feeling their story. Each time she begins a project, the seasoned production designer tries to imagine herself as the character whose space she is creating. She asks herself why each object in the space remains there, the history behind it, the psychology of how and why a space is divided the way it is. How much time has been spent there? Who a character lets into their space? What it looks like if their alone in it vs what it looks like if a friend is over? She maps out a life in artifacts, creating backstory, revealing loves, interests, experiences, peeling back another layer.

“Production Design for me is really designing and shaping the insides of a person outwardly. In a practical sense, production design is the construction and creation of a film’s overall look through its set and prop design,” she said.

Mirabelli has a decorated resume, with esteemed projects such as Night Owl, Pretty Thing, Let Me Down Easy, and many more. She has created the background for celebrated music videos and popular commercials and collaborated with some of Canada’s biggest networks.

A highlight of Mirabelli’s career came in 2013 when she did the production design for the prolific network MTV. Working with Bell Media and MTV Canada, Mirabelli designed the promo spot MTV #IN24, a collaboration between FORD and MTV promoting MTV’s new cross-platform series #IN24. It aired domestically across the country on MTV Canada and online at MTV.ca and was winner of the 2014 Media Innovation Awards and also received the Silver Award from Best in Cars & Automotive Services.

For the commercial, Mirabelli designed an indoor forest equipped with real foliage, taxidermy and textured dirt flooring. She and her team built the forest set around the Ford Fiesta. The set included a pathway for actors to dance on and a green screen backdrop for day and night simulated VFX.

“Working with MTV was always a dream of mine. It’s such an iconic production company with a history in creating unique, youth focused, genre pushing content. Additionally, the task of designing and creating an in-studio forest set was super exciting. Designing for a company as iconic and groundbreaking as MTV was a career milestone,” she said.

Mirabelli’s time with Bell Media was filled with exceptional projects. She did the production design for a commercial for CP24, a Canadian news network that reaches more than 3.1 million viewers a week and 3.7 million in all of Ontario. The commercial CP24 Moving at the Speed of Your Morning aired nationally on CP24. It went on to win the 2017 Promax Promotion, Marketing and Design Award.

When working on the commercial, Mirabelli refitted an outdated living room with new furnishings, lighting and small props and set accessories to make the location feel more modern, fresh and bright. She built five custom, faux LED screens that were set in each of the four locations. The LED screens played a pivotal role in the promo as they acted as the transition between scenes, with the camera travelling in and out of each of them. Additionally, her team managed the food styling for forty plus extras.

“The opportunity to create and work on a commercial for CP24’s morning show was really exciting. CP24’s morning programming brings in millions of unique viewers a week, so it was really incredible to work on something knowing that it would be reaching such a large audience,” said Mirabelli.

That same year, Mirabelli also worked with The Space Channel on their holiday programming, creating the commercial Spacemas and highlighting The Doctor Who Christmas Special. To do so, she designed a string of sets that replicated a collection of unique living rooms, fitted with holiday décor. The main set included a 14-foot Christmas tree that sat next to a scaled replica of the Doctor Who Tardis, brought in for the shoot from outside the province. The promo relied heavily on its production design and the ability to design a string of living room sets all captured during a single day of shooting. It went on to receive the 2017 Promax Promotion, Marketing and Design Award: Channel: Holiday or Special Event Spot.

“Space Channel is known for creating content that’s wonderfully lively and ultramodern, an ode to its fantastical programming. Working with props from the BBC’s ‘Doctor Who’ series was a real thrill. Additionally, working with the creative director of The Space Channel was awesome and I’m such a fan of his originality,” Mirabelli described.

Once again in the holiday spirit, Mirabelli worked on Christmas commercials for Gusto, Bell Media’s speciality food channel. The set of commercials launched Gusto and was their first national holiday campaign, an opportunity that excited the production designer. After the commercial series, Gusto was nominated for International Channel of the Year at the 2016 Content Innovation Awards. It aired domestically across Gusto’s sister channels (34 channels total, including The Discovery Channel and TSN).

To create the commercial, Mirabelli built a winter wonderland themed set equipped with half a dozen 8-foot-high white trees, 250 presents, a snow machine, teal lights and custom-made glass ornaments spelling out the names of the program’s hosts, which included Jamie Oliver and Martha Stewart. They were able to design and build two unique, modernized Christmas sets that completely distinguished the promo in an ever-crowded market of holiday programming, which was no easy feat.

“Reimagining the look of a holiday promo into something fresh, modern and cool was fantastic,” Mirabelli said.

Undoubtedly, Mirabelli will continue to be a formidable force in Canada’s film and television industry. Keep an eye out for her work.

 

Written by Annabelle Lee

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Art Director Phenix Miao helps raise thousands for Itron Battery Crowdfunding

Not many children can grasp the understanding of color and architecture the way China’s Phenix Miao could. At a young age, he was quickly able to spot the small details in furniture and props in daily life. It was a hobby and skill that he quickly realized could transition into a career. Working as a successful Production Designer and Art Director, Miao is now a leader of the industry in China.

Throughout his career, Miao has shown what a dynamic Art Director he is. With his work on films such as Shanghai Sojourner and Lottery, Miao’s attention to detail and vast talent is evident. He also lends his skills to commercial work, recently creating a series of promotional videos for Lepow and another for Itron Battery to promote their crowdfunding. With an outstanding number of viewers online, the Itron Battery commercial is one of his greatest successes in his esteemed career.

“Phenix is a very rare talent with both marketing and artistic sense. We worked closely on the Itron commercial, talking a lot about budget and production. Phenix was vital for the success of the commercial, and even found the location at a very affordable price, which helped the feeling of the film. He helped me to balance the art and budget so well. He is an expert when controlling the costs of everything. Phenix understands the difference between marketing value and artistic value, and he understands people. From his angle and visual aspect, he did a great job making the crowdfunding video look appealing. A crowdfunding commercial should be tangible and amiable, not chasing perfect as a normal TV commercial would. Phenix told me that crowdfunding is not charity, you need to let people feel this is a hopeful product and company. This outlook inspired the team. His outstanding communication skills allowed everyone to clearly understand what we were doing. He is a great leader and creator,” said Alice Fan, Producer.

The Itron Battery commercial advertises the company’s portable battery bank, the world’s fastest portable charger. It completely charges in 18 minutes, and within three minutes, one phone can be charged. The commercial showcases the product while still being comical and informative. It features two leading characters, one explaining the charger, and another looking to purchase one. They run through many different scenarios in which one may need a charger, leaving viewers both entertained and in need of the product.

“All the people that worked on this commercial were so professional. We did our work really fast, because we were so familiar with each other. From scene to scene, people just did everything very naturally. There was such chemistry, everything was as natural as breathing,” said Miao.

This commercial was not Miao’s first experience with a crowdfunding style video. He previously helped to raise $217,501 USD for Pivot Turingsense crowdfunding, achieving 274% of their goal, and for HiSmart crowdfunding, they reached 531% funded after raising $297,106, with the videos being the main source of awareness. That being said, the Itron commercial was by far the most successful, with hundreds of thousands of views online and reaching 706% of their goal by raising $289,472. It was also an Official Selection at the 2016 International Peace & Film Festival in Orlando, Florida.

“I still feel really excited about this commercial. When I hear so many people talk about it, I almost want to run up and interrupt them to let them know that I worked on it. That’s how proud of it I am. It is a big success in three aspects: art, commercial and crowdfunding,” he said.

Miao and the Director of the shoot, Peter “Zhen” Pan, had known each other for ten years when the opportunity to work on the commercial arrived. Miao is the director’s go-to art director and was the first person he reached out to. After reading the script, Miao accepted right away.

“Peter and I are golden partners. He knows I am a great Art Director that is full of ideas and the perfect match for what he wants. He just called me and told me the details about this project and we started working on it that same night. He always gives me enough space and time to design and develop my ideas. He fully respects me,” said Miao.

As the Art Director, Miao was in charge of the overall look for the commercial, selecting the best and most suitable artistic elements while leading the creative team. He designed a concise, natural, and clean aesthetic while controlling the style. He understands the difference between market value and artistic value, setting him apart from his colleagues. For this Itron commercial, he designed the color tone with Pan and knew to keep in mind the difference between a regular commercial and a crowdfunding commercial. He made sure to meet the requirements while planning the artistic elements around the brand, creating a higher brand value for the video. This allowed the product to stick in customers’ minds.

What was perhaps Miao’s most considerable contribution to the commercial, however, was finding the location of Elliston Winery. Miao enjoys working in historical settings, and the winery is no different. When decorating a historical set, Miao plays with the flavor that they bring to the table and plans everything around the atmosphere they possess. His passion for the location was passed onto the entire cast and crew. They treated it like their homes, making sure to respect every piece of furniture and brick in the building. Such respect for his setting and its parts is a main reason Miao is such a formidable artist and leader.

“I have been Phenix’s Assistant for years, but I also see him as my guide in my film career. He is not only in charge of the art department but is also a tremendous team leader. He understands style and perfectly controls the appearance of every image. Phenix is a great mentor and teaches me all of his techniques and knowledge. He is a talent but also very easy going. Phenix always knows how to take a director’s idea and turn it into something special. He knows how to make the effects suitable and always has new, practical ideas that come from his plethora of experience. I think the fact that he has also worked as a director and writer allow him to understand the role of the art director even better, and it sets him apart from the rest,” said Qin Zheng.

Watch the Itron Crowdfunding commercial here.

 

Photo taken by Peak City International Film Festival, Phenix Miao and John Whitaker

By Sean Desouza

Production Designer Laura Santoyo talks new film ‘Falling’

Learning about various aspects of humanity is a passion of Colombia’s Laura Santoyo Dangond. Originally from Colombia, she has also lived in Peru and Canada, and loves to travel to experience different cultures and learn new languages, fluent in Spanish, English, French, German, and Portuguese. This desire to learn about the world and its people is part of what led her into filmmaking. With every new project she embarks on, she gets to tell a different story and learn something new about history, society, the human mind, and more. Beyond the stories, she works with people from all over the world that have different backgrounds and ways of seeing life, and together they share and experience their differences through their art. As a production designer, Santoyo takes everything she has seen and practiced and channels that into creating visually stunning and captivating sets and props that fully transport audiences into what they are watching.

“I make an effort to stay true to the story and what the characters are. I do a lot of research on the characters and the environment where they live. I also try to have many exchanges with the director where we discuss characters and share research and inspiration images, etc. to understand their vision and the direction they are taking the story to. I like to play with colors and used them to imply aspects of the story that are not explicitly spoken by the characters,” she said.

Santoyo is known for her work on award-winning films such as Lockdown and Tim of the Jungle, both of which made their way to several of the world’s most prestigious film festivals. Last year, her film The Plague premiered, reminding audiences of what she is capable of, as Santoyo created a dystopian world. Her most recent film premiered just last month at the Slamdance Festival, and once again Santoyo shows she is unrivaled as a production designer.

Falling set_2
Bill Bowles, Laura Santoyo Dangond and Ewen Wright on the set of Falling, photo by Sam Shaib

“As soon as I finished reading the script I felt like I had to be part of the project. It is one of the most original scripts I have read, very intelligent and I thought that it was a story that had to be told and that I wanted to tell it,” she said. “The script of this film describes a number of absurd situations and uses humor to address subjects that are affecting our society. It was very important that the design of the movie supported the comedic tone without ridiculing the situations.”

The film tells the story of a potentially psychosomatic white man, a woman stuck in a vortex of mansplaining, and a young black man confronted by the racial disconnect of society, each trying to make sense of their lives as their worlds are set on an inevitable collision course in this surrealist comedy.

It was important for Santoyo and the rest of the team to differentiate the three storylines that run parallel to each other and to show the absurdity of the situations without being too over the top. Therefore, they assigned one color to each character.

The first story, about a man who can’t walk, represents the feeling of impotence that someone watching the news at night can feel when they see injustices with no way to help. This character takes the “sickness” he feels to the extreme. Therefore, they decided to use the color blue with him, which is very clinical.

The second story, about a woman who’s caught in male-dominated conversations turmoil, was assigned the color red. She is often angry and frustrated, and all the men that she’s with see her and other women as objects. Santoyo felt red reflected these feelings.

The third story is about a black man, who in the most absurd situation, ends up being shot by the police. The filmmakers gave him the color green, because he’s young and innocent at the beginning and at the end it is his case that makes the man in the first story sick.

“As a society, we are still fighting against racism, social injustice and women’s equality and this film raises awareness on these subjects in a comedic tone. I believe that it is very important to have films like this one because we can start generating discussions that could eventually lead to change,” said Santoyo.

Working on Falling has been one of the most fun experiences Santoyo has had throughout her career. From the first time she read the script, she knew it was going to be challenging because there were many locations with three different stories that at the end become one. Each story had elements of magical realism that could also be difficult to achieve in production design. Santoyo wanted to enhance the experiences of the character through the set, but not overdo it to a point that the messages behind each scene were lost. She managed to find the perfect balance, always keeping in mind the color palette they had decided for each character early on in production.

“I think many things make Laura an excellent designer, collaborator, and professional. The first thing that comes to mind is passion. She’s clearly passionate about what she does – she made it clear that she seeks out work that she connects with on a personal and aesthetic level. Once she’s onboard, she’s obviously all-in. That shows at every phase of a project when you see her initial ideas, the hours she’s putting in, the attitude she brings to every meeting and production day, and the diligence with which she executes. Beyond that, she’s a professional with outstanding training, instincts, and experience. She knows how to present her ideas clearly – both verbally and visually, she has leadership skills, she remains calm under pressure, she knows how to prioritize, stay organized, and keep others motivated to work at a high standard,” said Ewen Wright, Director.

Wright was looking through portfolios and films for a costume designer when Santoyo’s work caught his eye. He asked the costume designer who the production designer was that possessed such talent. He immediately reached out to Santoyo, who was extremely responsive and receptive to the idea of the film. They immediately began a strong partnership and shared ideas about the film.

Falling Set
Ewen Wright, Laura Santoyo Dangond and Yonit Olsen, photo by Sam Shaib

“Laura has a creative voice, and in a key role on a collaboration that can’t be undervalued. She brings her lifelong sense of design, studied theory, and just pure instinct to her work in a way that gives her work a through-line. I really enjoyed developing a shorthand with her. Lastly, she has a phenomenal attitude and work ethic. She went above and beyond for our production – and even when things went wrong, or the hours ran long, Laura was a reliable source of positivity and joy. As a leader on the team, she set a tone for those around her that I know contributed to all of us doing better. When I was stressed or needed a moment, I always knew I could rely on Laura for a laugh – just as the rest of the time I relied on her for her eye on the image,” Wright continued.

Working with such a committed team was one of Santoyo’s favorite parts about filming Falling. She found everyone came together to tell such an intricate story, and she was constantly inspired by those she worked alongside. However, it was the message behind the film that truly made the experience for the production designer.

“I am so proud to have been a part of this film. I think it’s a story that captures the feeling that something is wrong in the world and the willingness to change it, but not knowing how to go about doing so. I think many people feel that now. I’m thrilled to know that it’s being watched by many people and it can maybe inspire some change in our society,” she said.

Now that Falling has begun its film festival run, Santoyo is looking forward to her next project. Undoubtedly, she has a very bright future ahead of her, and audiences can continue to look for her name rolling past their eyes in movie credits for years to come.

“I want to keep exploring and finding new stories to tell and more talented people to work with. I am looking forward to creating more worlds where magic is possible. I want my work to reach even larger audiences and present stories to the public that entertain them and that touches them. I have a couple of projects in line for this year that hopefully will help me accomplish this,” she concluded.

 

Top photo by Jesper Duelund

Production Designer Shuhe Wang talks award-winning film ‘Red String’

Born and raised in Taiyuan City, China, Shuhe Wang was destined to be a production designer. Design was always her passion, and she never questioned what it was she wanted to spend her life doing. She understands every aspect as to what it takes to be an exceptional production designer, and that is why she is so highly-respected around the world for what she does.

Despite any challenges that arise, Wang loves what she does, and always shows audiences what she is capable of. Her work on the films Stay, Dancing for You, Cartoon Book, and Inside Linda Vista Hospital helped earn the respect of international audiences and win awards at several film festivals. However, despite this success, she considers working on the film Red String the highlight of her esteemed career.

“With each screening, people are really interested about the story and what is the background of creating the story. As a film, it is always the most important target that let people think about the meaning and something related in society after watching it,” said Wang.

The film tells the tale of an illegal Chinese immigrant who wants to keep his last line of his privacy in a terrible restaurant where he works. However, when he finally goes against his dignity, he finds that he even makes his life worse.

“This is a film about low-level class Chinese immigrant’s life. To make the film reliable and vivid, it relies on the production designer to create the atmosphere about Chinese culture and low-level people’s life. I did a lot of research about what exactly their life had going on, and created some characteristic elements in the film,” said Wang.

Making its way to several international film festivals, Red String impressed critics. It was an Official Selection at the Los Angeles International Shorts Festival, the Festival de Cortometrajes “Jose Francisco Rosado” Pacas, My Love Michelle Short Film Festival, and the Lift-Off Film Festival. It screened at the Festival de Cannes Short Film Corner, was a finalist at the Miami Film Festival, was nominated at the Golden Knight Malta International Film Festival, and was the winner of the Asians on Film Festival.

“I feel excited that the film got a lot of attention by telling a small and rough part of our traditional culture, and glad that the true and hard life of normal people is still being considered and cared a lot by universal audiences. This is a story about my national country’s culture, and it happens in some low-level class people. That is kind interesting to do because I can show audience a different angle of Chinese culture that not very noticeable in real life. And the story is absolutely tense and strong,” said Wang. “The director was very creative and open-minded. It was really great to work with him. He fully trusted me in my department’s process. It makes the work smooth and well- communicated. We were sharing all the thoughts and brainstorming without any concern. We were on the same page for each step.”

The director, Minghao Shen, knows Wang’s commitment to the film and her talent as a production designer largely contributed to the success Red String saw. The two had talked about the script and had found out that they both had a lot of deep thought and ambition regarding the story. Shen trusted that Wang totally understood the story and would create the sets perfectly.

“Shuhe is a designer that does not just care about how to make set pretty, but also about telling a story by the designing, due to her directing skills, so that actually helped the film be better. When Shuhe was working, she was always focused on the details and she was always careful about each single image,” said Shen.

While keeping true to the message of the film, Wang wanted to show some of the key elements to the world without over dressing them. The overall tone is a small bakery and restaurant in old Chinatown of an American city. Wang would go to Chinatown in Los Angeles to simply observe, and to capture the feeling of life there. She would see how they liked to dress and what they liked to eat, what they believed, what way they connected with the outside of Chinatown, what the difference was between the new and old immigrants, and more to truly understand what she needed to create.

“Once I locked each character’s personality, I chose the key elements of each of them and made it into the entire set,” said Wang. “However, the most impressive part of filming Red String was that everyone was so engaged in the story and helped to make it better. The lead actor even gave us some impromptu action with the props as the character and it worked very well. Sometimes we shared the thoughts based on our position to make the film more complete.”

The film was a collective effort by everyone involved, and Wang’s work helped to turn it into a masterpiece.

Production designer Andrea Leigh is a visual storyteller

What started out as a love for building retail window displays turned into a successful career as a production designer for Toronto based Andrea Leigh. She always loved building something captivating from nothing, where passers-by would turn to see what was not just her work, but also her art. This innate talent turned into a career, and now she is one of Canada’s best production designers.

It seems like a long time ago that Leigh was fixing window displays, as she has worked on several celebrated projects as a production designer, including the award-winning film Friends Like Us. Leigh knew after reading just a few pages of the script that she needed to design for the film.

“The minimal and sleek vision the director had for the main home really drew me to the project. It’s always fun to work on a job where you actually enjoy the content. The script was funny. The dynamic was entertaining, and it was nice to work with the amazing and talented Toronto cast,” said Leigh.

Friends Like Us tells the tale of a struggling couple – broke and pregnant – who find success through ripping off their friends. The plot twists when one of the women finds out about the affair two of them have been having and they accidentally murder their husbands with a piece of modern art.

“I got to feature some of my favorite artists in the main location we shot. Huge pieces, some abstract, some minimalist. Overall, the opportunity to design a space that said so much by not having much in it was a nice challenge. It really reflected the characters’ sense of new found wealth,” Leigh described.

The film went on to have enormous success at many prestigious international film festivals, and was even nominated for “Best Short Film” by the Director’s Guild of Canada. The production design was vital to the success of the film, and the recognition the film received was amazing for Leigh.

“It’s exciting to know it made it beyond just a ‘project’. You never know what will come of features and shorts. Sometimes they don’t make it anywhere. Sometimes they get wide recognition and reviews. Toronto can feel like a small city sometimes, so when something truly great comes out of it, word gets out fast,” she said.

Success such as this follows Leigh with each project she embarks on, showing audiences around the world why she is so exceptional with what she does. While working with the popular cosmetics brand E.L.F., the commercial Play Beautifully was aired on televisions across North America, and went on to have more than 2 million hits on YouTube alone.

“I feel a lot of young women connected with this commercial, and connected with the brand. It feels like we really got the message across, and that it was more than a commercial. It was more of a story, following the girl,” said Leigh.

The commercial featured an all-female cast, and was shot at numerous locations across Toronto. Leigh says it hardly felt like work, going to coffee shops, bars, rooftops, and more in the middle of the day. Leigh, who has also worked as an interior designer, says designing rooms for young women came naturally to her, and her own living space was even used as one of the shooting locations. She truly felt right at home.

 I have worked closely with Andrea on numerous productions and virally popular commercials, and have become familiar with the level of professionalism and skills required to be a top tier production designer and art director. My experience has led me to believe that Andrea is one of the most prodigiously successful professionals in her field,” said David Quinn, the director of the Play Beautifully commercial who has worked with Leigh on many commercials with the production company Skin & Bones.

The idea was to make the commercial look more like a short film than an advertisement. This is what drew Leigh into the story in the first place. She is a story teller, and her designs play a pivotal part in any story, almost as an extra character. It was a story brought to life by what she describes as amazing cast members. It was also relatable in so many ways for lots of young women.

“You have a rough time, a bad break up, your friends are there for you and sometimes you just need to throw on some lipstick, build your confidence back up after a broken heart and head out on the town with your ladies,” Leigh concluded.

You can view the commercial here.