Art of production design

Babylon ensemble imageProduction designers talked about the art of creating on-screen worlds in a panel discussion at the Media Production Show last week in London.

The production designers involved were Morgan Kennedy, whose credits include Nick Love's film version of The Sweeney and C4 cop drama Babylon (pictured), and Jonathan Paul Green, whose credits include Mock The Week, Have I Got News For You and Top Gear. The session was sponsored by Creative Skillset.

“It’s about using things like props and home decorations – everything short of the costumes themselves – to create characters visually,” Kennedy said.

“The job is about creating the vision of everything on-screen,” said Green. “It’s giving character to the space on camera and problem-solving the logistics with the director. Also, you need to know how everything works to facilitate the filmmaker’s wishes. Are the locations practical and is the location at risk of being damaged if you shoot there?”

Kennedy identified pre-production as his favourite part of the process, using old-school drawings and artwork when ideas are flowing freely and, at that stage, unencumbered by budgetary concerns.

“You work closely with the director and the location manager before the shoot and that’s also the stage where you figure out whether you need to be in a studio or on location,” Kennedy said.

Green explained that he personally preferred working in a studio, which he considered better for the crew and more advantageous as a controlled environment. He also talked about the impact of the finished product. “It’s great to see the world you designed fully realised on camera, even if the nicest parts are often never seen!”

While subtler parts of a production designer’s work like the design of a wallet or the positioning of a prop might not have always been noticed by audiences, ultra-high-definition 4K reveals the focus of the frame like never before.

“You have to now make sure you really put the money in front of the camera because 4K is so unforgiving,” Kennedy said. “Considerations for the international market also mean that greater attention has to be given to on-screen detail. 

“I worked on a production where we doubled Gran Canaria for Venezuela and you have to make sure small details on signs are completely accurate because people in Venezuela will probably see it!”

Both production designers also discussed their hopes that the proliferation of TV content for online platforms like Netflix and Amazon will help boost UK production values in the coming years.


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