Source-Makers, Part II”

Last month, my conversation with leaders of other IATSE Craft Guilds began with Local 800 Executive Director Chuck Parker, a veteran Hollywood-based production designer whose credits include Detroit 1-8-7, Monk, and Under the Dome. Founded in 1935, the Art Directors Guild (ADG) is made up of art directors, graphic artists, illustrators, matte artists, model makers, scenic artists, set designers and title artists. This month I’m sharing the second part of our discussion, which touches upon how new technology has helped to deepen the creative partnership between our two Guilds.

Steven Poster: We were talking about Avatar as an example of how virtual sets will impact production design. Chuck Parker: Right, and how that technology still requires our members to realize the story.


SP: I think one reason Cameron has been so successful is that he’s careful to not use new technology to take the audience out of the story. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, on the other hand, must have really hampered [Local 600 cinematographer] John Toll, ASC, who was working in native 3D at 120 frames per second – each eye was 4K, so just a tremendous amount of information. While it was some of the best 3D I’ve ever seen, the results were disturbing, particularly the close-ups, which didn’t allow the actors a hint of false emotion or much make-up, I’m told. CP: That’s taking the point I raised last month about scenery to another level – resolution so high it doesn’t allow for make-up!


SP: Would you agree that new LED technology, where lights can be built into sets and even props, has deepened the partnership between production designers and DP’s? CP: I think that’s also a result of television.


SP: How so? CP: I spend seven or eight days prepping a show, and I’m in perpetual communication with my DP, who can’t be there [unless the show is paying for two DP’s]. I worked with Lisa Wiegand [ASC] on Detroit 1-8-7, and the bond we had in prep was tremendous! I would send her videos and stills from my phone that anticipated and resolved issues before she had to roll her cameras.


SP: The speed and intensity of television definitely helps to drive that. But I’ve worked on three features with [production designer] Alec Hammond [for] director Richard Kelly, and Alec’s designs – helping me to light sets with practicals – were fantastic. And that was on film. Today, I shoot most of my exterior and interiors night scenes at 3200 ISO, which means a small LED can be the source for the whole scene. CP: Being able to light an actor’s face with a practical brings us back to a more traditional, dare I say, naturalistic aesthetic that is so creatively beneficial. It goes back to what I said last month about Kubrick’s desire to light an entire film by candlelight.


SP: The issue of accurate color temperature with LED’s has also been resolved; production designers can build [LED units] into their sets and DP’s now have enough exposure. We can collaborate in ways we never could when I began with Arc lights! CP: [Laughs] I designed the last season of Under the Dome, and Walt Lloyd was our DP. We were prepping this new set and liked the chroma we had put on the wall, but needed to make sure we were painting what Walt’s camera would see. He came over and said, “Take a picture with your iPhone.” We held that up to the chip, and both realized the iPhone image was how it would appear, so we needed to change the paint. It was so gratifying to solve, even predict, the problem together.


SP: Could you pinpoint the single biggest issue facing your Guild? For DP’s it’s a loss of control over the images we’ve created by not being a part of the finish in post-production. CP: [Smiles] Well, I’d have to say the same thing for our members. As we said at the beginning of this conversation: technology is a blessing and a curse, particularly with regard to VFX and set design.


SP: Do you have an example? CP: Charlie Wood is a fantastic production designer from the U.K. who’s doing a lot of Marvel movies. I went to visit him on set in Atlanta, and he said he’s bringing illustrators in early so that VFX is chasing design, not the other way around.


SP: I remember Stuart Little 2, in the early days of melding CGI and live action, of being told they could not alter the color of a white mouse. So I was asked to color-correct every plate before it went to compositing. CP: [Laughing] I can only imagine the response to that. “Are you kidding me? White is white!”


SP: [Laughing] Hey, guys, you don’t want a pink mouse for two hours. So just let the DP do his thing.


Steven Poster, ASC
National President
International Cinematographers Guild
IATSE Local 600

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