Production Design: the visual elements that go into making a film. Why is this important?
Although it may seem obvious, something important to remember about film is that film is about what you can see.
Even though a well developed idea and a well written script are both important, one of the most important elements when it comes to film is remembering that a movie must be composed of visual elements.
That is where production design comes in. Production design is important for numerous reasons. Let’s discuss some of them.
Production Design Immerses You in the World of the Film
Because production design encompasses the visual elements in film, it helps viewers to engage in the world of the film.
For example, Christian Ditter’s film Love, Rosie depicts the story of two childhood best friends over nearly ten years as they muddle through their romantic feelings for one another. The film opens with Rosie reciting a speech at a wedding. Her eyes are glazed over with tears and she is speaking directly to the groom, who is sitting rigidly, listening intently to what Rosie is saying.
Mere moments into the film, these two best friends are isolated from everyone else, even as they sit in a large crowd. This immediately immerses viewers in the world of these two best friends. Their accents set us in London, their wardrobe at a wedding, and the exchange between Rosie and Alex, the groom, remind us of the friendship between these two individuals.
The work of the production designer helps bring the story on the page to life on the screen.
To circle back to Love, Rosie, the film takes place over approximately ten years. This is demonstrated through a maturing wardrobe and through changes in the actors’ hair. Their deep rooted friendship is illustrated through flashbacks and how both Alex and Rosie appear in nearly every scene together at the beginning of the film, and when they aren’t together, they are nearly always speaking about one another or to one another on the phone.
Furthermore, working in connection with the director, through something called the myth of total cinema, production designers are able to create a world that feels real to its viewers.
This is achieved through techniques like shooting in depth, where everything is filmed in focus much like how the human eye sees, and the shot, reverse shot method, where viewers see a character as he or she speaks and then the camera reverses and viewers are able to see what the character had been seeing.
Production Design Makes the Film Credible and Believable
Through research, production design is able to craft a realistic and trustworthy world. This is something that is referred to as verisimilitude, meaning something that is perceived as being true or real.
This is seen very explicitly in a movie like The Titanic. The production designer had to conduct an immense amount of research in order to accurately depict the way the Titanic looked as well as the type of clothing the guests on the boat would wear and the type of language they would use.
Production Design in Film Adds to the Production Value of the Movie
Because production design helps create reliability within the film, it adds value to the film. Going back to the example of the Titanic, seeing the realistic elements of the ship and wardrobes makes viewers trust the film and leave the theatre feeling as though they have more knowledge about the era.
Production Design Helps to Create New Worlds
Through production design, production designers and directors are able to create new worlds. For example, the film Black Panther, which won the Academy Award for best production design in 2018, was able to effectively create a new, yet entirely believable, world. This was achieved particularly in the way that the residents of Wakanda all had identifying markings on their bodies and the settings on the cliffs where the combats took place between characters.
Creating Aesthetically pleasing worlds
Production designers are also able to create aesthetically pleasing worlds through their work. For example, in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, the production designer used very bold color palettes in addition to symmetrical patterns on the walls in the hotel. This creates a very distinct artistic style within the movie and it sets the film apart and creates an identifiable style as Wes Anderson’s films.
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