2.0’s Art Director Tells how to Optimize Art Direction in Low/Medium Budget Movies

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As an independent film maker, I’ve always taken the art direction of my movies for granted. This is because I had very little idea about how things were done in the industry. When I had a chance to meet Mr.T.Muthuraj, the man behind the artwork of ‘2.0’ and many such movies, I tried my best inferring some details about how the art direction is done in the industry. Some excerpts from the interviews

What are the Pre production processes that comes up once the script work has been completed?

First the script is narrated to the art director. The art director fixes a look and feel while listening to the script. Then the art director will read the script. Then he decides if it needs to be taken live or if they have to go with a set. They’ll compare the practical difficulties in both and decide which is better. ex : ‘Vellaikaaran’ had a long slum sequence. But practically, shooting live in the slum would have been very difficult as it starred Nayanthara and Sivakarthikeyen. The live slum shoot would have taken 60 days but the set up slum shoot was only 40 days.

If you’re going with a live location, what is the process followed in selecting the location?

The production designer will describe the desired location to the art director. There are location assistants at various places who are asked to look out for virgin locations. The regional local manager then selects the photos given by the location AD. Then they check if it has accommodation facility for the entire crew. Then finally the location is fixed.

How can the art direction be optimized in low/medium budget movies?

When we were working in ‘23am pulikesi’, it was an experiment with Vadivelu sir as an hero. Though it was a periodic script which demanded intense set work the budget was low. We used to portray the same set as multiple locations by repainting and re-framing things. The priority will be given to set which has the most number of scenes in the movie. It is all about splitting the given budget properly.

Will an Art Director process the ideas of the director or put in his own ideas?

If the director is clear about his vision, we will process his vision. If we feel a change is necessary we will propose it to the director. For example : If the director wants to shoot a night scene where a girl will be killed brutally outside her red car, we will suggest him to change the colour of the car so that the splattering of the blood will be visible on the car.

In ‘Raja Rani’, an apartment set of rupees 20-30 lakhs was created for the apartment of Arya and Nayanthara. Why not shoot in a real studio apartment instead?

According to the script of ‘Raja Rani’, Arya and Nayanthara should stay in a house with a single bedroom so that they are forced to be together. But, they(at least Nayanthara) are shown as rich people. So we had to find a posh house with single bedroom which was very difficult. We also compared live vs set and found set was cheaper as the expenses of a studio apartments were also pretty high . The biggest advantage with set is that we have full control with the light. We can create a day / night sequence artificially with the help of lights.

In the case of periodic movies, where do you get your references from?

There are pictorial references that are available on the internet and libraries. There are a lot of British art work where you can find pictures of our places. For the movie ‘Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja’, we referred to a library in Trivandrum and found British work as reference. But we couldn’t use the references as it is. We had to adapt it to the optimal way.

Can you briefly explain the steps that you’ll follow while creating a set.

1st – Look and feel is decided.

2nd – Finalise the design.

3rd – Consulting the R&D department.

4rd – Fixing the materials to be used.

5th – Consulting with the DOP.

6th – Deciding the colour combination.

7th – Propping.

8th – Finalising the best angles in which the set will look best.


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