Production Design — Lighting

Lighting is the definitive border between the amateur and professional.

Regardless of your budget, you are obligated by the office of “filmmaker” to light your project properly. People who say ‘lighting isn’t that important’ are simply justifying their lack of artistic ability. Abandon them to their failed project.

Lighting is all! It is the very mood of your film and without it, nothing else will matter.

Again, study the great painters and observe the play of light and the fall of shadows in their work.

If nothing else—if you don’t understand the technical points of proper lighting—get screen shots from other films with lighting you like. Arm your Director of Photography or Lighting Director with references and he will get as close as he can with what he has.

Be a child of light.

Darkness is boring.

Production Design — Density

Density refers to populating your set design with lots of stuff. Give the audience something to sort through, but don’t distract them.  And give your lighting some things to bounce off, and from which they may diffuse.

Films that fail to create visual density always end up looking like cheap television shows.

More is better.

Except when less is more.

When in doubt, check the script.

Production Design — Texture

The great lost component of film is texture—of cloth, steel, plastic, wood, rock etc.

Texture, as much as color, can be an invaluable asset in establishing differences and delineating important character and set boundaries.

Because film is visual, little consideration is given to touch:  this is a mistake. Your personal memory of the texture of objects is accessible by seeing that object, by visual cues. Use this relation in your film—add that extra dimension.

Texture as much as lighting can connect or separate.

Use accordingly.

Production Design — Shapes

Whether you go back to the Greek philosophical idea of inherent shapes, or something more modern, shapes are pregnant with psychological implications, all of which we import to them over a lifetime of culture, media, religion, philosophy and science.

Superman’s “S” or McDonald’s Gold Arches or the Christian cross—all of these convey meaning and expectation.

In modern parlance, shape equals icon, symbolic shorthand that can empower you to convey simple and complex truths, opinions or impressions with a silent visual aid.

Watch some of your best films and you will find silent symbols in the background imparting the director’s opinion in the code of shapes.

Production Direction — Color

There is simply too much to say about the proper use of color in film, and this blog is not meant to be a tutorial.

So, the short hand is this: pick your color palettes wisely. Understand which colors work well together, and which ones don’t.

If you aren’t that color savvy, well, that’s what your Production Designers and Art Directors are for.  But on the off chance you are having to do some Art Direction yourself, use the Internet.

For example, the site is a great place for you to discover the magic of palettes.

Check it out. It’s worth it to any beginning visualist.