Art direction decoded!

Famous art director of Indian films, Rajeevan Nambiar visited AISFM campus recently to hold a Master Class on art direction for our MA1 students. His journey began doing art direction for ad films and television serials, before being given the opportunity to work in a feature film for the first time through Ameer’s Mounam Pesiyadhe (2002).

Soon after, he won acclaim for his work in Parthiban Kanavu (2003), before associating with Gautham Menon for the first time in Kaakha Kaakha. Since then, he has become a regular feature in the director’s ventures. He has worked for English, Hindi as well as many other regional films, including Shaithan, Ek Deewana Tha, David, Framed, Mounam Pesiyadhe and Manam.

Rajeevan’s session was an interactive Q&A class rather than a regular lecture, which is one of the reasons why students enjoyed it so much. From scribbles to photo-editing, everything regarding designing for a film was covered by him, after which he went on to speak about his experience working for films and ads, while answering students’ questions.

Rajeevan gave some very useful pointers to our MMBA students on how to work with tiny spaces for shoots on low budgets and yet make the set look good on camera. He told them how different types of fabrics, foam board cut-outs and techniques like shadowing, camera angles etc. can be used by them to create certain illusions desired by them. Indian skin is the hardest to work with for an art designer, since only few types of colours and few hues of lights compliment it, a quick fix for this too was given to the students; by him.

When asked what differences have come forth between art direction over the years, he mentioned how, during 1979 and 1998 movies were shot outdoors more, rather than inside studios. According to him, that is when the concept of art direction as a whole had its downfall. Before this time period, the art directors managed everything, but now directors give their inputs and art directors build on those inputs with their out of the box ideas. This combination is what makes the films better these days, he said.

He spoke at length about the different ways the camera can be cheated. For example, using paint for creating effects of marble/granite for the walls or using prints of the desired design on matte/textured papers can be used as cheats. The only thing that matters is their usage, he said. The number of shots the prop is used for, the time period of use and the number of people handling it helps determine which method is used for building. He spoke of how, for example, a church is first designed in the studio, and only after its approval is the location selected. An entire 3D walk-through of the set is done before a location is finalized for the actual shoot. This not only saves the filmmakers money, but also a lot of time and effort as well.

As the final aspect of the class, Rajeevan told our students a little bit more about set designing; what costumes are worn, what the tone (colour) of the film is, what themes are used by the director, and all that determine the set that the designers have to build. He also spoke about the differences between feature films and advertisements and said, “Ads are more specific when it comes to their design while feature films need a lot of research. These are the two aspects that differentiate them; every other thing is the same.”

When one of the students spoke of his ideas that were called ‘out-of-the-box’ and ‘bizarre’, he quickly jumped in to say that in the end, when it comes to the rules and boundaries of design, there is nothing that is right or wrong. The only thing that matters is whether it works for the film or not, he said.

Mauleenath Senapathi, full-time faculty of Direction, who also attended the session said, “Art Direction as we filmmakers recognize, is a vital aspect of filmmaking. As a subject of study Art Direction is particularly relevant for the students specializing in Direction and Cinematography. The significance of the master class conducted by ace Art Director Rajeevan has to be seen in this context. Rajeevan’s oeuvre of works across different genres of Indian cinema is evidently significant. Going by my observation and discussion with the MA 3 students following the master class, they have immensely benefited from this session. Art direction incidentally was one area which found less focus so far in the film course of the institute. As the MA 3 batch is approaching their mise-en-scene exercise where art direction plays the pivotal central role, this master class will go a long way in sharpening the concerned students’ understanding of the relevance of art direction and what it can creatively offer students, for them to explore cinematically in the projects that lies ahead.”

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