Sharmishta Roy, renowned Production Designer & Art Director conducted a guest lecture on Art Direction in Cinema at Digital Academy- The Film School, Mumbai.
Sharmishta Roy has worked on movies like ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’, ‘Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham’, ‘Gajagamini’, ‘Fiza’, ‘Mohabbatein’ and many more. She is the daughter of the illustrious Art Director Mr. Sudhendu Roy and one of the first women Art Directors in the Bollywood Film Industry.
Enumerating what Art Direction is all about Ms. Roy said, “The job of an Art Director is as important as that of the Cinematographer or Costume designer, because what we are doing is without speaking a single word, we are communicating the culture, socio-economic status and personality of the people in the story being told...” .The Director asks the Art Director to create an ambience. The job of an Art Director is to create an extension of the Director’s vision or perception of how he envisages a film. This involves looking up references, doing drawings based on research work that involves studying similar films, books or even nature. For the final execution the drawings are given to highly specialized people who can understand and analyze production drawings and finish making them in a very short period, they also keep the construction and finishing under the stipulated budget.
The process usually begins with a script narration by the Director, where he explains the dialogues, the scenario and the characters. The character sketches of almost all the characters are given to the cinematographer, costume designer and the art director, who sit together to design the character’s space, costume and ambience. Explaining this she said, “If the Director decides that the film is set in the 1950’s then the Production designer, which in India is the Art Director, decides the costumes, ambience, lighting and basically visualizes all the elements with the Director. Then he translates this onto paper and realizes the visualizations through a set designer, set constructor, set dresser and set prop designer…” So what the film looks like finally largely depends on the way the Art Direction is done. Every script can be interpreted in numerous ways; the final output primarily depends on who interprets the script in what way.
Describing her work in ‘Mohabbatein’ she said that for Narayan Shankar’s character (played by Amitabh Bachchan) the ambience, lighting and costuming were made to suggest a rigidity and isolation in his personality, which was achieved by shooting his scenes in a monochromatic tone and contrasting them with the vibrant colorful parts of the students. Speaking about color she said, “You don’t have to be obvious with color, it doesn’t have to scream visually unless the script demands that… Each one of you will develop and have your own kind of styles and practices, some will work and some will not… but you have to be honest to the script and understand what it is about the story that you want to express…”
Like painting, every form of art is a means of expression. Film is a collaborative medium, so at every level of collaboration the film undergoes a change due to the inputs of the various professionals. Enumerating her understanding of what can jeopardize the sanctity of the final film she said, “A lot of my work earlier used to shout out and be boisterous, but with time I have realized that I should mellow down a little and let the film take over… with a certain degree of maturity and understanding I have begun to realize that I need to be humble enough to accept that my work should enhance the film and its characters, not function as a showcase for my talent…” She advised the students to work with groups that they feel comfortable and enthusiastic in, because the production time that lasts more than 7-9 months can become disastrous if the atmosphere is not inspiring.
Story boarding is an important process of Art Direction because it helps to visualize what is required, what is not and to eliminate many unnecessary costs. Even though the dominating star system controls a lot of the shot taking in the Indian industry, as an exercise story boarding helps to create a concise idea of the shots required so that economizing the shots can be easier and faster. Color finds its role in the shots, with this process. Each color has its own psychology and a specific physical reaction. Citing the Hollywood movie ‘The Sixth Sense’ she said, “In The Sixth Sense, the color red was used in every frame where a spirit was around, not blatantly but through subtle objects like doorknobs etc… So if I understand color theory and know how to use it then while I’m decorating I will tend to use the colors that are suggestive of the desired emotional reaction required in the scene…” She recommended the students to read books and material in color theory and to understand the significance of colors in different cultures, societies and other frameworks. She cautioned them against using color literally and urged them to understand the palette and wield it consistently and in an intelligent, balanced manner.
She stressed on the importance of communication in this field, especially between departments, because it is absolutely necessary that the work from all the departments comes together and functions in a cohesive manner. In some sense the Cinematographer and the Art Director complement each other. Explaining this she said, “A lot of times, the things that are discussed in the Direction department don’t reach the Art Director or the Cinematographer, leaving them in a lurch because if dialogues are changed or anything is changed, then they should ideally translate into changes from the Art Director, if they want to be true to a script and want to preserve a nuanced quality…”
She encouraged the students to think about Art Direction as a big responsibility wherein they have to design along with express through the visual framework the soul of a film. One of their key roles is to interpret characters and their spaces. Explaining this she said, “If I’m given a house to do up, then through the script I can imagine the temperament of the character and predict his space through that… but it is not just superficial structures that make up a space, you need to understand the nuances of a space, the influences and the history of a space to recreate it…” There is also a need to be honest to a story rather than ponder to what other people think is the best approach, so one must be sure about what one is trying to communicate.
It is essential for students to understand that each individual has a specialty or a forte, which he/she is good at, so an Art Director cannot do all kinds of films. That is why technicians should seriously consider each project that they do and not jump into each an every project that comes their way. As Ms. Roy’s parting advise, she said, “If you are not willing to take risks then you wont move ahead… Just remember to invest your time greatly in research, analysis and study as well as be quick thinking… figure out things, anticipate things… and when you think something is absolutely necessary for the film, try your best to communicate to and convince your Director to make or finish the set in the way that is required…”
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