Author: info

Melissa Garza Q & A

Jeremy Railton speaks to Melissa Garza.

JEREMY: Melissa welcome to our world. As you have discovered we have a very wide range of disciplines in our Company. Theme parks, Theater, Attractions, Television and Live Shows and even now, live birds and green habitats. I hope you are able to embrace the diversity that we at EDC love. What were you doing before you were here that made you confident that you could tackle the extremely challenging position of Production Manager for all EDC projects?

MELISSA: I was born confident, I have a firm belief that anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it. We all have gifts and talents that are unique to us, but we still have unlimited potential that we can always tap into. Coupled with the right encouragement and support anyone can move leaps and bounds in their life. But to answer your question, I was working in the visual effects industry on feature films and theme park experiences. I also have done some independent producing and assistant directing as well. So I’m used to working on projects that have a lot of moving parts and different personalities to engage with.

JEREMYHow did you find us or what was the process that you went through that happily got you to us?

MELISSA: I guess you want the real answer here, not the cookie cutter one… Well, I was very committed to finding my right divine livelihood from an event I went to called “Prayers in the Wind.” At the event, we set our intentions of what we were looking for in different areas in our lives. I personally wanted to find an opportunity that served my highest good. I prayed that the right opportunity would present itself. Eventually, I came across an ad on the Internet and found myself on EDC’s website. Since college, I have also wanted to work on mixed media experiences and I applied later that evening and was advised by a coach to see if I have any common connections to see if I could get a word of mouth recommendation. Low and behold my friend Chris was connected to Alex and he got the ball rolling. After five interviews I was offered the job and I accepted. So having faith, a supportive community of friends, and luck (living under cosmic knowledge) led me to EDC.

JEREMYWhere were you born and do you have any family stories that you would like to share with us so we can better know who you are?

MELISSA: I was born on May 21st, in Westminster, CA behind the Orange Curtain… known as Orange County LOL! My dad was an aerospace engineer and my mom managed a medical office when I was growing up. My mom used to always get mad at my dad for telling me scary bedtime stories about aliens and dinosaurs, but I loved every minute of them. We used to always go camping at San Onofre State Beach and I was a pretty good swimmer, I saved my dad once when he was caught in a riptide and also another cousin from drowning there when I was a kid. Come to think of it, I was a YMCA lifeguard, and I’m currently a certified Advanced Open Water Diver through PADI. Ever since I was in the fourth grade my love for the ocean and sharks has become a staple of mine. Over the years I have amassed quite a unique collection of shark memorabilia.

JEREMYDo you have any siblings and is your Grandmother still with us. Any stories there?

MELISSA:  Yes, I have one brother. His name is Lloyd and he’s one year younger than me. What makes Lloyd unique is that he is a mute and has the mind of an 8-year old, but he’s a little trickster sometimes. Think “Rain Man” but lower functioning. Growing up for me has always been different, I had a lot of responsibility when my parents divorced and had to become a caretaker pretty quickly. Also being raised with someone who didn’t speak or didn’t sign that much shaped a lot of how I picked up on social cues non verbally. I think this is the main reason why I ask a lot of questions, cause I’m used to having to ask someone something to get an answer rather than have a conversation. At times friends have told me talking to me seems like an interrogation, but I’m working on it.  As for my Grandparents, they are all no longer alive, but they are around in spirit. Especially my mom’s mom Josepha. On the rare occasion she pays a visit in my dreams or my mom’s dreams. My parents are from Texas in a small town called Kingsville, we used to always go there to visit when I was growing up.

JEREMYWhat was your education and where did you go to school?

MELISSA: I have my AA in music from Fullerton College and I have a BA in Theatre Arts and a minor in music from California State University, Fullerton. I went to Chapman University for my MFA in film production and created my own emphasis in digital effects and motion capture.  My thesis film “Captured Melody” won the Audience Award for best 3D film at the Big Bear Lake film festival in 2013. The film combined live action and motion capture technology to tell the story of a 12 year old girl who learns the secret to her own identity and the real meaning of love through a story her Grandmother tells her.  It’s a modern day fairy tale with a spin that “Love isn’t always a Fairy Tale”.

JEREMYWhat is your favorite movie?

MELISSA: This is a tough one, but two films share first place. Steven Spielberg’s E.T. and James Cameron’s Avatar.  Both films have strong themes that relate to how I grew up and what possibilities mean to me. I can’t wait for the next series of Avatar films, and I was happy to have the opportunity to work as a motion tracker on the first film during reshoots. James Cameron is, of course, my favorite film director and we both have similar ties in the OC.

JEREMYWho is your favorite band/musical artist?

MELISSA: My favorite musical artist is Madonna. Ever since I was in high school I loved her music so much. When I had blonde hair a lot of people have told me I look like her.  I saw her at Barney’s in Beverly Hills for her skin care line launch recently and I said to myself, wow we do look alike. It was a weird moment for sure. LOL! My favorite song and music video by her is “Nobody Knows Me” from the album “American Life” performed in her Re-Invention tour, which I went to, twice! I have always wanted to direct one of her tours and many of her music videos. Surprisingly, Madonna and James Cameron share the same birthday, August 16th. They both have inspired me in so many ways from the desire to direct and to perform and sing on stage at times.

JEREMYI know you to be a spiritual person, are you part of any organizations that help you to express that side of your nature?

MELISSA:I am currently a member of the Agape International Choir and have attended Agape for the past year or so for my soul food. I really love the community there and how they support members to become leaders and artists. I attended their Revelations conference this year and was extremely moved by all the speakers and new wisdom I had attained. I literally had revelations upon revelations. Serving as part of the choir really lets me connect with my spiritual side and I enjoy being part of a really diverse and creative group of singers.

JEREMYYou are around creative people all day do you have any creative outlets that you use to express yourself and exercise that muscle?

MELISSA: It depends, when I feel like being creative, I create. Creations range from fashion art with sharpies, directing films, doing animation, writing music, singing, writing my first book (which hopefully will be published this year), cross-stitching, cooking, coloring, drawing, photography, and making silly photos of friends with filters and emojis. I’ve even taken an electronics course recently to learn about creating things with LEDs.

JEREMYDo you have anything to tell us that would surprise us and that by my questioning you would not be able to talk about? Try to surprise us

MELISSA: Last year I ran for U.S Representative in the 34th congressional district special election in April of 2017. It was fun and I learned a lot about politics and I enjoy meeting so many interesting candidates. It really inspired me to be more active in my local community after the election.  Recently, I was voted in as a business board member for my local neighborhood council. I’m really grateful to be part of a diverse community who champions for their stakeholders. Maybe sometime in the future I will run again but as an Independent. Here’s a favorite quote from one of my favorite President’s who compared knowledge to light. “He who receives an idea from me receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine receives light without darkening me.” – Thomas Jefferson

JEREMY: Welcome to EDC

MELISSA: Thank you for having me and I look forward to seeing where spirit guides me in our EDC adventure together. I’m excited to what the future holds and rest in knowing that my path in life is always divinely guided.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave


Aaron Servera Q & A

Alex Calle speaks to Aaron Servera.

ALEX: Aaron, we’ve had the pleasure of your presence over these past couple of months getting a feel for what EDC is and the type of work we do. It seems like yesterday that you started with us. How was the exposure to Location Based Entertainment? What were your expectations of the business and work before you started? Have they changed at all?

AARON: Time has absolutely flown by, but it has been an absolute pleasure. Starting at EDC I had very little expectations but very high hopes. I had only seen a little bit of what this side of the architecture industry could offer so I came in open minded. I expected the work to be much like my studio classes at school, long but productive days filled with ambition, creativity, and caffeine. EDC had never fallen short of providing a creative learning experience that has allowed me to grow as both an Architecture Student and designer.

ALEX: I hear you’ve recently started looking into Set Design as a possible career path. Film? Theatre? Opera? All of the above? What drew you to exploring that idea?

AARON: To be completely honest I’m not sure which area I would like to explore. This is my first real exposure to anything remotely related to the entertainment side of architecture. I have absolutely loved working on SanTonga and hope to find new opportunities within that realm of entertainment design. My interest in entertainment design started when I realized I didn’t want to have the average architecture student’s job out of school and wanted to design spaces that are story-driven.

ALEX: What turns you on creatively?

AARON: Being able to utilize multiple mediums in designing while drawing from more than just one design experience.

ALEX: You’re currently at Woodbury University studying Architecture, right? Junior/Senior year here you come (5 year program, ugh… so long!) How did you originally find the world of designing buildings and space? How old were you? Had you always dreamed of being a starchitect?

AARON: To be honest, I never wanted to do architecture until it came time to choose a career path. I was 17 and a senior in high school at the time, and I visited Woodbury in the spring of 2015 during a “milestone” presentation for the 5th year thesis. Seeing the different models and drawings that, at the time I couldn’t even understand, was so fascinating to me. That’s the one moment I can pinpoint being the start of my interest. That same year, on our senior trip we were in Italy and I realized how truly captivated I was to experience some of the most iconic buildings in the world. It was there that I had received news of my acceptance into Woodbury and decided to take a chance. I knew I was always creative, my interest in photography also played and important role in this decision.

ALEX: What’s your favorite piece of art… ever? Any medium, any genre. Aaanndd GO!

AARON: I can’t say I have a favorite piece, but my favorite genre of art is surreal / collage art without a doubt. Although, the American Architect Lebbeus Woods has produced some of my favorite architectural drawings.

ALEX: I’ve always been fascinated by Mike Rowe and his ‘Dirty Jobs’ show. What profession have you always been temped to try even though it might be out of your wheelhouse?

AARON: Though I wouldn’t say out of my “wheelhouse” I had considered three other career paths for most of high school. I had wanted to be a Stunt Man for a long time. At one point I considered Photography as well but the path I had almost taken before deciding on architecture was the LA Fire Department. I have family who have served many years in LAFD and it was always something that interested me.

ALEX: What period of design would you most subscribe too? Modern? Mid-Century? Bauhaus? International? Why?

AARON: Modernism, Romanticism, and Futurism are all particularly fascinating and influence my work.

ALEX: What’s your spirit animal?

AARON: Although I have yet to charge my crystals and take our PA Sharon’s spiritual journey, my spirit animal has been said to be connected to the tiger on different occasions.

ALEX: You’re also a photographer, yes? How do you think photography and architecture play together? Do the two arts exercise different parts of you?

AARON: Photography in Architecture is an experience of space. This past semester was filled with a comprehensive study of Julius Shulman’s work. He is said to be one of the greatest architectural photographers of all time. His work is heavily connected to modernist and romanticist ideas in a way that help describe the special qualities of architecture. A photo is the best way to describe a personal experience of architecture. Having come from a multiple years of photography experience getting to combine the two experiences was not only challenging but incredibly fruitful. It absolutely pushed the boundaries of my work.

ALEX: In the beautiful styling of James Lipton’s immaculate questionnaire based, in part, on the Proust Questionnaire, what is your favorite curse word?

AARON: As Jessie Pinkman / Aaron Paul can attest to “Bitch”.

SaveSave

SaveSave


Alex Calle and the crew of The View Upstairs at Celebration Theatre win multiple BroadwayWorld Los Angeles Awards!

EDC’s Alex Calle is proud to have provided the concept, design, and construction services for The View Upstairs set which won Best Scenic Design for a Local Production.

Other winners for The View Upstairs include Michael A. Shepperd for Best Direction of a Musical (Local Production) and Martha Carter (Best Lighting Design (Local Production).

For more details on all the winners, click HERE.

 


Jeremy Railton reflects on the Thea Awards and the Themed Entertainment Industry

EDC Founder and Chairman Jeremy Railton reflects on the Thea Awards and the Themed Entertainment industry in his article featured in Live Design.

Read all about it HERE.

 


Juliana De Abreu Q & A

Francesca Nicolas, Director of Design at EDC speaks to Art Director Juliana De Abreu .

FRANCESCA: We are very proud of having an incredibly diverse team here at EDC. Can you tell us a bit of where you are from and what brought you to LA?

JULIANA: I was born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I went to college there for Architecture and Urbanism, and there I worked for a few years. The program is a lot broader than in the US. Once, I worked for an architect who was also a scenic designer for theater. He asked me to assist with him for a musical play and that was a turning point. I was hooked by the process, and how fast our ideas would end up as reality. Architecture can take years; Urban Planning even more.

At the time, I felt there were some gaps in my knowledge of a theater production. Also, I wanted to have the experience of living abroad for a while. Going to grad school in another country made sense, so I went full board on it.

On a flight from New York to São Paulo, a girl sitting next to me strongly suggested CalArts. She was graduating from another place but told me to check it out. So, I applied there among other places; had a great interview, really liked the program and the school environment.

My intention was to complete my student visa, go to Europe for one year, and then return to Brazil. But I met this incredible guy, with a very creative career as a guitar maker, he proposed just after I graduated CalArts and here we are, settled in LA! 

FRANCESCA: Did you always have a passion for the stage and screen and knew that was your end goal? Or was it inspired by your family’s involvement in the entertainment industry in Brazil?

JULIANA: That was always the opposite of my goal! It always bothered me how people treated me differently because of my dad, and not because of what I’ve done or who I was.

Although my dad always kept my mom and I far from his work outside of home, we participated on every aspect of his creative process at home, where he used to write. We would travel together, watch movies, and go see plays for his research; I read the synopsis and first episodes of all his telenovelas; discussed casting, watched screen tests, talked about costumes, locations, even soundtracks; heard many of his phone meetings; and had to watch every episode of his novelas, in the dark and in silence, and after it was over, we discussed the good and the bad points of it.

When I decided to study Scenic Design, it was clear to me I would go abroad. I wanted to make my own path. Only then I found out how much I’ve learned from my dad. I never saw that as a professional education – since I born, that was the way of interacting with him! It was fun, but at the same time, it was normal. He was not this incredibly talented writer, for me he was just my dad.

FRANCESCA: You’ve been part of the latest and greatest projects we have completed here at EDC in the past four years, including Art Director for Shrek’s Merry Fairy Tale Journey dark ride at MOTIONGATE Dubai, Great Wolf Lodge’s Marvelous Mural, among others. Do you want to talk a bit about your experience working on those?

JULIANA: I can’t believe it’s been four years! We’ve done so much, but at the same time, it feels like yesterday that Alex called me to join the EDC family.

I absolutely love the diversity background of the teams; I try to learn as much as I can from everyone: animators, designers, video designers, sound and so on. I feel so lucky for working with so many talented people!

I also love that these projects are rooted both in Scenic Design and Architecture, but with different variables. We work with worlds and characters that are not real and have to consider that real guests are going to be inside this new environment.

It’s great to have a discussion about the clearance of the space according to the local building code in the morning and talks in the afternoon of what would the character intentions and thoughts are.

The back and forth from both worlds that are about to coexist in the same place fascinates me.

FRANCESCA: Prior to all that, you worked on the set design for Rocky, the musical on Broadway, and just recently completed a series of interior design projects for a few apartments in NYC. Can you share a bit about those two very different projects and what they perhaps have in common?

JULIANA: It’s funny, to me Rocky the Musical, and Shrek ride are the jobs in a closer category. Both are about a misfit, and both design projects won prizes at the end – and if I remember correctly, on both there were a lot of hours invested in a short time!

On Rocky I was an assistant for Chris Barreca, who was my mentor and who I previously assisted for on a few regional theater shows.

The Manhattan interiors is like returning to a safe place. Its what I used to do before working on sets, and I always had a blast doing those. I guess the difference is that it’s more of a solitary work – I’m a 100% the designer, the researcher, the manager, and the construction site supervisor. I was lucky to have a freedom on the deadline, so I could work at EDC at the same time.

In my mind, a set for a play, an architectural interior, or even an exhibition design for a museum, a large commercial event design, or a theme park ride, are all designing of space. Those are places that have a need. Either a fictional character or a real person, someone will be in that space, and will have to be attended.

The architectural client has his/her needs; but so does the director, the characters, the actors of a play; and the guests of a museum or theme park. While a set should help tell a story, a living room should reflect the apartment owners’ preferences, way of life, and interests. In architectural design, there’s a beauty of real sunlight; in a set, there’s the magic of the lighting designer. Doesn’t it sound equivalent to you?

FRANCESCA: Based on your experience and creative process, do you consider having a foundation in Architecture crucial to your work as a Scenic Designer?

JULIANA: Although I don’t believe every Scenic Designer should have an Architecture background, to me it was very important. When looking at a plan, I’m able to feel the space as a whole – not just visually, but also understanding how one would circulate around it, for instance. Also, I’m comfortable at construction sites. Once I’m there, I can get how it’s going to look and feel after construction is finished. For large design projects, it has helped me to understand the engineering and architecture aspects of the jobs, with the artistic needs of it as well. Oh, and drafting is a pretty good way of communication with the TD!

FRANCESCA:  What would you recommend students currently enrolled in Themed Entertainment Design programs and those who want to make a move from another career into Themed Entertainment?

JULIANA: Entertainment Design is not just a career, it’s more like a way of life. I guess one has to really be committed to it, live for it, in order to move forward. What keeps me going is being constantly curious; and I know it’s never going to be enough.

I would tell a student: fill up your brain with information; listen to people; read; observe, take notes, draw; go to museums, art galleries, fairs; go to the movies, go to plays; travel; immerse yourself in new and different situations and take some time to think about what each one has added to you. Once you are in it, remember you’ll have to learn forever; otherwise you’ll get stuck in the past. Your next project should be better than your previous one.

Also, keep in mind your days are probably going to be 100% dedicated to work when you’re in a job. Finally, don’t think you’re going to get rich by designing.

FRANCESCA:  What type of projects (and in which city) do you want to see yourself more involved in in the near future?

JULIANA: This a tough one! I enjoy novelty and challenges, I enjoy having the opportunity to be creative and learning in new and challenging spaces, especially in cooperation with talented, creative people. I truly enjoy traveling and experiencing different cultures as well. I also have this dream of developing a project in Brazil some day. I guess I’ve been so busy in the US that I haven’t had the time for it yet.

In all honesty, there are times where I genuinely feel like I should start acting more like a grown up and look for a more secure job – 9 to 5, good benefits, a stable salary, no work outside of the office. But then I think about it again, and knowing me, I’ll be bored the first day!

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave


Levi Lack Q & A

Jeremy Railton speaks to Levi Lack.

JEREMY: When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist/designer? Did you have support from your parents?

LEVI: I think I realized it pretty young. I can’t remember I time that I wasn’t drawing, so it was always a part of the plan growing up! I knew I wanted to create things and spent most of my childhood building cardboard forts, drawing and painting. My parents have always been extremely supportive and encouraging about my creative endeavors.

JEREMY: Where were you born? Also when?

LEVI: I was born in Atlanta Georgia, June of 1995. Although I spent most of my time growing up in Reno Nevada.

JEREMY: Tell us about your family? Is there creativity in your genes or are you an anomaly in your family? Do you have siblings?

LEVI: My Dad is from Houston, Texas and my mom is from Kingston, Jamaica. Neither of them have art related work or careers, but they definitely have a bit of creativity in them. My great uncle Ary was a painter by craft, and I have some other family who are/were musicians. I have a younger brother named Jonah who is into photography and music, and 2 step siblings Lindsey and Logan.

JEREMY: What have you been doing in the design field before coming to EDC?

LEVI: Prior to EDC I was working as an Assistant Art Director at another design firm whose focus was more live events and broadcast. As well as that, I was doing a bit of theatre design and illustration on the side. Before I graduated from school I was able to be apart of some amazing design related work like the CalArts WDI Educational initiative, Intern at the Academy Awards, and have a theatre show travel to New York and back to California for some festivals!

JEREMY: What are your ultimate ambitions and your favorite medium to work in?

LEVI: I’d love to get the chance to one day do some production design for some large scale themed entertainment environments. That, and still be able to be do some concept illustration. Who knows! My favorite medium is still sketching with pencil to paper.

JEREMY: What interests or appeals to you about working for EDC?

LEVI: What was the most appealing was the range of projects you all work on and the role I would get to play in working on them. Everyone in the office and the environment seemed so welcoming and friendly, so that as well!

JEREMY: Do you do any fine art for yourself?

LEVI: I do a bit of sketching and world building in my free time- though I wish I had more time too!

JEREMY: What was your education and have you had any teacher or mentors that you would like to speak about?

LEVI: I got my BFA in Scenic Design from CalArts School of Theatre, but focused a lot of my time on Illustration and Scenic Painting as well. There are so many wonderful teachers I had in school, but if I could only name a few it would have to be Michael Smith and Mary Heilman. They really helped me grow as an artist and overall as a person.

JEREMY: What do you think is your most lovable quality?

LEVI:  People seem to appreciate my consistent calm and kind demeanor, and my commitment to pushing on until the project is complete.

 JEREMY: Tell us something about yourself that we have not asked.

LEVI: I’m first generation American on my moms side. My mom’s lineage consists of Jamaican, Portuguese, Haitian, Chinese, and on my Dads side my grandmother was born in Lithuania. So my brother and I have a pretty crazy gene pool. My mom joked she was playing genetic roulette with me while she was pregnant.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave


Jessica Hill Q & A

 Jeremy Railton chats with production manager Jessica Hill.

JEREMY: Hi Jessica and welcome to EDC. You’ve only been here a few months as our Production Manager and we do these Q and A conversations so that we can get to know you on a more personal basis. We all spend so much time together that we become more like a family so sharing these chats with our readers and potential clients helps to build one of the most important things in our business: trust. To that end, would you tell us a little about where you were born and grew up?

JESSICA: I was born in Seoul, Korea, and moved to Chile at three years old. At the time, many Koreans were hoping to find a way to move to America, and often the easiest path was through a different country. My family and I moved to America when I was five. We first lived in Upstate NY, then New Jersey, and settled in Brooklyn NY.

JEREMY: I know you are married with kids—you can brag—so I know not to ask if you have hobbies or what you do with your free time unless you have miraculous super powers.

JESSICA: I wish I had super powers; I could really use those right now. I’ll settle for sleep and alone time. My two beautiful children, Mark (7) and Jude (3) who are the light of my life, keep me on my toes. I’m happy to report they’ve reached the age where we can all enjoy the beach in our different ways and I couldn’t be any happier. We like to surf, boogie board, swim, build sand castles, and collect shells.

JEREMY: Could you tell us about your previous education and life experience?

JESSICA: I was a dental hygiene major in New York City. The more I worked the more I realized that dental hygiene was not meant for me. My husband and I are big gamers, and when I was ready to rejoin the work force after rearing children, an opportunity in the video games industry came about. I began working in marketing and project management. This experience led me to a video game creative agency as the head of Business Development and Project Manager. My experience lies in creating marketing campaigns based on performance metrics.

JEREMY: How did you find out about EDC?

JESSICA: I was very interested in the production side of the entertainment industry and was referred to EDC through a mutual friend of Alex’s.

JEREMY: Was there anything in particular that attracted you to us?

JESSICA: EDC’s accomplishments and values are very well respected in the themed entertainment industry. I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to learn about the creative side of the industry.

Once I met the team, I was ecstatic. EDC’s team members are imaginative and ideas and cutting-edge. Every member of our team is so unique in their own styles and personalities. This leads to interesting lunch discussion topics. There’s never a boring day here, and I’m so grateful to be here.

JEREMY: With your Korean ancestry you are a good fit for this company of diversity! I am originally Zimbabwean, although I have lived here longer than most Americans and we have Francesca, our production designer, who is from Dominican Republic; Danilo, our illustrator, is from Colombia, while Alex, Richard, Ellen, and Teena are, respectively, from Florida, New York, California and Wisconsin and our company accountant is from China. Can you see any benefits to this diversity?

JESSICA: I’ve learned a lot from growing up in different countries and I believe EDC’s cultural diversity brings a global perspective that inspires fresh ideas. It creates a well-rounded workforce, but most importantly, the diversity of our team brings wider industry knowledge to adapt, innovate, and progress as a company.

JEREMY: As our production manager you drill down into the details of project scheduling, budgeting, client interaction, but I know you have a creative soul—do you think you will be able to feel creatively gratified.

JESSICA: My position is unique in I can express my creativity in different ways. Finding solutions and visualizing ideas through management of various projects is stimulating and rewarding. I appreciate EDC’s spirit of welcoming creative ideas from everyone on our team, beyond their specific responsibilities.

JEREMY: So far it’s been calm around here, apart from some long hours, but it can get crazy and stressful. Have you learned or do you practice any ways to help you remain calm. I have always found that a difficult challenge to manage.

JESSICA: This sounds cheesy, but like to take a minute to breathe and close my eyes, think of my children and how beautiful life is. One thing that makes my world a better place is the people I associate with. Big thanks to our team here at EDC for making stressful times manageable!

JEREMY: Is there anything you would like to share with your new family and our readers?

JESSICA: Being part of this team is an inspiration. There’s so much creative energy I can’t help but feel I am in a truly unique and special environment.

SaveSave

SaveSave


Designer's Notebook: Animal Safari

jrblogheader2

jrEDC’s Founder and Chairman, Jeremy Railton, pulls back the curtain to give readers a rare glimpse into his creative mind in this personal blog, DESIGNER’S NOTEBOOK.

DESIGNER’S NOTEBOOK shares Jeremy’s creative evolution through a series of intimate anecdotes, ‘scar-tissue’ tips, and the practical wisdom acquired from over 40+ years of entertainment design.

 

Animal Safari

My Adventures with Animals

Life in the Animal Zone

I grew up in the 50s, on my family’s farm in Zimbabwe Central Africa, forty miles from the Victoria Falls. As early as I can remember, I would entertain myself for hours on end by drawing everything around me: lions, wart hogs, baboons, kudu, duiker, impala, rabbits, tortoises and birds. My father, while he appreciated my drawing skills, would have preferred it if I had learned how to chop firewood.

Buda Farm, Nyamanbhlovu in Zimbabwe drawn from memory

1950

Animals and Humans Meet

Saturday was a big day on the farm. All the cattle from miles around were herded in and pushed through a plunge dip to rid them of ticks. Some of the cattle that belonged to the tribesmen were like wild animals so the whistling and shouting and jostling was really fun.

I remember a particular Saturday when I was about seven. A large Kudu bull had got himself caught up in the melee of horned cattle. Just before he reached the plunge, he launched into a leap that only a Kudu can do and finding himself trapped in the farm yard, jumped over fences, zoomed past the trading store and ran through the vegetable garden, trampling my mother’s roses, until he was finally confronted by the trading store tailor holding a little spear, which he valiantly threw at the animal. It bounced of the tough hide and bent in two!

The trading store tailor with a less fortunate Kudu. Kudu were plentiful and fed the farm with fresh meat for a week.

Later that day, I was having afternoon tea with my eighty year old grandmother, a rather stern “children should be seen and not heard” Victorian colonial. We did not have a close relationship, but that day, seeing me flushed and jabbering with excitement from the Kudu bull adventure, she said something that has stayed with me my whole life: “I have to apologize to you for my generation” she said, as she fanned herself with her Chinese fan. “We have ruined the earth. We have killed the great herds of Africa, wiped out the buffalo and made the Quagga and the passenger pigeon extinct.”

Her confession stunned me and changed my point of view in an instant. My familiar world consisted of our family farm and the tribal kids that I played with. Elephants, lions and leopards were a natural part of the environment so the idea of “running out” of animals had never dawned on me with my ‘bush kid’ mentality, and her words planted a seed that continued to grow into a life-long interest in wildlife, environmental conservation and my interest in telling animal stories, which I’m still doing to this day.

My Grandmother and one of the three specimens of the Passenger pigeon left in the world. I found this one at the Fort Worth Children’s Museum.
Quagga specimen at the East London Museum in the Western Cape of South Africa

 

A few years later, I had an experience that sparked my interest in ornithology. I was walking past an acacia bush with white thorns when I noticed a broken bird’s nest woven out of bright yellow grass. Inside were five eggs, one of which had been pierced by a thorn and all of the contents had leaked out. My artistic eye was immediately attracted to this sparkling white little egg of a Blue Waxbill.

I realized that I could intentionally pierce the remaining eggs, remove their contents, and keep them forever. I thought that I had invented egg blowing, but a few years later, my dreams of an empire based on blowing birds eggs crumbled when I went to a museum for the first time and saw their fantastic egg collections. I got over my disappointment by registering with the Ornithological Society and started turning in egg records and bird check lists, which by the way, I still have.

Blue Waxbill that inspired me to collect egg
This is my egg collection, which I still have with the original records.

 

When I got a little older, I thought that I had two choices in life: I could become a game warden or an artist. I was always drawing and painting birds and once I started winning children’s painting competitions my path pointed to art and commerce.

Although life on the farm was paradise, our economic survival was always tied to the vagaries of nature: a flock of a thousand Quelea finches that could wipe out a sorghum crop in a night; a herd of wild pigs in the vegetable garden that could wipe out a season’s tomato crop; a few nights of porcupines in the corn field taking one bite out of each cob, and all the while our eyes were turned to the sky for signs of rain.

From an early age, the challenge of earning a living was impressed on me by my hard working farmer Dad. If I was going to pursue my passion for art, I had to consider how I was going to support myself.

When I was 16, I entered a competition and won the honor of designing the cover of an Ornithology magazine and felt that I had a direction. When I was 18, after I graduated from High School and before going to University, I was given a job painting Dioramas in the Bulawayo Natural History Museum.

At the Museum, under the direction of Terry Donnelly, the head artist and Terence Coffin-Grey, the Taxidermist, I learned how to convey the visual narrative of a scene. They taught me that closely observed details—animal tracks, dung and accompanying insects, plants and geography—explain more about the life of the animals than just the animals themselves.

This early lesson helped me later, in my theatrical design career, especially in theme park design where my principal job is story telling.

Master painter, Terry Donnelly, who hired me to be her assistant and my first solo display case, the diorama for the vultures.

Khamera

In the early 70s, my parent sold our farm and bought a piece of land adjacent to the Khami Ruins, the former site of a fourteenth century civilization. Their plan was to make a Tourist Nature Park, which they named ‘Khamera’. The five-thousand acre site was easily accessible from the nearby city of Bulawayo and the land had many natural features, such as Bushmen rock art paintings, a magnificent Baobab tree and exquisite scenery.

To help my parents create a tourist experience, I did my first master plan, designing a tea room, a restaurant, a craft village, a site museum and overnight chalets. “Organic” and “Sustainable”, today’s buzzwords for eco-conscious tourism, was the only way that we could function in building the Nature Park, given the natural resources and my family’s limited budget.

Khamera Nature Park near Kami Ruins
Sketches of Khamera chalets and a craft village
Khamera site museum where my egg collection was housed. The rock paintings were copied from the rock art on the property.

From Zimbabwe to Hollywood

I have written elsewhere of my journey to Hollywood—by the early 90s, I had enjoyed a design career in many different media, from Theater, Dance, Film, and TV to Theme Park Attractions, Live Concerts and Shows. For the first time, I was able to catch my breath and dream about what kinds of project I would like to do. I started to think about how I might integrate the earlier part of my life—my love and connection to animals, especially birds, while living in the middle of Los Angeles.

As I was contemplating this conundrum, a falconer friend of mine, Tony Huston, introduced me to Steve Martin, one of the best-known animal trainers and bird behaviorists in the world. Steve has pioneered the art of training a variety of birds and animals through positive reinforcement. His use of non-traditional, free flight birds combined with an inspiring conservation message sets his shows apart from many other animal shows.

Steve invited me to work with him on designing a bird show theatre for the National Aviary in Pittsburgh.

We visualized the show ‘in the round’ and I designed it using projection and places for the trainers to hide so as not to intrude.

Singapore Zoo

Shortly after that, Steve invited me me to come to Singapore and work with him and Angie Millwood, an animal behaviorist colleague, on designing new shows for the Singapore Zoo, one of the first ‘open encounter’ zoos in the world that was run at that time by Fanny Lai, a naturalist who was also an artist and cartoonist.

Steve Martin, Angi Millwood and myself on a consulting job with the trainers at the Singapore zoo.

Village of Lost Pets

One of our mandates was to come up with some narrative concepts for their outdoor theatre shows that ended with a positive theme of protecting animals. Because of my African background, I had been around animals in the wild and understood their rhythms and temperament. This resonated with Steve’s ‘natural encounters’ philosophy—teaching domestically-raised birds and animals to perform their own natural behaviors.

From our earlier work on the Aviary I knew that Steve and I shared an understanding that our primary mission was to entertain.

My favorite concept was for a show called Village of Lost Pets that I developed with Angi Millwood.

As the title suggests, all lost pets—dogs, cats, rabbits—come to a village where there are no humans. The audience watches the lost pets going about their daily chores when a group of hooligans show up. The animals go into hiding and when the hooligans drop lighted cigarettes and litter, with no respect for the environment, the pets sneak in and clean it up. The show ends with the pets trapping the invaders in a net until their dog frees them, thus the show conveyed an emotional message about conservation and brought empathy and understanding about the heavy footprint of man on the vulnerable animal population all over the world.

On the spot concept drawing for Village of Lost Pets with only an animal cast of characters—no trainers!
Outdoor Stage
Concept renderings for a show about a polluted logging camp in Brazil. During the course of the show the animals and cast members transform it back to a pristine forest.

 

SOAR at the San Diego Zoo

Shortly after Singapore, I collaborated with Steve and Natural Encounters on a nighttime show for the San Diego Zoo. The idea of this show was for the guests to have a beautiful emotional experience of watching birds free flying to music and to tell a story without the usual constant banter of the trainers on headsets that can often become the focus of attention, upstaging the birds.

SOAR began with a darkened stage. The sound of flapping wings broke the silence, and in silhouette, a giant bird flew above the heads of the audience to create a memorable opening encounter. One of the design challenges was designing theatrical lighting at nighttime that enhanced the beauty and emotional rhythm of the performance in a way that would not affect the birds’ sensitivity.

One of my favorite moments came a beat later when a cell phone started ringing in the pocket of an ‘audience member’. As the guy started to have a loud conversation, a crow flew out, took his phone and dropped it into the pond on stage. The show started with the audience laughing cheering and clapping instead of a shrill host’s voice shouting “Turn Off Your Phones”!

For the finale of SOAR, I was able to redesign a magical illusion that I had first used for a Diana Ross Tour—making her appear live on stage from a projected image. In this case the illusion involved a Marabou Stork. The effect depended on the Stork walking through a paneled screen composed of vertical strips of elastic. Steve’s genius was to teach the Stork to walk through the strips on a precise cue that made it seem that the onscreen image had suddenly come to life. The Stork then flew off to the cheers of the audience.

SOAR at the San Diego Zoo: A night time free flying show with music and limited visible trainers.

Outdoor Stage for SOAR

Show scenes with lighting: “Real Theater” comes to Bird shows

Dancing Cranes

In 2007, Lim Kok Tay, the Chairman of Resorts World Sentosa, asked me to create a dynamic work of public art that would embody the spirit of his new resort. He wanted something big and impressive and the first idea was to do a show using giant construction cranes, with their movement synchronized to music and lighting. The problem was that but I couldn’t figure out how to create any kind of emotional connection between the audience and a piece of construction equipment.

One night I was staring at my drafting lamp when it occurred to me that it had the basic joint articulation of the Crane, a well-known symbol of health and longevity in Asian culture. Musing on the double meaning of the word ‘crane,’ I started to pose the lamp in various positions. As a bird lover, I was familiar with the Cranes’ mating dance and as the design process evolved, I started to see two giant crane birds dancing with one another.

For inspiration, I attached a second drafting lamp to my table and sketched out a ten-minute show where the cranes meet each other, dance and fall in love. The original design included several digital displays that provided information about the work of the International Crane Foundation to create awareness about protecting this beloved species and their eco-systems. My Company, EDC, was honored with a THEA Award for Best Attraction for the Crane Dance show.

Mechanical Dancing Cranes

A Happy Bird Garden for China

The bird population of China has suffered many setbacks, not the least of which is the loss of habitat. Responding to the Government’s desire to pay close attention to ecology, I designed an attraction that would provide a safe haven for wild birds by planting indigenous trees, grasses and shrubs to attract them while protecting them from predation.

The Happy Bird Garden, as we called it, offered a multi-level nature experience that would educate and entertain guests of all ages and levels of health and conditioning, from small children to parents and grand-parents.

A gentle wooden walking path, supported on stilts, rose and curved through a variety of nature experiences as it wound over streams and ponds. The exercise path connected to a series of special function decks that provided a place for cool-down, yoga, and gentle calisthenics while viewing digital displays of endangered birds (including audio recordings of their unique songs). Here, the goal was conservation, rehabbing a natural environment and education about the bird species in the region while giving people a fun place to exercise.

A Happy Bird Garden for China

Conservation through Entertainment

Recently, some friends visited me from Africa and they told me that fifty years ago, a survey was conducted that counted twenty-five-hundred Rhino in the Mana Pools, a wildlife conservation area in northern Zimbabwe. Today there are only one-hundred and twenty. Reflecting on the shocking destruction of animal habitat and the loss of species in my lifetime reminded me of my Grandmother’s apology to me in the 50’s.

And here I find myself back in the same position as her, wanting to apologize for my generation. I want to do my part to inspire the care and conservation of animals and their habitat by designing authentic animal experiences that create an emotional arc that brings us closer to understanding our responsibility of stewardship of the animal realm.

Animals as Ambassadors of their Species

We are witnessing a sea change in the world’s perception of animals in captivity, which is wonderful, but I fear it has swung too far, making it difficult to interact with live animals, especially lower income families who can’t afford the middle class luxury of enjoying zoos and the circus, which was where I was able to spend time looking at animals from other places than Africa.

When I lived in Rome, I made friends with a Guinea fowl in the park zoo and that relationship got me through many difficult and lonely times. It was when I was close enough to look into a bird’s or animal’s eye and saw the conscious personality coming through that my heart was reached as a little kid.

Capturing animals in the wild is a huge problem and I do not for one moment support that idea. The Victorian-style zoo with bars, concrete floors, and no space to walk is cruel! But many zoos, nowadays, are amazing places of research and animal study with environments where animals get to behave in a way that their non-captive bred species do in the wild.

Blackfish, a documentary about alleged marine life abuse at SeaWorld, fired up a protest, already activated by PETA, and created a furor that compelled Ringling Brothers Circus, by popular demand, to eliminate the elephant act from their program. Fortunately, Ringling Brothers was able to find a home for their retired elephant herd!

It is already a huge problem to find places to release animals, even under human supervision. It takes years to help an animal learn how to live and feed itself in the wild. My personal dilemma is heightened when I see so many captive-bred animals euthanized because a bunch of city-raised people want to “feel good” about freeing animals. When I speak about this issue, I ask people to imagine that they have lived in a comfortable one roomed apartment in Manhattan or any large city all of their lives (an idea that is abhorrent to me personally.) Imagine that one day you take that person to a farm in California, let them out of the car and say you are free; live your life on the farm—after all, humans are hunter gathers. Stepping on bare earth and walking through long grass with no air conditioning would be a shock! The same is true for captive-bred animals.

If animals are loved, respected, and nurtured they are happy and healthy. I can never understand why it’s okay for horses, dogs, and cats to live in a house and yet a hand-raised Zebra or wild cat is not acceptable. If Rhinos are about to be extinct, do we just stand back, try to catch poachers and watch the Rhinos, one by one, driven to extinction?

There are some very good stories however; the California Condors Captive Breeding Program is a triumph and has brought the California Condor back from the brink .

Snow leopards are seeing a slight uptick, thanks to groups that are raising money to build leopard-proof cages for the local’s goats. The villagers in the snow leopard habitat are finding that the tourist business is better than the goat business and a plus for the curious middle class.There was one habitat, on a chicken farmers land, for a very rare Argentinean cat. The farmer kept killing the cats because to her they were plentiful and eating her chickens. An advocacy group pointed out to the farmer the uniqueness of the habitat; she built a secure hen house and now is running a very successful tourist business for cat watchers.

Educating the general public about the challenges of animal conservancy is vital. The most successful programs are using animals as ambassadors—even the word “ambassadors” helps by replacing the hated word “captive.“

The Cat Haven in California, for instance, take their cats around the state to schools and various groups so that children have the same eye to eye contact that brought me to a life of loving Animals.

Meeting an ambassador from the Sandiago Zoo, my Sea Lion doppelganger.

Designer's Notebook: Television, a Love Letter

jrblogheader2

jrEDC’s Founder and Chairman, Jeremy Railton, pulls back the curtain to give readers a rare glimpse into his creative mind in this personal blog, DESIGNER’S NOTEBOOK.

DESIGNER’S NOTEBOOK shares Jeremy’s creative evolution through a series of intimate anecdotes, ‘scar-tissue’ tips, and the practical wisdom acquired from over 40+ years of entertainment design.

 

Television: A Love Letter

As I have been writing about my experiences designing in multiple fields—Theatre, Film, Live Shows, Themed Attractions, Music Tours—I’ve slid into a comfort zone with an ‘origin narrative’ of how my artistic inspiration seemed to flow from my roots in Central Africa, and then my anecdotal narrative would flow from there. But the easy flow of my previous blog posts screeched to a halt when I started to reflect on my work in television, and found an old resume that listed over three-hundred and fifty TV shows I had designed, spanning the gamut of Variety and Award shows, like the Oscars and Emmys, to weekly series like Peewee’s Playhouse, MTV and everything in between. Somehow along the way I have been honored to receive four Emmys.

Peewee’s Playhouse (Left) & Emmy Awards (Right)

No wonder I was floundering to recount my TV experience in a way that would have any relevance. At the rate I was going, it would be a mega-sized post with “and then I designed” between every few lines.

I started designing for Television in the mid-70s and continued through the 90s when my attention turned to Theme Parks and attractions. As I contemplated the résumé, I realized that I had spent a great part of my life designing for the ‘small screen.’

The next thought that struck me was what wonderful people I had worked with and all the fantastic friends I had made—dreamers, pragmatists, visionaries and ambitious risk-takers—all working incredibly hard, with not enough money and hardly enough time to get the shows done.

So here are a few highlights that embody the TV work ethic of team spirit and a close-knit family of creatives working toward one goal.

INSTANT TURNAROUND

A few days after 9/11, I was on a road trip in central California when I got a call from Joel Gallen, the owner of Tenth Planet, a bright, new production company. He asked if I would volunteer to design Tribute to Heroes, the 9/11 benefit concert he was directing and producing. Joel is an amazing communicator and had rounded up a willing team of volunteers to put a network special together in only four days—the fastest turn around that I have ever been part of. No time for plans or lighting plots; the show was to be shot in New York and Los Angeles and in order to accommodate the challenging schedule everything was done over the phone!

Joel’s plan was to hire an art director on each coast and the design challenge would be to make it look like one show as there was not time or money to book stars at the last minute. He had contacted my friend and design hero, LeRoy Bennett, in New York who he patched into our conversation and right about when I was driving through Bakersfield we came up with the concept of candles. By Monday we were loading in the matching sets in LA and New York and by Wednesday the show was being taped with stars like Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, George Clooney and Celine Dion. One of the most stressful jobs in the entertainment field is directing a live, multi-camera show, where instant decisions of which shots to take will determine the viewer experience of the entire performance going smoothly. Miraculously, it all worked out.

Tribute to Heroes

CREW LOVE

Years before the 9/11 tribute, I had earned my TV stripes by staying awake for three nights and two days, doing a set change for Bobby Vinton’s Rock and Rollers produced by Sid and Marty Krofft. I worked through three shifts of union stage hands and really got to know and be respected by a lot of them. That friendship and respect lasted throughout my TV career and those stage hands saved my butt on many shows by putting in that extra bit of care and attention to details.

The Rock and Rollers set started as a 50s roller skating rink which was set up in a day and a night and taped the following day. That night it was taken out and we loaded in an indoor carnival park, complete with working rides. I gave myself a pat on the back for endurance and went to bed for a day!

Recently, I spoke with Greg Brunton, the lighting designer, about this experience. Greg was the first lighting designer I worked with who was my age and I loved working with him because I felt like a co-creator instead of a rookie trying to please the old guard. When I asked Greg if he remembered this show, he remembered it well: from the lighting point of view, the carnival park was set up in the wrong direction so all of his lights were pointing the wrong way and this was before moving lights! (He said that from then on, he always goes to the set during the load in day.) But in spite of all of that, no one waited for the set or lighting department.

The ‘heat’ of the short schedule was felt by every department and the show was another great example of the kind of dedication and long hours TV crews endure without even a second thought.

A LIGHTING ‘FIRST’

Speaking of Greg Brunton, he and I shared a ‘technical first.’ In the early 90s, I found myself designing the main stage for the second season of In Living Color, a sketch comedy series, and Greg was the Lighting designer.

I had been working with a wonderful group of young guys who were doing lights for clubs. Lowell Fowler was one of the innovators of High End Systems, their Texas-based lighting company, and we became friendly. Lowell and his partners were inventive and very proactive and I fell in love with their little moving club lights, having come from the world of Scoops and Lekos that were TV’s common fare. Whenever I mentioned Lowell’s moving club lights, lighting designers would say that the throw was too short, so when I designed the Living Color home base set, with the Watts towers as inspiration, I eliminated long lighting throws and suggested that Greg take a look at Lowell’s lights. Greg never hesitated and installed them in the home base set, so we credit ourselves with being the first to introduce moving lights to TV’s lighting DNA and certainly for being at the forefront of the fabulous rise or High End Systems, which went on to pioneer many lighting innovations.

Home base set for Living Color

MY TV MENTORS

I started my TV career after a television set designer, James Trittipo, bought some of my paintings from an exhibit and hired me as his assistant for a Broadway production of On the Town. After that job was over he recommended me to Rene Lagler, a brilliant young designer, who was the art director for Glen Campbell’s Good Time Hour, a music and comedy variety show that was being taped at CBS at the same time as the Sonny and Cher and the Carol Burnett show.

Jeremy, Rene & Bob Checchi (Left) & Gift from Rene: My fist drawing for Glen Campbell’s show (Right)

I was a theater designer and knew nothing about television—I didn’t even have a portfolio, just a folder full of Doc Martins water colors, but miraculously Rene saw something in my work and hired me. (He kept my first sketches and recently he gave the drawing to me that he had kept beautifully framed for thirty years.)

Popes and presidents have walked on Rene’s perfect stage geometry—clean, simple designs with Swiss precision and minute attention to detail. Renee taught me to draft and literally mentored me for a year, giving me the greatest gift of my career, the benefit of his knowledge and of his mentor, Jay Krause. I had some wonderful experiences as Rene’s Art Director for the 57th Academy Awards and the ’84 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and have always taken great pride in having been mentored by him. If ever there was  an ambassador of design it’s Rene Lagler!

DESIGNING FOR CAMERA

Speaking of stage geometry, I was taught a huge design lesson by a cameraman. It was my second award show and at that time the standard award stage had two podiums, one on stage right and the other on stage left. I was battling getting good shots of the presentation podiums once the center cameras turned on them. The wide shot looked beautiful but the follow spot was kicking light off the podiums and considering that the wide shot lasts a few second at the beginning of each segment and the bulk of the time on camera was spent at the podium, I was heading for a fall.

I wish I could remember the name of that wonderful cameramen who turned to me and said, “You’re a theater designer aren’t you?” I said that I was, rather surprised that he had picked up on my background. “This is Television,” he said. “Design for what the camera sees, not the audience. The design layout should be a bicycle wheel where the two center cameras have a center line on the stage no matter where they point.” The penny dropped loudly and the problem I had been having with podiums and award shows went away forever!

MTV

Having worked in MTV as it was evolving in the 80s and early 90s, it is easy to forget that back in the day we were not inundated with hundreds of cable choices; there was no such thing as a 24-hour music channel that quickly became a global phenomenon, creating icons like Madonna and Michael Jackson.

Before MTV, I had been designing for network TV in the conventional way at the time: two cameras at a center podium, a jib on one side and sometimes a hand-held Steadicam for reverses on stage or on rare occasions a track would be laid at the back of the house. As a result, all the award shows looked alike, no matter who was on stage. My aspiration at the time was to ‘look different’, but I had given up trying to create a different look and concentrated on designing a set that told the story and represented the brand of the show.

Working with Joel Gallen in MTV was a breath of rule-breaking and anarchic fresh air. He was putting cameras in positions all over the house—backstage and in the rafters. The result was that the show looked entirely different.

This was a big breakthrough for me. I realized that scenery has a much smaller effect in changing the look of the show than finding new camera angles. Added to my list of must do’s for television design is working closely with the directors in terms of their camera shots and as I design, I’m always on the lookout for new camera positions and opportunities to tell a story in a fresh way.

MTV had an enormous impact on TV design. All the MTV producers were young and willing to take risks. I loved the freedom from the rules of network TV. Very often I would experiment with new materials and Ideas on MTV shows and then introduce them to the more conservative network conventions.

MTV Video Music Awards, ‘93 (Left) & Tower Detail from the main set (Right)

I designed the first arena MTV Awards Show set in The Pauley Pavilion at UCLA and figured out how to cope with the quantity of band performances by creating two stages.

I was also onto a new host idea for presenters. The conventional wisdom was that directors didn’t like seeing anything moving behind the presenter’s heads and I was bored! I fashioned a homemade kaleidoscope with a couple of TV monitors and mirrors that played any grabbed images on a VCR during the show. It wasn’t completely successful, but it inspired a trend of video backings behind the hosts.

My kaleidoscope invention came to a smashing end at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. During Kurt Cobain’s performance of Rape Me, his bassist threw his bass high into the air, but misjudged catching it and it landed on his head. He fell backwards, careening into the kaleidoscope.

For MTV’s Rock N’ Jock, a TV series featuring actors, musicians and professional athletes performing together, I collaborated with Andre Miripolsky, a Los Angeles pop artists and muralist. We designed a vinyl stick-on that went directly over the center basketball court in Pauley Pavilion, something that would never happen in network TV.

Rock N’ Jock vinyl stick-on

The use of TV monitors to display scenic effects on stage started with me and a few other MTV designers. Previously, I had only seen video technology used on large corporate displays, mainly to present products and information.

For the first MTV Movie Awards, produced by Joel Gallen, I deconstructed the corporate video wall structure and covered the stage with monitors.

MTV Movie Awards

As I remembered my fascination with monitors on screen I went back and looked at some of the early sets I did with the growing quantity of screens that evolved into giant screens onstage .

America’s Funniest Home Videos was the first set where I used monitors and it sparked my awareness.of using them as a useful scenic element.

America’s Funniest Home Videos!

 

More monitors…

 

Home Video Special

And more monitors…

   The World Movie Awards, Monte Carlo

 

MTV Movie Awards

I even started using multiple monitors for live bands.

What started with little monitors has now evolved in to full screen digital scenery!

LIGHTING RULES (AGAIN!)

During my entire career, I have always tried to collaborate with Lighting Designers, having learned early on that without good lighting, scenery is pointless. One of the first freelance jobs I did was Puttin’ on the Hits, a music/variety competition show featuring amateurs lip-synching to popular songs. The senior lighting designer was the legendary Bill Klages, the only lighting designer ever to be inducted into the TV Academy’s Hall of Fame. When a junior set designer meets a senior lighting designer, it is a sound tradition for the junior set designer to steps out of the way; however, I thought I was being pretty clever and designed a runway for the lip-synchers in the shape of a cross and at the end of each was a colorful postmodern archway—it was the early 80s. The set was installed and I was very pleased with the hot, trendy look until Bill walked onto the set and said “I will never get my lights passed those set pieces. Remove them.” His word was law. I removed them and designed risers for Puttin’ on the Hits!

Mood lighting for TV sets came late and these sets for The Essence Awards are the perfect example of how important lighting had become.

The Essence Awards

The set below shows how lighting, by the use of color and gobo patterns, can transform even the most basic scenic elements.

How’d They do That? (Home base set)

ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE

Whilst designing for TV, I’ve had a number of ‘aha’ moments. For a show called Shangri-La Plaza, a made for TV musical comedy, I designed the set over a newly built corner mini-mall. Purposely kitschy and colorful, the set glared out on the corner of Vineland and Burbank Boulevard, complete with rotating donuts for the donut shop.

Shangri-La Plaza

On the first morning we were going to shoot, we found two police cars waiting for the donut shop to open! People were drawn to the colorful store facades and while the show was being shot, the mini-mall was completely booked with new rentals. After we struck the set, I found a newspaper interview with the disgruntled tenants who wanted the theming back.

Photo of Shangri-La set from an article in Los Angeles Times

It rang a bell and made me appreciate the value of theming retail environments, and I began to think about how I could migrate theatrical design into real estate and retail. Soon after that, Terry Dougal designed the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace and I got to design an animatronic fountain to anchor one end of the Forum.  After that, Jim Nelson hired me to design and theme The Panasonic Pavilion on Universal’s CityWalk, a new shopping and dining promenade in Hollywood, so I owe a lot to TV, including offering me a gateway into the ‘real world.’

Fountain at the Forum Shops, Caesars Palace

 

Panasonic Pavilion at City Walk

DESIGNING – FAST AND SLOW

Because of the tight schedules needed to make inflexible air dates, when I designed for TV, I learned to make quick, intuitive, do or die, decisions, but I could not help casting my eye to feature films with their lengthy schedules. The luxury of spending a day thinking about the choice of a color seemed like paradise: slower more deliberate choices versus fast and emotional decisions.

I thought I would have that opportunity when I signed on to be Production Designer on The Two Jakes, a sequel to China Town, staring Jack Nicholson.

Jake’s office set from The Two Jakes

I was wrong! The producer would yell at our team to “Stop designing all that scenery… all I need is two walls and smoke!” That didn’t work when Jack Nicholson, the actor/director, and Vilmos Zsigmond, the cinematographer, walked onto the stage and set up the shots in completely the opposite direction from the two walls and making a good point about not limiting the angles available to the camera. I got my full set, including a ceiling!

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE… ETC.

Television has come a long way in the thirty years that I have been designing–multiple HD cameras, moving lights, big screens and digital scenery–but the pressure and speed are still the order of the day: instant set branding style, instant color choices, fast renderings, overnight drafting, and the challenge of designing a show that can be built and loaded in to the existing venue on schedule makes Television set design one of the most difficult design disciplines.

AND THEN I DESIGNED…

Here is a smattering of my TV designs over the years:

Don’t forget your Toothbrush, a British Import

 

The Billboard Awards

 

The Movie Awards

 

Performance of “Black and White” at 10th MTV Music Awards (My favorite photo on the right!)

 

Elizabeth Taylor’s 60th Birthday TV Special at The Pantages Theatre

 

Radio Music Awards

 

This is Your Life

 

D. C. Follies

 

The Nick and Jessica Variety Hour

 

Dame Edna’s Hollywood

 

Ms. America Pageant

 

Ms. Universe Pageant

In this particular moment there are so many incredibly talented television set designers that it is a joy to be able to stand back and see how this art form has evolved!