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!