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Art Directors and Costumers Guild Host Panels at San Diego Comic Con


At the 2012 San Diego Comic Con, there were illuminating talks put on by a few below-the-line guilds, notably the Art Directors and Costumers, who each fielded a couple of panels over the weekend.

The ADG’s first panel was Friday afternoon, featuring motion picture illustrators, with a second on Saturday morning featuring film and TV production designers. There was a reception in the lobby of San Diego Rep that harkened back to the roots of the craft, and also underscored something that Saturday’s panel moderator, John Muto (Species, Home Alone) said: “almost nowhere do they teach art directing.”

Muto also mentioned the unteachable intangibles, citing the late Richard Sylbert’s ability to reduce concepts to their essence, such as his overarching motif for Chinatown.

The state-of-the-craft was examined by the other panelists as well, such as True Blood’s Suzuki Ingerslev, who spoke about the leeway and expectations designers have on series television, when the sets must function for a season or more, and the directors come and go.

Rick Heinrichs, (Captain America, Pirates of the Caribbean) Dominic Walsh, (Snow White and the Huntsman), and Bill Creber, who worked on the original Planet of the Apes were all invited to speak on a panel, which was something of an overview of the state of art direction in the digital age and how one worked with greenscreens to build worlds.

A “shop steward” type of question came from the audience, from someone who had designed on an indie film, and found himself replaced by interns and apprentices when production resumed.

The panel could not speak to the legalities of the incident, but it recalled at least three people making queries about their eligibility to join the ADG, after the illustrators panel. That panel had emphasized reasons for guilds and locals to make their presences known at increasingly sprawling, all-encompassing events and encouraged branding in a sea of entertainment options.

In a panel moderated by Deborah Nadoolman Landis, Costume Designers joined two designers — Joss Whedon-collaborator Shana Trpcic and Hunger Games assistant Lisa Tomczeszyn — with a handful of costume illustrators, including Man of Steel’s Philip Boute, Jr.

Boute said, in response to an audience question, that design is definitely involved, when you are handed a man’s costume and told you need to make three more of them.

Surprising no one, many in the audience came in costume. And many of the questions pointedly asked how to professionally design costumes. Advice included starting with the films of students and friends.

Benton Jew was one of ADG’s production illustrator panelists. Besides production illustration on projects like The Phantom Menace and Men in Black, he’s illustrated several comics, including “She-Hulk” and “Wolverine.”

After the panel, Below the Line asked if he thought manual illustration might be replaced entirely in this age of digital technology and previs. “There’s confusion on how storyboard artists fit in,” Jew said. Jew said that previs and illustration fit two different needs within the production process, with the illustrations often serving as the previs to the previs, as it were. Illustration could be considered the first visualization of how the ideas and words in the script will look.

But one might expect that you would need drawing chops for such a gig. Jew said that an illustrator needs to have good ears, so he can understand the initial impulses of the director. “They’re never supposed to look like drawings,” Jew added. In other words, if it’s a Tim Burton film, it’s supposed to feel like Tim Burton.

And while Jew is an example of how Comic Con fan interests continue to expand and overlap, the question remained why other guilds and locals have not proposed their own panels for the event: A VES panel would be a natural, and if you get Local 600 or the ASC to agree, so would one on cinematography.

Perhaps the ADG will be the leaders in a trend that eventually results in a BTL Pavilion.

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