As interior designers, we create functional art. We craft experiences for hotel visitors who can interact with a physical environment. In similar respects, production designers, art directors and the like do the same, only they take audiences on a visual journey. Among the many things we have in common, we’re devoted to contrivances like mood and atmosphere which aid in storytelling.
Scan through the credits of a film or TV show, and you will see a series of nebulous departments (with terminology that isn’t exactly relative to any other profession). It’s unclear exactly what each does, but in short, everyone does a LOT. One such professional, Art Director Will Eliscu, works to develop and deliver a backdrop that enhances a particular narrative. Have you watched “This Is Us”, “GLEE”, or “Chicago P.D.”? Well, then you’ve seen Will’s work.
Earlier this year, I spoke with Will about his day-to-day as Art Director for various film and television projects. He is the grandson of legendary film producer Martin Jurow (The Pink Panther, Breakfast At Tiffany’s, The Fugitive Kind). Now if that name sounds familiar, that’s because our very own Erin Jurow is Martin’s daughter, and Will is her son.
See images in slider gallery to see more of Will’s work.
Q. Will, can you break down some of your many roles and tell us what some of those titles equate to?
“What’s known as production design, now, has always been ‘art direction.’ Production designer is the head of the department of a design team. They are brought in very early in the project in pre-production, or even prior to that after reading the script. They work with a location manager and a producer on a preliminary budget to tell a said story.
In pre-production, they staff up with illustrators to get signed-off by the producers to help establish budgets. Once the story boards and illustrations are approved, the supervising art director will begin staffing up the art department and dealing with set decorators (in England, they are called a “draughts person”) and draw the architectural drawings and work with a construction coordinator to help get that scenery built.
These days, an art director in very lemans terms is a project manager for the production designer and the construction coordinator. The sole purpose is to generate enough drawings, graphics and imagery so other departments (like costume design and set decoration) can add layers to the film. The set decorator and art department work hand in hand and are equally important in getting the job done.
Q. Was this always the career path for you?
Q. Like hotels, films and TV shows are so varied. Is there anything close to a “typical day”?
Q. Is there anything you never expected to deal with? Or tell us about something that became a bigger issue than you ever imagined.
Q. Was there a turning point in your career? When did things start to take off for you?
Q. Current or period-pieces draw from tangible and historical things. What about things that are fictitious, or completely made up? How much freedom comes with a futuristic story?
I had a lot of fun on “Real Steel” where I was brought on as a supervising art director, and Lead Graphic Designer on location. This happened right as I was finishing up the last two episodes of the TV show, “GLEE”. The film had a 15-week prep and I was tasked with creating identities for the different robots, and lots of graphics for the scenery and the location sets. There were four venues created for the WRB (World Robot Boxing) league and there were logos and corporate branding that needed to be designed.
“Real Steel” is essentially “Rocky with robots,” but the film had lots of unique and memorable elements that were innovative. It had a grounded quality even in a fictitious future. It’s a film that featured things we’ve never seen before, and credit is also extended to the fantastic – and highly paid – conceptual illustrators who work for months to help develop the palette for everyone on the film to work from.
Q. What’s a recent project you’re excited about?
Q. Composer Michael Giacchino told me once that TV is a non-stop grind. What are your deadlines and deliverables, and do you have any advice on dealing with both?
Schedules are what they are and you have to pivot to make things work when needed. That’s what these skilled professionals can do: turn on a dime, get the drawings out, get a night crew and night painting going and an early call, and you will see cameras rolling up to a set you were talking about two days ago. That’s very common.
Episodic TV is about keeping the show creators and show runners happy. Where designers and art directors get in trouble with TV is when they try to get too perfect and think about it like a feature film.