The art of making movies matter
Art director Dino Shankar, who works in both Bollywood and the southern industries, talks to us about what it means to be an art director and the challenges involved in the job
Next time you adore that wallpaper you spotted in a film or a piece of furniture that set the mood for a scene, think art director. The brain who gives life to the director's vision, the hands that create meaningful frames for the DOP to soak in, there is quite a lot an art director does. For, even the random thing you spotted on the frame was intentionally and carefully picked up to aid in story-telling.
Malayali art director Dino Shankar, with a successful stint in Bollywood, can tell you a lot about this. Busy with Zoya Akhtar's web series Made in Heaven, the Mumbai schedule of which is going on, Dino Shankar talks about his trade and how period films challenge him.
While creating a frame may seem like a cakewalk, it isn't exactly so. "A production designer visualises a scene and puts his vision on the paper. It is an art director who gives life to the concept. He brings on screen the director's vision too. Many creative minds work together to bring out the product here," says Dino, who has worked as a production designer too.
Art on screen
Dino is working on the web series produced by Excel Entertainment, which he says "equals the work done on three films. The canvas is huge, as is the scale. And the subject is wedding, so one can imagine the amount of effort an art director has to put in. In fact, the prepping for the web series began long back."
For the first time, he is working with South African production designer Sally White, too. "She is very particular about colours and maintaining subtlety. Even the colour and texture of the wall paint had to speak out," he says.
However, the greatest challenge was maintaining continuity while creating a unique look for every episode. "There are 10 episodes and each one is about wedding. There are four directors involved, so every perception will be different. While every episode had to look unique, I had to ensure it maintains a continuity. Even the minutest detailed mattered," he explains.
Films are an entirely a different thing. Dino made his debut in the industry as a production designer assistant in Yash Raj Films' Detective Byomkesh Bakshi. He has just wound up work in Geethu Mohandas' Moothon as art director. "The important thing is budget, of course. Whatever our plans are when it comes to art direction, budget determines the rest," says Dino, referring to his stint in Malayalam.
"Moothon was a great experience, a wonderful canvas to work. But, when it comes to regional films, budget again is a constraint. Many times, we would have to compromise. For Moothon, I picked up cheap stuff, everything from furniture to even a mirror," he adds.
Dino definitely enjoys the challenge of a period drama, which he terms 'extremely satiating'. "Like when I worked for Byomkesh Bakshi, we spent almost a year prepping for it. One can't spoil a frame with misjudgement. Every single object we used had to be researched and studied."
He goes on to explain, "For instance, if we need to use a pencil, we had to be clear as to whether it was used at that time, or whether it had an eraser on its tip. Likewise, every single element had to be studied."
But, he says it isn't the 40s or 50s, rather the 80s and 90s that can land you in trouble. "I worked on the Sanjay Dutt biopic, which was set in the late 70s and 80s. That was a time when India was booming, so we had to be careful, especially with electronic goods," says Dino, who has also worked with Mani Ratnam in Kattru Veliyidae.
Dino, who will next take up Shane Nigam-starrer Painkili after wrapping up Made in Heaven, says the industry is yet to warm up to the idea of the significance of an art director or a production designer. "Somehow, in India, we are yet to realise their significance. Now that the web content is gaining control, changes might happen," he adds.