Saturday, June 15, 2024

Visual storytelling through traditional filmmaking

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Production designers play an important role in making any film look appealing. They are responsible for the visual concept of a film, television, or theatre production. The Pioneer spoke to Rhea Solanki, a production designer by profession, who spoke to us about creating captivating stories, the design aspect of storytelling, and more.


Having spent her childhood travelling between India and Canada, Rhea Solanki, a production designer by profession, was constantly exposed to different cultures, people, foods, and stories! As an only child, she had an over-active imagination, which was fueled by these experiences and her love for reading and telling stories. Captivating stories inspired her, and led to her love of creating worlds for those stories to inhabit.

Rhea began her journey with theatre by designing a modern version of the Greek tragedy Antigone, which was staged at Mumbai’s prominent NCPA, and she enjoyed the design aspect of storytelling. She experimented over the years with designing sets for theatre, films, TV (offline and OTT experiences), and even graphics and web design. The exciting part, she says, is the story and being able to visually tell and enhance it without using any words.

She had recently credited herself with the big wins with We Were Meant To Be, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and Amina at the Tribeca Film Festival. Taking us through the challenges, and overcoming them, she shared, “I would call We Were Meant to Be a project of love and labor. I began working in 2019. Our Sundance premiere was recently scheduled for January 2023. We had to face challenging shootings throughout the pandemic. It included dealing with shutdowns and more. One of the biggest challenges was that all our actors were required to have wings. I started creating mock-ups with sweat sleeves, feathers, and a hot glue gun. It was to understand how we wanted the look and feel of our wings. We ended up working on getting the wings manufactured by a company that had designed Victoria’s Secret wings. We dyed each feather to match the skin tones of our actors. We also had multiple versions of the wings built to show them in different stages of flight. I created a space shuttle cockpit separate from the moon’s surface for Amina. Immense research went into understanding how to work accurately and provide creative solutions.”

With her experience and creativity, we asked her what she primarily considers when selecting projects, and she replied, “First and foremost, I always read the script. I want to see if I can personally connect with the story. I call it my way ‘in’. Once you resonate and connect with the story, the design becomes more natural. The other important thing is the person with whom I will be collaborating. A production designer’s job is to facilitate the director’s vision and tell the whole story visually with the cinematographer. Thus, you have to collaborate with others in close quarters.”

She is also known for her work on the Netflix hit Dahmer: Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, where she worked with Production Designer Matthew Flood Ferguson, a close collaborator of Ryan Murphy (filmmaker). Shedding some light on her contribution to this, she said, “I was responsible for maintaining the historical accuracy of the complete sets. Since the show travels over many years, there are constant sets to be built for the shoot. Due to it being based on a true story, we had to create a thoroughly accurate show. I found real locations for every single place and designed our sets to be a perfect match. It was spooky to walk through Jeffrey Dahmer’s house on our sound stage after seeing the crime scene photos.”

On the work front, she recently finished working on a feature film in Los Angeles, a dramedy about a marriage between an Indian and a Mexican. “I will now start working in Bollywood. I recently signed a project to work on designing virtual reality experiences for a company,” she concluded.

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