LUCA TRANCHINO | The Creator of The World on Screen
Think about your all-time favorite film. You’ve probably watched it countless times and find pleasure in watching it each time. You can name the lead actor or actress, the supporting cast, and the director. But, if asked about the production designer, you would probably draw a blank, even though without this person, the film may not have much appeal.
In a way, the set design is another character in a film, one that doesn’t speak but has the power to make or break a film’s success, making the Production Designer and Art Director one of the most important team members in film production. Without these two people, or sometimes one and the same person, a film could fail to capture the audience. These are the film crew members responsible for the visual concept of a film who use their creative mindset, imagination, and skillful planning to set the mood for each scene of the movie. Together with the director, producer, costume designer, and actors, they create the enthralling world on screen we love to enter again and again. In addition to their creative skills, production designers must be quick on their feet and be able to rise to the occasion if the director’s vision for a scene changes while filming.
Meet Luca Tranchino, a successful production designer and art director from Rome, Italy who says he decided on this profession when he was about seven years old after being captivated by American musicals and films shown on TV. He dreamed to one day live on these incredible movie sets in Hollywood. His perseverance paid off, and his dream became a reality in the late ’90s when he was invited to collaborate with Oscar-winning production designer Dante Ferretti to work on successful films such as Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, The Aviator, and Hugo. He then also worked with Woody Allen in To Rome with Love and Lasse Hallström in Casanova. He describes his production design and art direction experiences with Scorsese like this:
“Immediately evident in Scorsese was his strong knowledge and passion for the history of cinema and all genres of films. Usually, while approaching the subject for a new movie in preparation, he used to send us several boxes filled with reference books, DVDs of classic movies or documentaries, folders of archive photos, etc. It was a fulfilling process because in a Scorsese movie the set is not just a background to the actors, but it’s an important and meaningful character of the story he wants to tell. For Gangs of New York everything was designed and built from scratch recreating the old New York in Rome. The extensive and detailed sets required a long preparation and effort to be built. For Aviator, not only did it require numerous sets to be built on sound stages, but the old Hollywood glamour of the ’30s and ’40s had to be recreated realistically, too. The Aviator won the OFTA Film Award for Best Production Design and was nominated for the Excellence in Production Design Award from the Art Directors Guild.“
The Parisian Train Station set in the film Hugo that was built on two levels using two connected soundstages is another notable project that won the Excellence in Production Design Award from the Art Directors Guild. The set required a modern cathedral made of steel and glass filled with kiosks, shops, and cafés, and the reinterpretation of that era meant working closely with the CGI (computer-generated imagery) department to prepare the digital set extensions.
Other than in films, this talented production designer has also worked on stage designs for a few operas. “Theatre,” he explains, “allows more freedom for the imagination to stylize, be abstract, and to transfigure reality expressing the essence of emotions. While in theatre there is often one main point of view and spectators are sitting still in one place, it is much different from a film where the audience is brought inside the space of the action and continuously moves with it.”
Film production designs do not only require constructing sets from scratch on sound stages, but they also make use of existing locations, which means searching for places that represent the idea the production designer had in mind or transforming them according to the designer’s vision.
Luca’s next exciting project is Shanghai Sojourners. Set in 1940’s Shanghai, it will require certain parts of the city that no longer exist to be recreated. Art Deco style environments, cafes, docks and slums will be rebuilt from scratch. He is also working on Masks Don’t Lie, a thriller with a supernatural touch set in Venice during Carnival. His task will be to portray the magical atmospheres of this incredible city and to recreate 18th century masked balls in ancient buildings filled with mystery, memories, and suspense.
In the following thought-provoking words of Luca Tranchino, it becomes clear that there’s more to this industry than audiences can imagine:
“I see production design primarily as the visual expression of a mental state. The main goal is to be able to emotionally affect an audience, somehow making people reflect on reality and life, transforming the inner suffering into a universal feeling, sharing moods, desires, and hopes for the future. We, as moviemakers, often create to entertain the public, but hopefully also moments that can give some comfort and encouragement to move forward.“