Part 3: Raymond Swanland, Production Designer

Raymond Swanland My introduction to production design was similar to that of most people. As a child of popular culture, I found myself engrossed in the myriad “making-of” books that accompanied all the flashy sci-fi event movies that I’ve downloaded on a regular basis. A typical artist, I gravitated to the polished drawings and paintings that revealed craft as well as creativity pushed to its limits – an art that focused on concepts and ideas. Let’s face it, landscape and wildlife paintings merely observe; they don’t interpret. These newfangled Production Designer fellas were conjuring images that had meaning and stories behind them. They were taking in our world and shaping it into another. I began to realize where I wanted to be.

With a planetary alignment and a stroke of luck, I found myself among the Oddworld Inhabitants where their own fledgling world was taking shape. Yet, I was facing the “production” side of Production Design. As an artist in the production environment, I came face to face with the counter-intuitive notion of being creative on demand, of producing art day-in and day-out without the comfort of waiting for inspiration to come calling. I had always used art as a mode of communication, not as income, and I needed another discipline as a guide when raw inspiration came up short. The metamorphosis from fine artist to production designer was under way.

The “design” half of Production Design is the scientific method that takes the struggle of creating within production and makes it consistently fruitful. Design is the technical discipline that reigns in whimsical artists and makes them function on more than magic and pixie dust. Designing for the vision of another person requires production designers to take all of our internal processes of imagination and make them external so that others might take part at every step along the way. Shedding aspects of my artistic independence continued to reconstruct my view of art and its potential, but I was still a big step away from enlightenment.

Ultimately, my transformation to the dark side was complete when I came to understand my place as a small part of a collective whole. As production designers, less than ten people see 90% of our art in the form of design iterations, and the rest is released into the collective and seen by, perhaps, fifty more as a final design. Very little, if any, of our art reaches the audience in its original form. As an artist, this is a difficult pill to swallow, but under the discipline of design, the meaning reaching the audience is more important than actually producing the final imagery. In that case, if I am just part of a larger organism, I want to be one of the neurons that fires deep in the brain that will cause the feet to kick. It’s as close as I can be to the original spark that flares into the whole song and dance. – The End