Production design in an HD world

For all the brouhaha about greenscreen effects changing filmmaking, props, costumes, and sets still matter. Production design continues to be vital to even the most effects-heavy movies: just ask the craftspeople who hand-made all the chainmail armor for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, embedded above. But as high-definition cameras, Blu-rays, and auto-smoothing televisions produce increasingly higher quality images, this traditional side of the film craft has struggled to keep up with the level of detail needed to keep up the illusion.

A terrific article last week from Bloomberg Business of all publications looks at the new lengths propmasters are taking for the sake of onscreen magic. David Marais mentions that props in wider shots used to need to look realistic within two-inches of detail. Now, detail matters down to an eighth of an inch. Plastic props made to look like wood now look like… well, plastic props made to look like wood. For more detailed props like soda cans, names and branding need to look as close as possible without infringing on the actual designs, something that has raised serious legal dilemmas.

There’s plenty of other great anecdotes in there. Give the article a read to get a better appreciation for the work that film crews are putting into keeping the illusion of reality in movies and television. The next time you see a big spender with a briefcase full of money, your television might reveal that they say “In Dog We Trust.”

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