AS: What size is your crew on CSI?
DN: On CSI I have an art director, an assistant art director, a set designer, graphic designer, an art department coordinator, and then there’s the decorator, the shopper, the lead man and about five or six swing guys, and there’s the construction coordinator, foreman, about four or five carpenters, the lead painter, and about four painters, then there’s props- there are two propmasters, and there’s a props buyer, and there is key onset props, three other onset props. It’s a lot of people.
AS: Of your work on CSI are there one or two sets that stand out that you’re particularly proud of?
DN: Yeah, we did a set that was a brothel. We built a brothel on stage, it was really cool. We did a white nightclub that was pretty fantastic. We’ve done a lot. The best photographs are on my website dannovotny.com.
AS: What was it about the brothel or those sets that made them cooler than your average set that comes up on CSI?
DN: Well for one it was a 2,500 square foot set. It was really big. And then the other thing was they shot this really cool shot, a Steadycam shot through the whole set. It’s on my reel. They did a really long walk and talk, ten or fifteen seconds long.
AS: It’s awesome when you get a walk and talk through your set…
DN: Yeah, I know, it often doesn’t happen like that.
AS: What are qualities that you think a production designer should have?
DN: You gotta be able to draw. You have to be able to tell somebody how something will look on paper. However you want to do that. Drafting is a key, key, skill. You gotta know about lenses, lens sizes. I think it’s really important to know about the way that they’re going to shoot something. If they’re going to shoot it with a long lens or a wide lens. You gotta know a little bit about lighting. You gotta know how you’re going to light your practicals, but also it’s important to know how the DP is going to light it and where he’s going to hide his lights.
Those are all things that you learn over time. But if a kid is just coming into the business, the important thing is you gotta know how to draw.
It’s also really important to have a certain disconnect from what you think is right. A lot of production designers are artists before they’re production designers. But you have to remember that this is a business above anything. And that’s the only reason we have a job. It’s not the business of selling fine art. You’re getting paid to design sets that need to be shot by somebody, so it’s really a business about creating environments that can be shot.