Kim Sinclair

Kim Sinclair

AS: What are the characteristics that are needed to be a great set decorator and also a great production designer?
KS: Everybody in the art department needs the same skill set: to be artistic and practical. Our role is to help the director tell a story. I’m amazed how many people I meet in the film industry who aren’t driven by that narrative. Everything we do should be helping tell the story. What color is this curtain? If you’re choosing a color at random or because it looks nice you’re not doing your job as far as I’m concerned. What’s the director doing in this scene, what’s the set doing, what’s the point of it? Is it a comedy? Is it a film noir? The decisions you make are narrative driven. So I do think that needs to be part of your makeup to be successful in the art department. And you have to be able to think abstractly but also be practical and be able to deliver things on time and on budget. There are a lot of really talented artists out there but my God I wouldn’t want them in the art department. You might employ them for the art department but you wouldn’t want them in it!

AS: Do you still do any sketching yourself when you’re working on a project?
KS: No. We joke that nobody in my New Zealand art department can draw! There are so many talented conceptual artists and illustrators whom I employ. A little sketch on the back of a napkin is about as far as I get these days, if you’re lucky!

AS: What do you say to people who are just getting into the industry? Any advice for them?
KS: These days I have to say that it’s essential that you have computer skills -but don’t get seduced into thinking that’s the be-all and the end-all. They can learn Maya but then maybe they’re going to sit behind a computer the rest of their life doing modeling when they could actually be a really good art director. Computers are just tools, you need to know how to use them and be familiar with the applications. But I still think its much better to get a bit of life education. Get out there and watch movies and do things. Travel. Get experience.

AS: Is there any one set that you worked on or decorated that you’re particularly proud of?
KS: Well, from a set decoration point of view a set that was deceptively simple was the commissary in Avatar. It was quite a big practical set with no real green-screen or digital work. We put a lot of work into that, which may not have been on the screen. We designed and fabricated vending machines. We designed the food packaging that was inside the vending machines. We pretty much designed the food. They eat a lot of refried beans in Pandora apparently! A lot of work went into that set. We designed the tables; we designed the chairs. Everything got made. It works really well in the movie and it’s not a big, “Look at me I’m an amazing set” set. It’s a nice background for the action. We got a lot of pleasure from that.

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About the Interviewer

Tom Lisowski is a production designer who has designed swamp mazes shot in China, crumbling cliffs in Utah, future arenas in South Central, dilapidated tenements and twisted laboratories under luxurious mansions... William Anthony is a Los Angeles-based commercial and editorial photographer specializing in portraiture, lifestyle and documentary imagery... Guest photographer Nelson Cragg is an award-winning cinematographer who shoots and directs television, feature films, and commercial projects. Contact ArtStars: