3DTotal: Your background experience in theme parks and museums is an interesting one. Can you elaborate on what you mean by connecting people to spaces “through story, massing, ornamentation and flow”? Nathaniel: Design influences our everyday world, whether some may believe it or not. I have been very fortunate to be able to come from a background that is full of real-world spatial design, which has taught me to think about the viewers of those spaces and how they will realistically use and experience them. When you walk into a themed space, you may not be aware of it, but there is meticulous planning involved to ensure that you, as a viewer, will have a specific experience that the designer wants you to have. There’s a certain style and shape to the architecture, certain props and décor to tell you a story about the space, its inhabitants, and how they may use the space. Ornamentation involves all the little details that we may easily over look, such as the texture on walls, graphics, patterns, hints of decay, and so on. The way we move through a space, or how it is introduced to us, is also key in the overall design. Do we walk through narrow hallways to get to the space, or do we walk through an open courtyard first? Does the space have high ceilings, or low ceilings? Can we see a glimpse of the space from afar? These are decisions that will ultimately affect how we interact with the space and how it makes us feel.
3DTotal:Can you describe with reference to some of your paintings how you have applied this background knowledge to help design some of your digital worlds? Nathaniel: When I design a world, I can’t help but think of it as a real space that will be used by someone in some way. I’m always thinking about how it would feel to walk through that world, and how one may interact with it. Just looking interesting is not enough. If it doesn’t work spatially, then it won’t come across as a believable world. It is important to think about flow, how one might walk through the space, and what will be revealed to them as they turn a corner. It’s also important to think about shapes, and massing that reinforces the mood of a space. Sharp angles and forms would be more appropriate for a sinister space, rather than bubbly circles, for example. I’m also very concerned with props and things that tell a story to the viewer. I think that telling a story and adding interesting touches to make a viewer ask questions is what makes an image intriguing.
3DTotal: One of the images I found intriguing when I first saw it was the night-time view of a street lined with strings of yellow lights [see previous page]. Can you tell us a little about this particular piece and the idea behind it? Nathaniel: That image is for a film called “Back to Butterfield”. It’s a heart-warming drama set against the scenic backdrop of rural Texas and Missouri. At the core of the story is the emotional journey of an old man named Norman, who, upon the deaths of those dear to him, decides to revisit the one place that truly captured his innocence and his youth, which is a quaint farming town in Missouri called Butterfield. Plagued by memories of wrong choices and missed opportunities, Norman’s strong desire to get back to a time when he still had the world on his shoulders drives him back to his hometown, despite his failing health.Following in Norman’s footsteps is his grandson, Jonathan, whose same bad decisions have him repeating his grandfather’s path in life. Their paths cross on Norman’s journey to Butterfield, which happens to be having its 150 year anniversary festival. This image showcases the golden and quaint quality that the director and I initially imagined for the festival in the final scenes of the film. We wanted a magical quality in the air, with string lights over the streets and throughout the trees… almost a timeless quality, because this town represents timelessness to Norman. The carousel at the end of the street plays as a backdrop to one of the most emotional scenes in the film, and is a reminder of our youth.
3DTotal: Which particular projects have been the most interesting from a personal viewpoint, and why? Nathaniel: There have been so many projects that have been amazing. I have been truly fortunate to have all the opportunities that I have had come my way. I would say that right now, the most interesting and at the same time challenging projects involve film. I’m currently delving into production design, where not only do I get to think about spaces and the characters that inhabit them, but also about how these spaces can visually reinforce the emotional tone of specific scenes, and thus the overall film itself. Playing with colour schemes and creating the visual style for a film is a very fascinating experience, as well. It really opens up a new level of thought and detail that I enjoy very much.
3DTotal: The notion of a scene emphasising an emotional state and using colour as a device sounds very much like the role of a cinematographer. Do you ever work in conjunction with these people behind the scenes and communicate ideas? Nathaniel: I think that is a common notion, but ultimately the role of a Production Designer is to decide how to visually tell the story and present that vision to the Director. That not only includes the use of colours and styles in the sets and locations, but also the usage of filters that go over the lenses, as well. The Director, Cinematographer, and Production Designer work very closely together on any project. Ideally, those three people collaborate on an equal level, and the exchange of ideas is free and fluid. The Cinematographer may have great colour ideas to add to the Production Designer’s vision, whereas the Production Designer may have some interesting ideas on how to light a scene in an exciting way that may further push the story. All in all, film is a very collaborative effort, and it takes many minds to make it a reality.