Cat Supermarkets and Ice Cream For Breakfast

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Ruta Kiskyte reflects on life as a production designer and art director
Cat Supermarkets and Ice Cream For Breakfast
If you were to ask production designer and art director Ruta Kiskyte what an average day at the office looked like, you’d have good reason to disbelieve her. From building space shuttles to creating supermarkets designed for cats - a day in the life of a production designer is varied, to say the least. A one-time jewellery maker, keen learner and jack-of-all-trades, Ruta turns her hand to whatever the idea needs. 

In this interview, Lithuanian production service company Magic speaks to one of their favourite designers Ruta, who reveals what it’s like to create the worlds where magic happens and why three minutes is sometimes all you get…


Q>  Production and set design takes masses of creativity - how did you get into it?

Ruta Kiskyte> At university I chose to study stage design, followed up with an MA in visual communication. I also had a jewellery line for three years! 

At a core level, I wanted my job to be as multi-disciplinary as possible which is why I learnt diverse skills whilst studying. I really believe that everyone is creative at something - you just have to look at any kid!

Sparkasse - Astronaut from Ruta Kiskyte on Vimeo.

Q> You built a Space Shuttle for Sparkasse’s Astronaut spot - what was that process like?

Ruta>  There is so much information online about the International Space Station and the history of spaceships, so all the references were the real laws of physics. Fortunately, I had a lot of time to research everything! My dad also knows a lot about space, so he was a great advisor on this project. Before this project, any space station film-set I’d seen appeared to be really impressive, yet after doing heaps of research, they started to look like spray-painted hardware store stuff or retro-futuristic corporate hallways.

The aim was to make it look somewhat feasible in space - not a replica of the International Space Station, but something that was made within the rules of space architecture. It also had to ring true to the film and the brand. Although, having said that, the main node was extended in post-production - it ended up being about three-times the length of what’s actually possible to launch into space! 

The inside of the Sparkasse - Astronaut set

The simulated projection of the space station's interior for the Sparkasse - Astronaut set

Q> Creating a set that it’s also logistically possible for cameras (and occasionally cats) to manoeuver around is a huge feat in itself - how do you approach this as a designer?

Ruta> It depends on the job, but sometimes I’ve found it easier to create a vault stuffed with luxury items and gold bars out of an office lobby with a shoestring budget, than approving a sofa in the living room on a commercial . As for making it possible for the cameras - that’s something you figure out with the cinematographer, director and producer, and design accordingly.

The Netto - Katzen commercial and the making of the Netto-Katzen commercial for which Ruta designed the set

Q> What does your process of creating a set look like? 

Ruta> The design process starts by analysing the script and then researching the particular topic. Then it moves to figuring out how the world I want to create works and creating something cohesive and personal.


Q> What does a production designer’s day-to-day look like? 

Ruta> I think the reason I like doing this job so much is that the days are so intensely different. I could be doing anything from researching, sketching, scouting locations, visiting workshops or prop houses, dealing with endless logistics, hiring people, talking to people, budgeting, looking for missing receipts or even just talking to myself in the shower. 

The part I love most is coming up with ideas for sets, researching new topics and learning new things - like the physics behind space vehicle design! Some of the best people I know, I met on jobs and I feel deeply privileged that I’m able to work with incredibly talented directors, cinematographers and producers. I’m just happy to be able to see their talent with my own eyes and learn from them, really. 

Behind the scenes of the supermarket for cats for the Netto-Katzen commercial

Miniature groceries at the cat-sized supermarket for the Netto-Katzen commercial

Q>  What is the average conception-completion timelines for production design? 

Ruta> It really depends on the project but schedules are normally tight. I actually just attended a workshop where this rockstar-grade production designer told us, “you normally get three minutes to read a script.” Three minutes! It is energising to work at a fast pace and see the results of that work quickly, but if completion has to precede conception, then whatever content is being made will be one big snap decision. 


Q> Is there anything you wish more people knew about production and set design?

Ruta> I wish more people knew about production design in general, to be honest. 

A production designer is not a necessity on a film - not in the same way a cinematographer or director is. I get that. But once you need one - buckle up. For commercials, even if the credits go editor and composer deep, there’s almost never a production designer there too. I’ve even been asked by filmcrews what it is I actually do - I guess it’s just so easy to take for granted the stuff you see on screen. Viewers, including me, will think, “oh, they just shot it as it was.” But as I heard one director put it super elegantly - art direction is something that resonates with the viewer on a DNA level, be it the grass you step on or a factory you walk into.


Q> What’s the biggest challenge about your role? 

Ruta> That there’s never ice cream for breakfast at set catering!



Magic is the leading production service company operating in both Lithuania and Latvia - an efficient and professional team of ‘stress-resistant’ specialists they capture that special essence that sets magic work apart.

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Magic, 1 year ago