Nerijus Narmontas reveals the behind the scenes of his life as a production designer
For Nerijus Narmontas, the path to true love - art - really did never run smooth. From asking his dad to forge his art homework to being an award winning production designer, Nerijus took a very unbeaten path - falling into production design by way of puppetry and art history classes. Now, working with brands such as Sony, PlayStation, Brother Perrier and Tanqueray, Nerijus is undoubtedly ‘artistic’ - something his 11 year old self would struggle to believe.
In this interview, Lithuanian production service company Magic speaks to one of their favourite designers, Nerijus, who reveals his creative process and why 200 vikings once sang him happy birthday.
Q> What was your journey into production design?
Nerijus Narmontas> Well, it wasn’t a consistent one, that’s for sure. When I was in my fifth or sixth year at school I would cheat at my art lessons - my father would draw my work for me, so I could get a good score at the end of the year. Back then I was totally hopeless at anything artistic.
Believing myself to be good at anything that wasn’t art, I enrolled at a prestigious, highly academic school. To everyone’s surprise, I left after three years and began to develop some other plans for my future. I ended up attending art history classes, eventually being introduced to many other subjects and specialities. It was a whole other world to what I had known.
I met people who were drawing, painting and sculpting and doing it exceptionally well. A few years later, I found myself studying art and stage design at Vilnius Academy of Arts, finally specialising in puppet design and theatre - a very sophisticated, extremely odd, and unpopular subject at the time. Instead of pursuing that path, I became involved in commercials, getting into the props department of a Hollywood feature that had a film studio here in Lithuania.
It was a wild time - being a production designer was a total mashup of different things; art direction, location management, sketching, designing, collecting, making and producing props. I even remember building sets from scratch - the stuff that big teams and departments are doing now. It was exhausting and tough but incredibly rewarding.
Q> So, you haven’t always been ‘creative’ then?
Nerijus> I really think that creativity is something that comes along with experience, knowledge and passion. You have to be good and confident at something to be able to find the unseen angles. This isn’t possible without hard and sometimes exhausting work.
Q> What’s your process to developing and imagining sets?
Nerijus> I love creating worlds that exceed expectations, but creating commercial worlds can sometimes feel like fast food - extremely delicious, yet short satisfaction. Saying that, it’s from the script that the magic starts. For the process, it’s usually the first image in my head after I read the script, that I build. I research the topic, analyse it, trawl through a lot of references and what has been done before. The internet can actually be quite shallow and a library is needed to find more references.
It’s always about thinking of what would be an ideal world, thinking about what that would be and then drawing basic ideas and sketching with designers and architects.
As for my day to day routine, it’s never the same, one day you’re at the abandoned Tesla lab in 1886, and the next you’re creating a Christmas fairy-tale at the end of August. It’s definitely a multi-task job involving team sessions, human resources and time management, property and services distribution, communication amongst departments, the ability to be in two different locations at one time, and part-time psychologist for the team and for yourself. Then there's dealing with last minute decision making, extended conversations over coffee, the interrupting phone calls on different topics from mission critical to almost zero importance, all whilst trying to puzzle out a big picture.
BROTHER - Print Airbag from The Magic on Vimeo.
Q> How did the Brother ‘Print Airbag’ ad come to life?
Nerijus> This was a technical job to deliver, a combination of studio sets and existing locations, as well as there being stunt and SFX departments involved in the whole process. An already challenging process, these considerations added a layer of complexity, especially when resetting for another take. In spite of those challenges, it was still a really fun shoot, especially because there was the possibility to create a set from scratch. I love when this happens, it means you can have a lot more control over all aspects to deliver the best version of a concept.
Q> What is it you love most about your role?
Nerijus> I really believe that this work is teamwork and that there should always be space for dialogue. I love looking for new ideas whilst questioning the old ones - I’m happy if there is a possibility to bring something that creates value for the whole project. To me, this is the most interesting part, being able to influence the entire creative process, rather than just executing predefined and resolute tasks.
Q> And what do you find the biggest challenges to be?
Nerijus> There are always challenges and being in a small country definitely has its pros and cons. It’s easy to commute around, you can reach almost anything within a distance of a few kilometres. The challenges are the classic ones - time and money. Never enough of both!
SONY PS4 - The Future of Play from Nerijus Narmontas on Vimeo
Q> What was it like working on the Sony PS4 ad?
Nerijus> The set was very intense, but the dialogue was so funny. I love working on ads like this, with a cinematic approach - it’s a whole other world and attitude. This was a memorable project for me because of many aspects: the extremely professional team of awesome and friendly people, the ad’s dialogue and how this was executed on set by director Ruben Fleischer, it’s scale and complexity and, of course, when 200 vikings sang me happy birthday on a burning set!
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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