Meet the Art Director from Bengaluru making her way into Hollywood

Minolae Jain from Bengaluru harboured a dream of making beautiful sets for Hollywood productions since childhood. Her education in Singapore and Los Angeles, opened the right doors, allowing her to pursue this passion.
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Although it may seem like gorgeous actors and gripping storylines make a film or TV show successful, the reality is quite different. From clothes to makeup, creative camera angles to intelligent editing – there are several factors that complete a film. One such aspect that is often overlooked during credits is, set design.

Minolae Jain, a Production Designer and Art Director from Bengaluru, who has worked in the art department of different shows, music videos, and commercials, says set designers bring a story to life.

“As a production designer, I mainly collaborate with the director and cinematographer to express the story visually in the best possible way. Having grown up in a diverse and multicultural country that is a melting pot between tradition and globalisation, I have a unique perspective. It is mind-boggling that I have been exposed to movies in more than 20 different languages because India produces the highest number of movies in the world,” she shares, while highlighting the importance of her work in a chat with YS Weekender.

Excerpts from an edited interview:

YS Weekender (YSW): Why did you choose a career in production design?

Minolae Jain (MJ): I was part of the logistics team for my high school play - an adaptation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was a three-month long production, and I sat through countless rehearsals and always felt like something was missing.

A week before the show, that missing element appeared and came to life with the work of a set designer. He worked his skill and the whole story came to life. It was no longer just my high school’s stage but a set that teleported you to the world of Snow White.

This was the exact moment I knew that I wanted to build these worlds.

And very soon, I began obsessing over different movie sets and videos documenting the making of films. Countless YouTube videos and Google searches later, I discovered the concept of the art department, and as a dreamy 16-year-old decided this is what I wanted to do.

I pursued an MFA in Production Design from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. Before that, I had studied Interior Design at Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore. So, I have had exposure to different art styles and methodologies.

YSW: What is your creative vision and how does it set you apart from others in this field?

MJ: From a design and linguistic point of view, my creative vision is representative of the regional cultural intricacies and varied film making techniques. I believe my forte lies in combining the strengths of the Indian film industry with those of Hollywood.

Having grown up with access to the former and having been educated in the workings of the latter, I have a unique perspective as a filmmaker.

It is the influence of two worlds that inspires my work. I’m truly grateful for this cultural confluence in my everyday living and learning.

YSW: What are some of the recent projects you have worked on?

MJ: Over the last few months I have worked on an array of projects. I recently designed a music video for a French Artist, in which we stripped a house to its bare bones.

The song was about accepting to love who you are, and we designed the set to reflect this idea. The design really supported the cinematography and look we were going for.

Another show that I work on continuously is Blippi – a popular kid's YouTube and Netflix show – for which I design and do props. For that show, it is so important to understand the audience.

When you cater to 2–4-year-olds, everything you design has to excite them, but also be simple enough for them to understand what it is with just a glance.

Over time, I have designed a hacker’s lab, a garage, a rideshare app, among other things. All of this was animated and constructed in a way that the outcome could be filmed on camera without resorting to VFX.

I have also designed short films of varying genres - from ‘Becoming Eddie’, a comedy short about a Korean American boy in the 80s to ‘Why Don’t You Like Me’, a story about a rideshare app driver.

I’m fortunate to have been part of films that have been nominated for film festivals across the globe, as well as big studio projects like HBO’s McMillions and Home Economics, a popular sitcom on ABC.

YSW: What have been the biggest challenges you have faced in this profession so far?

MJ: There have definitely been bumps along the way – some small and some big! One of the most prominent was moving across the world to pursue a career I had no experience in.

I come from a science and design background, not film. The first-ever set I designed was at graduate school, where I was one of the youngest in a room full of distinguished people.

My learning curve was exponential. I had to learn everything from scratch - something as simple as what a C-stand was, to how a set works.

I call this my ‘Production Design for Dummies’ phase. It taught me a lot and made me realise that I had a long learning path to tread.

Four years on, I have learned a lot but still have a long way to go, and I’m excited about it!

YSW: How has your work redefined itself to fit post-pandemic needs?

MJ: Life post-2020 has been an interesting experiment. It’s totally one for the memory books.

I think one of the biggest things for the industry was the popularity of streaming services, which opened a whole world for people. People have started viewing and loving content from across the globe, which as a filmmaker gives you the opportunity and platform to collaborate with artists and people across the globe.

And working from home has made this transition of collaborating a lot easier.

YSW: How would you define your creative process?

MJ: My creative process starts from reading the script and taking note of my feelings while reading it. I jot down references corresponding to what I felt, which can be anything from paintings, buildings, photography, movie stills, and sketches.

Then, I have a concept meeting with the director to understand what they have in mind. We then streamline our references and start putting together an initial look and feel for the project, along with the cinematographer.

The producers get involved after this step when we begin execution. The process may differ slightly based on the need of the production or the platform.

My journey has been an incredibly fulfilling one so far. In mid-2020, I was accepted into the Art Directors Guild - Production Design Initiative. I can say with confidence that I have definitely come a long way - from sowing the seeds of a dream while walking in my high school corridors to working my way through Hollywood.

 I’m enjoying seeing this dream become a ‘reel’ity!

Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti

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