I had the chance to speak with multifacetted production designer, Angran Li. Angran has recently brought her expertise to the Disney+ Launchpad short, The Little Prince(ss). The story follows a young boy who enjoys ballet, and takes on a more serious note as typical gender roles are challenged in this heartfelt short film. In this interview, Li discusses her personal takeaways from the industry, strong film themes, and more. Keep reading as we get some insight into production design, and creative collaboration.
Do you have a favorite collaboration moment with another member of the team while working on the Disney short film, The Little Prince(ss)?
I’ve worked with our DP Marcus Patterson multiple times now, we’ve worked together prior to The Little Prince(ss), and we also just worked on something together recently. I feel like we challenge one another creatively every time we work together. I think we work well together because we grow our strengths, and balance one another. We were on set together the other day, and one of my Art Directors noted that we each had differing strengths, and that made me think that maybe that’s why I like working with him. While we work together we can tone each of our shots (Frame), and they turn out very balanced. I always think designing contemporary world sets is very difficult because it needs to be real.
Marcus typically hates white so he normally wants colorful things on camera, but typically lean towards colorful things against a solid color, so between both of our suggestions, we meet each other in the middle, and create something perfect. I’ve worked with a lot of DPs who love to have set dec practical lights turned on, even in a day scene. But this being said, Marcus and I focus on creating a scene that looks more realistic, and reflects real life. Because of that we don’t typically turn the lights on during the day time. When “sunlight” is hitting the room, it creates that effect. I feel like different lampshades are also very interesting as an element to play to reflect lights.
As a production designer, what is one thing you would tell others looking to work in this space?
I knew I wanted to work in the Art Department a long time ago, which I have made my decision about more than 10 years ago. I like to set up goals, even a dream, and try to achieve them. I will be able to get somewhere at some point, and I don’t know about others, but I rarely change my mind when I make a decision. I think for anyone who loves to design the world from literature to physical, they’d need to really love to do it. It’s a very tough job to do if you don’t have passion for it. Because then you will always struggle with why is it so hard, and then you’d give up on a lot of things. The work itself will take so much time and effort as a production designer, if this is not what you want to do it will be so hard to move forward.
On top of The Little Prince(ss), you’ve also worked on How to Live Your Life Correctly. How did your creative process differ on each of these projects?
Oh my… How to Live Your Life Correctly…now when I think about that project, I feel like I’m still very traumatized. If anyone gets to watch the entire film, they would understand or feel the production designer-which is me, is very CRAZY in a good way. I think the process is always to deliver the story, and trying to make the space and design work to tell the story. I question about locations, space, environment a lot and trying to make it back to stories. With all kinds of stories I get to read, a lot of them that I end up taking are all very unique and have a crazy amount of work that needs to be done within a very tight schedule. I think I just like to take challenges in general.
How to Live Your Life Correctly is very different compared to The Little Prince(ss) from a design perspective, one is very abstract and the other is very realistic. It’s very hard to achieve both of them because the needs are massive, though now when I think about both of them I think they all have 1 similar thing which is the theme-it’s okay to be who you want to be. I think it has something to do with Director’s vision, Moxie and Xindi have very different styles. I love both of them, and I think as a designer I’m able to make the world fit both director’s stories.
You have begun to work in this new space of virtual production design. How would you describe the difference between production design and virtual production design?
I think whenever I think about Virtual Production Design, I think about the programs that are in use to do Virtual Production Design. Which means to do Virtual production design, it needs to design within those 3D programs, they are very much like digital soundstages in my mind. When the soundstage itself is in the digital world, all the requirements to bring in and build are different compared to real space. The “digital stage manager” will have a ton of requirements on things we bring in as an Art Department (Virtual Art Department). In this way of thinking, everything we provide still affects the Camera, Grip, Lighting departments, Cast and shoot. Which is the same compared to a traditional art department.
The difference between the new space is about how to build things in a digital environment, but the way of working to production design is still very much the same. We do need to consider what to bring into the digital set to not bring down the frame rate and crash the program. It’s a huge “space” doesn’t means it can handle everything, if we overload the “digital soundstage” will still run out of space.
I feel there are a lot of things design would need to work around with the programs tech involved in computer programs that design would have to go around with it. Somehow I feel that designing virtual sets, I need to know how to navigate the progams and have the skills. But now when I think about what I have experienced, it’s actually not too much of technology, but work on a new platform, it’s like we design and set dress locations, and then we can build sets on Stage. Virtual production design is like you have a digital empty stage that is the size of the real world. So I think as long as we have the knowledge to understand the world we are about to design, the rest of it is very much the same.
In my opinion, virtual production design or production design still all fall into the same thing, which is production design in general. We are turning the script/story/literature/fiction into a real physical space for the camera to frame it. Production Design is always like that, we design the world. Virtual production is very likely a new term to do things in virtual space, but it’s still the world we are designing. I think for a good production designer, they would easily understand both limits and freedom they now have to work within the virtual space.
Is there a project that you’re excited to share with audiences in the future?
Yes, I actually just finished production designing a comedy project that is more like a dark comedy. This will move into post-production soon. And I have just wrapped working on a virtual production project, it will take a few more years to get to see it in theatre. I’m about to move back to the Art Department from Virtual Art Department (VAD), and I’m aiming to actually stay in the Art Department. Either work with VAD or be the Art Director to VAD, I think I will be really good to be the person like a bridge, and of course I’m looking forward to developing a few feature opportunities that have been in talks with me since 2 years ago. I think a lot of projects were pending because of the pandemic, luckily I did use the time well to get to know more about how virtual production works while a lot of my design projects are pending. I think I’m fully loaded up with a bunch of new skills at the moment, never felt so strong than I do now!
How can we stay connected with you and see your future work?
I would say I’m more active on my Instagram and my website which are attached here:
Thank you for reading! Stay connected with Angran Li and her future work by checking out her IMBD page.