If you’re preparing to crew up for your next art department then we urge you to look no further than this year’s crop of Joe Farley Award entrants. Every year we’re blown away by the amazing work produced by the first year Production Design students at the National Film and Television School when we go to judge the annual Joe Farley Award.
I know it sounds like a cliché but every year the standard of work just gets better and better and the students themselves and their presentations get more and more proficient, and this year was no exception. Each student we met was intelligent, articulate, and passionate and had creativity by the bucket load.
If you’re unfamiliar with The Joe Farley award and its origins here’s a brief history for you. Joe Farley was the founder of the business and when he sadly passed away in 1994 his son Mark Farley decided to set up an award in his honour to support newcomers to the industry he was so fond of. Originally run at the Royal College of Art, when the course ceased there it transferred to The National Film and Television School and is now in its 23rd year. Part of the course for the first year students is to spend ten weeks working on a fantasy project based around a book of their choice and this project is then judged by Mark and a different Production Designer each year, with the winner being awarded the Joe Farley Award and financial support towards their second year studies. As part of the project, they have to produce technical drawings (for the first time in the case of some students), a scale set model and the requisite research material and additional sketches. Of course there are no limits to this, only the imagination of the student and the time and effort they’re willing to put in. This is possibly the one and only time in their career that they can work on the basis of an unlimited budget and unlimited resources. Their only limitations are those of the A stage at Pinewood which is the fictional production setting.
This year Mark had the great pleasure of being joined by acclaimed Production Designer Suzie Davies. Suzie is best known for her work on ‘Mr Turner’, ‘The Zoo Keeper’s Wife’ and the upcoming ‘Peterloo’. We were honoured to have Suzie’s accomplished eye assisting with the judging. She immersed herself in the day and was genuinely impressed by all the work on show. She offered great insight into the artistic elements but also the practical ones and gave some invaluable constructive criticism to each student which I’m sure they’ll take with them on their journeys through the art department. She asked some really great questions (which we will definitely pass off as our own in future!) that got the students thinking and looking at their work slightly differently. I won’t give too much away, or we’ll lose our advantage over next year’s flock, but needless to say, each student got a good grounding on how to present their work and answer questions and critiques about their designs and decisions.
The first student of the day set the bar very high but the rest were definitely up to the challenge and it was in fact the last student of the day that was awarded the winner. That student was the talented, Tessa Flanagan. To say we were blown away by Tessa’s work and presentation is an understatement. She was engaging and professional in the way she presented but her work really spoke for itself. She chose to design a set for ‘The Drowned World’, a story by J.G.Ballard, set in 2145 when London and much of the world has been submerged under water due to soaring worldwide temperatures. Tessa focused on the main character, Dr Kerans and his make shift habitation in The Ritz Ballroom.
The quality of her technical drawings was impressive, as you might expected from someone with Tessa’s Architecture background, but she’d gone the extra mile by considering camera angles and had suggested camera placement throughout the set. Her drawings were accurately realised in her model which had clearly been made with great care and attention to detail. She described how she envisaged the action moving through set and how the technical teams would both achieve and capture it. The set was endlessly sustainable and as Suzie said, “you could shoot for a month on that set and never use the same shot twice”.
As if that wasn’t enough, she’d even used her storyboard illustrations to make a short film complete with sound effects. Suzie and Mark were unanimous in their decision to select Tessa as their very worthy winner. At just 22 years old she’s one of the youngest on the course and certainly has a bright future ahead of her. She’d be an asset to any art department lucky enough to have her.
Though Tessa was the overall winner on the day, the rest of the students were hot on her heels and had also produced an impressive body of work.
First up was Theo Boswell (who chose the book ‘Titus Groan’) who impressed us with his Victorian meets Western inspired set and professional presentation. He also produced a short film using his illustrations, which held up well when shown on a large screen. His fine art background shone through in his detailed technical drawings and intricate model.
Qingling Zhang was also inspired to choose ‘Titus Groan’. Having come from a concept artist background she had some wonderful ideas and produced some great visuals. Suzie particularly liked how she’d seamlessly combined more rigid Gothic architecture with some more natural Gaudi’esque forms. After some initial nerves, Qingling relaxed in to the flow of her presentation and perfectly conveyed her interesting ideas.
Nicola Sadori (‘Invisible Cities – Isaura’) took inspiration from nature with his crab inspired set. We were very impressed with his concepts and the way he wove natural forms in to his set which he’d sculpted from clay. Nicola was warm and gave an energetic and accomplished presentation. We think he’d be an infectiously enthusiastic person to have in the art department.
With a BA in Sculpture, Lauren Taylor certainly put her skills to good use and produced a great model and added variety by using different materials and finishes. She perfectly married two very different styles (an Art Deco inspired ‘great hall’ and an ‘ice cave’) and made use of every inch of the stage. Her illustrations were also particularly beautiful and she gave a well thought out presentation.
There was no holding back on Antonio Niculae’s realisation of ‘The Odyssey’. He’d thoroughly researched different religions and cultures, and successfully married them all in his visuals which held up to greater scrutiny when shown on a big screen. We’re still not sure how he so successfully pulled off such a ‘mash up’ of architecture and design though even he agreed it would be a real challenge to realise.
Last but by no means least was Miryam Jacomini who chose the novel ‘Walking on Glass’. She produced a detailed and diverse set and again managed to use every inch of space available which would allow for a variety of shots, all of which she had considered. Her research material was also beautifully presented and showed, at a glance, what she hoped to achieve.
It is always an absolute pleasure to visit the NFTS and to judge the work of the first year students. We were more than impressed with the skills on show which is a testament to the amazing team at The National Film and Television School. Thank you to everyone who took part and who made the day happen but particularly Caroline Amies, Michelle Hosier and of course the wonderful Suzie Davies.