Kuo graduated from the esteemed Fu Hsin Trade & Art School and majored in Oil Painting and received his degree from the Department of Art & Design; after graduating Kuo started work on set for music videos and commercials and has won multiple awards for his work including recognition from the “Times Awards” and “Golden Pin Design Award”.
Text by Ash Photo by Kuan
Did you know as a student that you wanted to work in Art Design? How did you step foot in the industry?
In school I majored in Oil Painting, which has nothing to do with film and art design. After I went to the army, it was during a time when bubble tea stores were very popular and a lot of them needed creative and unique art work to accent their stores. So, me and a couple of friends started experimenting and tried using old parts from airplanes to create unique pieces of art. That’s how my journey began. However I really began working in the industry after a friend of mine, who was an assistant for Director Joshua Lin (林炳存) at the time, introduced me to work on a shoot with them because the original art director vanished mid-project. At the time I just remembered thinking, why not? It was such a fancy and exciting industry to be in at the time, and so I seized the opportunity.
What are the differences between working on a music video, commercial, and film? How is the execution different?
On many levels, it’s all related to interior design. However, all three genres are very different, technique-wise. You have to understand the purpose of the shoot and the camera angles, so you can accurately create a set that is suitable. For example, most commercials have a detailed shooting plan, and our job as the art director is to precisely create a set that is immaculate and detail oriented. However, for a music video, our design is often influenced by whether the song is slow or fast tempo. For a fast, dance song, I would need to make sure that my set design can give the director the dynamic and energy that he is looking for. Back in the day we didn’t have any computer technology to do 3D layouts before the shoot, and so I remember I bought a DV camera and wide-angle lens so that I could see what the set looked like through the lens. For film, the requirements for set design are much greater. You have to consider the story, the props, and even the colors used and whether or not it can enhance the characters and the emotions that need to be portrayed. Working in film, the art director has an important role to facilitate the plot and the telling of the story.
What do you like most about your job or what do you care about the most?
When I first started in the industry, I didn’t know much about photography nor lighting. I remember I was working on Mavis Fan’s music video with Joshua, and he wanted to do one long-shot for the entire music video. I was very simple minded at the time, and I thought well, then I’ll just do four different spaces connected together. When the gaffer arrived, he noticed that my set didn’t allow him any space to put his lights, and he was so angry he started throwing things. That’s when I started to study photography and lighting in detail. With the DV that I bought I’d go on set and try to figure out what requirements were needed by the camera crew etc.
To me, pre-production communication with each department is very important.
What’s the most difficult aspect of set construction?
I’ve been doing this for 20 years, so I think for me, the toughest part is not experience or execution related, but rather mostly related to budget. In this environment nowadays, it’s always a struggle between your design and the budget.
When a director has crazy imaginative ideas, how do you absorb and implement these ideas?
Every director thinks very differently and have their own unique style. Our job is to understand what the director likes, and his shooting style in a very short amount of time. Aside from experience, you have to be able to foresee what the director may want to change and have a backup plan. We have to understand what our client wants, what they are doing, and why they are doing this. The more we analyze the closer we are to meeting client expectations.
Aside from art design, what else do you want to do?
Architecture. I see it as a great challenge, so I want to build a house.
With your busy lifestyle, how do you rewind and recharge?
Exercise! I’ve even joined a triathlon before. I think exercise for me is more than just taking care of your body, but rather when you’re running, you can have a conversation with yourself. It’s really good for the soul. When I’m running a lot of inspiration and ideas flashes by in my head.
This issue we are exploring “Caesura”, or “Pause”. What does pause mean to you?
Because of the pandemic, a lot of cities are under lockdown, and because human activity has been put on pause, we can now see the true beauty of a space. When we remove humans from real life scenarios, we can more intricately see the city’s true colors, design, and materials, because the human interference has been removed. For those working in the art industry, we can then discover the details so often lost during normal times.