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What makes a TV show seem so real? Or so fantastical? A lot of things, but the sets and locations certainly have a lot to do with it. Our Rogue insider, Ira Parker, caught up with the Production Designer, Ricardo Spinacé, to find out how he created the world of Rogue.
Ira Parker: When you’re hired on a new project, what’s the first thing you do?
Ricardo Spinacé: The script is basically the first inspiration. I think immediately visual images start to come in my mind about how I interpret the script – the things that I see in my mind about certain locations or sets. Next I begin to feel what I think will be a build, what I think will be a location. And then armed with those ideas in hand, there follows the first meetings, conceptual meetings with the show runners and producers who could represent the creative part of the project and the money part of the project.
The production designer is hired to bring ideas to the table and act as a creative gel between the parameters of the financial side and the parameters of the creative side. But the focus is always on the aesthetics.
IP: How do you go about assembling your team?
RS: Standing relationships and deserved loyalties come into play very strongly. The construction coordinator and I have been working together for almost 12 years now. So I think that’s an important factor in putting a team together because having a construction coordinator who knows how I design, what I expect from the construction and paint teams, matters a lot. If you are working with someone new sometimes you don’t function as well. You may have different styles or different approaches to things. So cohesion is very important.
And then I work with my Art Director, who I hire based on talent and previous experience together, to consult me with who we should hire for positions such as graphic artist, art department coordinator, and set designers because the art director deals with them directly. I conceptualize and talk to my department directly, but the art director is the person who makes my vision happen for me. So it’s important to consider their opinion before hiring anyone under them.
IP: Jimmy’s offices and the police station were both built in the studio. What kind of challenges do you face when building such large sets?
RS: The challenge we faced is that time is definitely of essence. It takes time to make decisions and pull the trigger on building something, which can erode into crucial days indispensable to construction, paint and set decoration. So I try to make the process as intuitive, spontaneous, creative, and decisive as I can because that kind of approach eventually saves precious days that we can give to those departments. And in television, the process is very fast.
I come from a world where, production designers can draw, they can visualize, they can sketch, and they can use color – be it in markers, or pencils, or whatever it is. And the faster I can visualize the idea on paper, the faster construction can get going, or the faster the decisions can be made. As far as Jimmy’s offices, Nick, Matthew, Robert, and myself established a look and a direction very quickly. Even before Kieran our Director of Photography was on board, because I like to consult with the DP too – on light sources, etcetera, etcetera. But Kieran was very receptive to the ideas that we were coming up with. We showed him sketches and he responded positively. So we went ahead fairly quickly. We still came in under the wire, because I wanted to be as ambitious as I could. But there’s a fine line between what I want to do and the time we have to do it.
IP: Where did you draw your inspiration when designing Jimmy’s office?
RS: We knew it was Oakland. We knew it was the docks. We knew that we wanted a texture and a character that said, blue collar, working class, gangsters. So, all these elements of the rough, gritty – I don’t want to call it dirty, but sort of ocean side port harbor, beaten by the sea kind of look, and color and texture where the sea air is always rusting things – played into the design. All you need to do is think about ships that you have been close to. They are always rusting and their ropes are fraying and the windows are dirty. The location of the show was instrumental in defining the look.
IP: In shooting Vancouver for Oakland, what are some of the challenges you faced? Are the two cities comparable?
RS: They are and they are not. I think geographically Vancouver has a very pronounced mountain skyline. That doesn’t exist in Oakland. Oakland is much flatter. So we constantly had to make sure not to shoot in certain directions or we would see the Vancouver mountains. That would be a give away.
IP: Ha ha. I’d imagine.
RS: I think the light in Northern California is still much sharper and sunnier in general than Vancouver, but I thankfully we had a good summer. There is more rain and more grey in Vancouver than Oakland, but that kind of helped the mood of the show. So that wasn’t a bad thing. Regarding the size of Oakland versus the size of Vancouver – specifically if you talk about the port and the docks, Oakland is vastly larger than Vancouver. And I found it disappointing that the port authority in Vancouver was not being very friendly in general to film production. We couldn’t get into the container yards that we wanted to get into. So we had to do our best to create the container world, on our own. But in general, Vancouver being an ocean city did very well.
IP: How hands-on are you during shooting? How much time do you like to spend on set?
RS: I spend a fair amount of time on set. I started off as a head painter who grew up working on the stage. So I like to contribute ideas and solutions right there, instead of construction having to ask a question through the art director who then calls me. Every hour is essential when you are building last minute or when you don’t have a huge amount of time to build. It’s good to be organized so you can keep the process rolling smoothly. Unfortunately, scouting is one of my pet peeves. It can be very time consuming. But nowadays with technology I find myself sketching in the scout bus, taking photos of the sketches, and messaging or emailing the art director who then passes them on to construction. The only draw back is that the bus is usually shaking so much that I have to wait until we are not moving to be able to draw or shade. But it works. I can communicate ideas very quickly that way.
IP: What is your artistic background?
RS: I’ve been an artist since I was probably 5 or 6 years old. I have been drawing since then. I come from a family of carvers, my father was a furniture maker, so I always worked with wood and nails and making things since I was a child.
IP: Have you developed a specific style in your work? Is there a Ricardo Spinacé trademark?
RS: As a painter, as an artist I would say that. Figurative expressionism is what I’m into. And as far as a style in production design, it depends on the project. If it’s a caveman then of course, we’re talking caves. If it’s a Western, we’re talking frontiers. You could say that I have a style in each of these periods. I think that the inspiration for each project depends on the script, and I very much ground myself in the script, but I would say I tend to be a bit more theatrical than other production designers. What I mean by that is I am not afraid to let the sets show themselves. I tend to design sets that are quite strong visually.
IP: Who are some of your favorite artists?
RS: Each period has their own geniuses and people whose shoulders we stand on, but I would say Picasso in the 20th century was by far the biggest monster of them all. In a good way, because of his invention, frivolity, looseness, and innocence. He understood all the art history that went before him. He used them all beautifully, derived from them: The Greeks, the Romans, the Africans, the Japanese, the Impressionists, and the Expressionists too. Max Beckmann is one of my favorites as well.
As far as a current artist who inspire me, I’m very touched by people like Julie Mehretu. Julie Mehretu is a young artist probably in her 40s who lives in New York and she does these incredible pieces of artwork with very large canvases. To me, she is like Mirò and Calder put together, but taken into the 21st century. I really love her canvases. And Gerhard Richter is an amazing painter.