Who made the decorations in the movie Elf?
November 28, 2017 10:53 AM   Subscribe

I watched Elf the other day, and I have a question about how people are credited.

There's a scene in Elf where Buddy the Elf stays up all night to decorate a department store in preparation for Santa's arrival. There is a montage of Buddy working his crafty magic, and by morning the store looks great: Light Brites have been repurposed as a welcome sign. Some of Manhattan's iconic buildings are recreated in Legos, and Buddy has strung thousands of paper chains and paper snowflakes.

When I am watching the credits to a movie like this (where a considerable amount of crafting has taken place to set the scene), how are those people acknowledged in the credits? What sort of position do they have at a film production company?

I'm not in the mood to change professions at this late stage of the game, but that's the sort of job I'd want to have in the film industry.
posted by msali to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do you mean the people who designed it, or the people who implemented it?
posted by dfan at 10:59 AM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

This should help answer your question
posted by kindall at 11:12 AM on November 28, 2017

Kindall's link is great.

Some additional info: Occasionally the studio, especially if it's an independent film, does not have the space or people with the right skills to make or build things. In that case the work is done by an outside fabrication company who act in the same capacity as the art director's crew would at a larger production house.
posted by ananci at 11:17 AM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't have a specific answer for you but I can tell you that you can find a lot of information watching the DVD extras on production design (the so-called "bonus features"). They usually have interviews and behind the scenes footage, and can be very interesting and informative (The DVD of Elf has one). I watch a lot of those (I'm a subtitler), and the process varies imenselly in each movie, as well the roles of technicians and artisans. I found also this documentary, Masters of Production: The Hidden Art of Hollywood, and it's on Vimeo. No idea if it's any good tho. I have a friend who's a prop master/set decorator - it's a demanding job but super interesting, and maybe a bit less creative than one would expect if you're not the art director or production designer.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 11:23 AM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The stuff in the background is the job of the Art Department.
Items the character touches would be the domain of the Property / Props Department.
There is some crossover between these two departments. Often the Production Designer will be hired and they will fill their crew with trusted freelancers they've worked with before.

It's a really hectic, fun, labour-intensive, hands-on, and sometimes tedious job where different people's tasks include things like:

- Researching the time period and setting
- Designing the sets & props with inspiration boards, drawings, swatches, and models for approvals
- Communicating with carpenters and electrical to do set builds if needed (not so much of that for that scene in Elf, as it looks like it was shot in a real department store... but they did need a wooden riser for all the Lite-brites, for instance)

- Sourcing items to find good prices
- Driving a cube van around town to do tons of pickups and rentals
- Making things (like non-copyright fake ad posters in the background, etc)
- Fixing up & prepping items in a studio workshop somewhere- adjusting colours, assembling furniture, etc
- Cleverly "greeking" items, which means covering logos, or making fake labels that are time-period appropriate and sometimes funny
- Making multiple versions of props for different shots (this is the perfect "hero" item that we see in the closeup.... this is the scratched up backup item that the actor throws down the stairs, etc)

- Protecting the location for load-in by covering ALLL passageways with cardboard, padded blankets, and masking tape to prevent scratched floors or dented walls while moving in gear and set pieces
- Transporting a zillion items to set (so coordinating enough trucks, drivers, parking, and Production Assistants (PAs) to do the carrying, etc
- Loading in items and dressing the actual set, usually a few days before shooting depending on complexity, and often at weird hours

- Being present for the shoot to fix/change any issues that are revealed when camera angles catch different views and actors get into the mix
- Watching the monitor to make sure it looks good
- Moving set and prop items out of the way to clear space for each camera angle, many many times a day (like you might need to move a whole wall out of a studio when the cameras turn to get Billy's closeup, and then re-set that and move a different wall out of the way for Brenda's closeup half an hour later)
- Keeping props safe and accessible between shots
- Managing certain safety aspects (for instance if a prop is a weapon like a gun, a props person might keep eyes on it at all times so it can't be swapped for a real gun by some dangerous "prankster"... this could also fall into a pyro / stunts person's job)
- Cleaning up and re-setting between takes: say an actor's job is to break something- the Props / Set / Art teams hover nearby, then run in between takes, quickly clean the broken thing & mop up the mess, then hand over a fresh item to be broken in the next take

- Tearing down & loading out the set, again without damaging the location
- Returning all the stuff that's returnable,
- Accounting & submitting a million receipts
- Archiving all the stuff that's re-useable, which productions tend to keep in well-organized bins in big warehouse spaces
- At the very end of the production, selling off all the remaining assets.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:23 AM on November 28, 2017 [32 favorites]

Lots of people are required to do that sort of thing. That particular film has credits for Production Design, Art Direction, Set Decoration, and a whole, very large, Art Department, all credited on IMDB. There are also several companies either thanked or credited separately (so, for instance, LEGO may have built models for them, or at least provided assistance in their construction, and the animated titles were entirely made by a third party production company).

The production designer sets the overall look and will either sketch everything or work with the art director to sketch it. "Elf" has lots of people in the art department credited as "scenic artist," "scenic carpenter," and "set dresser." Those are the people actually turning the design into practical work.
posted by fedward at 11:32 AM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

(A bit more information on Greeking via Wikipedia -- quick summary, the term comes from "it's all Greek to me," and can also be used to mean using placeholder nonsense text to evaluate the look and feel of content)
posted by filthy light thief at 2:09 PM on November 28, 2017

There's a neat interview on a related topic with Annie Atkins, a graphic designer who designs the graphic elements of film & TV props on the 99% Invisible podcast, "Hero Props."
posted by googly at 3:39 PM on November 28, 2017

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