The Occupation: Production Designer

Published:  May 12, 2011
The Occupation: Production Designer

Based in Los Angeles, production designer, painter and muralist Annie Sperling works closely with photographer David LaChapelle. Some of her past work in editorials, commercials and music videos includes clients such as Motorola, Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse.

Words: Annie Sperling

Started out: I started my career as a junior high teacher, where I taught art and sex education to prepubescent inner city kids in Los Angeles. Being a restless gal, I quit teaching in search of something artistic and took a job for a large busy set company in Hollywood. This job meandered into interior design and soon I was working for an eccentric unsuccessful thespian, but highly successful millionaire inventor in the Hollywood Hills. Another designer and I turned each of the 21 rooms in his house into themes – the primary purpose of which was a backdrop for parties. One day, the David LaChapelle camp contacted my boss and shot an editorial there for Christina Aguilera. I was a big fan of his work and was thrilled. During this shoot I had an epiphany! This was what I wanted to do – this was the job I wanted.

A whole year later, I was now working as a set decorator. I received a call to work on a large commercial LaChapelle was directing. It was way over my head. I cried at night with fear. But I pulled it off.

Big break: My big break came by way of an Elton John music video for his Red Piano live show. LaChapelle was trying me as a designer. The job was epic as the song is over seven minutes long. We made an old English kitchen, a tiny log cabin for a purple bear, a two-level crack den with a giant snow globe in it, a red wedding set for Amanda Lepore to smash, a cocaine-lined spinning mirror and a giant water tank. LaChapelle was really happy with the ambitious two-day results. Our working relationship had begun.

Current project: Currently I am travelling in China, absorbing as much of this ancient magic as I can. I have long had a love affair with China – its ornate style, colour mixes (dense red with turquoise) and its tragic and epic film style. Travelling for me has been the best source of inspiration and the most pertinent resource for new art.

Favourite project: Working with LaChapelle, I have had an abundance of freedom and fun at work. One of my favourite projects was a museum set made to look as though a flood had occurred. There was a magic that happened with the artwork on the walls, the faux finished watermarks of the flood and the reflections of all of those elements on the water. I don’t think we could have anticipated the beauty.

What’s next: LaChapelle and I have made a series of 10 still lives: a LaChapelle revision of the lush Dutch master paintings. They will be seven feet tall when finished. We have been talking about doing more of this series and we both are excited about the results.

Annie Sperling will be speaking at Semi-Permanent Sydney, 13 and 14 May.

All images copyright Annie Sperling.

From desktop magazine.

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