Creating Stories through Visuals with Manali Gavankar
I was born and raised in a small town called Vasai on the outskirts of Mumbai, India. I found my true calling in the field of film set decoration by combining the two things I was most fascinated with – Design and Storytelling. After pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, a subject which has shaped my mind and perspectives, I found my place in the art department of film and television industry as a set dresser and set decorator. I’ve been fortunate enough to get work opportunities on award-winning projects like Netflix original Sense8 Season 2, Australian feature film Hotel Mumbai, and the Judi Dench starrer British feature film Victoria & Abdul etc. while in India. After working on international projects as well as Indian films and TV commercials, I moved to the United States to pursue my master’s in Production Design from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). I moved from Savannah, Georgia to Detroit, Michigan, where I’m currently based. While I continue to explore the landscapes of international cinema, I still consider myself to be in the nascent stage of my career and I’m looking forward to telling more stories through my work.
Hailing from India, a land full of intriguing, vibrant stories, I have always found myself to be a visual storyteller with a love for research and design. As a detail oriented set decorator, it is my passion to research, design and create worlds that enhance the narrative.
Filmmaking is visual storytelling. The mood and the tone of the scene, plays a vital part in communicating the feeling behind a scene. Set Decoration in my opinion, isn’t about making things look pretty, it’s about capturing the true essence of the narrative and creating a world relevant to the story.
Staying relevant to the story and curating the frame with authentic elements involves a lot of research, something which has helped me as an artist. In my role as a set decorator, I enjoy working on lived-in setups, where I can step into characters’ shoes to bring different elements to my sets. I like to ask questions like: what are the characters like? Where do they stand in society? What are their habits? And many more. This helps me bring in the little details and nuances to create the unique world for the characters to live in.
Yet these questions don’t always have easy answers. I read through case studies and developed little backstories about the characters. Completely understanding my characters, even their smallest habits, allows me to bring authenticity to my setups. I like to think of my process as visually representing the character’s personalities through the setups.
Creative collaboration is at the heart of filmmaking. There are many movies & shows that have inspired me but then there are some great works of art like Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel that make me feel grateful for being a part of this industry. The collaboration between director Christopher Nolan and production designer Nathan Crowley has held me in a state of awe, especially for a film like Interstellar where they created and physically constructed something that currently only exists theoretically to us humans.
With the advent of the golden age of TV shows in last 10-15 years there have been many inspiring shows which have brought cinematic excellence to our TVs. I was most impressed and inspired by the work behind Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Handmaids tale, Madmen, The Queen’s Gambit, Russian doll etc. that captured the mood, grandeur, desolation and details of the narrative respectively.
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