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Production Designer Shuhe Wang tells timeless story in new film

Shuhe Wang

Since the time Shuhe Wang was a child, she always has been interested in design. Growing up in Taiyuan City, in the Shanxi province of China, she started to learn as much as she could about the various aspects of design. She researched graphic design, fashion design, interior design, and even architectural design. As she grew, she realized there was one profession that perfectly combined each aspect of design: production design. Now, as an internationally successful production designer, she is living her childhood dream.

While working on critically-acclaimed films such as Red String, Dancing for You, Inside Linda Vista Hospital, and Stay, Wang has earned herself the reputation as one of China’s best production designers. She understands her craft and fully commits herself to her work, creating a visual world for movie goers to immerse themselves in.

“I always believe less is more. In the frame of my work, there is always a rhythmic balance among elements. I like to use texture and shape of each elements to create the tone and character,” said Wang.

Wang’s reputation is well-earned. She plans each aspect of the production design to perfectly tell the story. In the film Cartoon Book, she did just that. As the lead production designer on the film, Wang perfectly captured the vision of the writer and director, as she took on all three roles.

“By writing this story and I gave myself the opportunity to participate in creating a world and put my own thoughts in art. Because it is a timeless story, the tone and style are more than a normal elementary school. It is about inner world, the rebel nature in a severe world, so that theme is strong and the production designing is significant.”

Cartoon Book is about a little boy who tries to go against the school and teacher under severe rules. Afterwards, it seems that the teacher gradually controls the boy by using his vulnerability and letting the rebel boy become a tool to manage other students. The boy draws cartoons, but he feels it is hard to choose between his desire or his morals when the teacher bribes him to be her spy who needs to betray his friends.

“This film is a kind of timeless story. The non-existent world needed to be created by its new rules, so I designed an entire system of the story to make it livable,” said Wang.

The film went on the be an Official Selection at the prestigious Cannes Short Film Corner where it premiered last year, as well as the Berlin Student Film Festival, the Goa Shots International Short Film Festival, and the Accolade Global Film Festival Competition. None of this could have been possible without Wang’s keen eye as a production designer.

“I am so excited about how well the film has been doing and feel so happy that people really feel connected with their own experiences and consider it so deep. That is a huge encouragement for my team. Although the film is a point of view from child, but also talks about a situation that everyone in any age would deal with,” she said.

The style of the production design in Cartoon Book is desaturated, clean, vintage, and simplistic. Wang was inspired by a famous profile photography master, and a European art film. She purposely made the brightness higher to make the tone more pale and grim to match the emotion of the characters. She also thoroughly researched, and looked into some Christian schools, looking at their school life, as many of the practices and rules were similar with her story. Her commitment to the project was appreciated by all those she worked with.

“I played the leading role in Shuhe’s award-winning short film Cartoon Book. We had a great experience while we were working together. She was really good at telling a story through the design of the image. She always clear about the performance, which was to match with the overall tone and the art style of the film,” said actress Jacinta Marasco.

Wang says that as the is the lead actress and the only adult cast of the film, Marasco did a really good job in with her performance. Everyone that Wang worked with was inspired and wanted to tell her story, which was the best part of working on the film for the production designer.

“When everyone really engaged in their position, that actually inspired me a lot on set. The tone on set makes the actors clearer about the way they are acting, and the actors’ performances make each prop make more sense,” said Wang. “By filming this film, I completed an important part of my career and I understood even more about my personal style of designing. I know what I’m good at and what kind of stories I want to tell. Though we are conveying real life through films, I still always purposely create the whole world above the real life a bit, to make it more emotional aiming the target in functional way.”

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