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Production Designer Laura Santoyo creates dystopian world in "The Plague"

When Laura Santoyo Dangond was studying architecture, she began to explore how film and theatre could correspond with her chosen career path. Having always loved movies throughout her childhood, she was drawn to the idea of being able to put her skills as an architect to use in a way that not only interested her, but excited her. It didn’t take her long to find her way to production design, and she knew instantly that this was the path she was meant to take. Since that time, she has become a leading production designer, and one of the best to come from Colombia.

Santoyo’s reputation is well earned. She captivated audiences in 2016 with the detailed and artistic sets of the acclaimed films Lockdown and Tim of the Jungle. Now, she is making headlines once again with her work on the film Falling. Falling, which had its world premiere at the end January, tells the story of a potentially psychosomatic white man, a woman stuck in a vortex of mansplaining, and a young black man confronted by the racial disconnect of society. They each try to make sense of their lives as their worlds are set on an inevitable collision course in this surrealist comedy. The production design is eye-catching, something Santoyo is known for.

“I love art, design and telling stories. I think that the moment I discovered production design I realised that it is the profession that combines everything that I love. I can do it and be part of the movies that I love so much,” she said.

Last year, Santoyo created a surreal and dystopian world with her work in The Plague. The film follows teenage siblings Julie and Julian who take refuge in a secluded forest cabin to avoid becoming infected by a mysterious and deadly plague. When a stranger comes in need of help, their lives are changed forever. The film is about family and more specifically the relationship between siblings. The twins in the movie have created a very strong bond due to extreme circumstances that have them isolated from the rest of the world and they only have each other. However, that partnership is threatened by the arrival of a third person and they have to learn that they only can survive if they stay together.

“I think that nowadays when most of the relationships we have are fragile it’s important to have films like this that remind us of the importance of having a strong bond with someone,” said Santoyo.

The Plague premiered at L’étrange Festival in France in September 2017 where it was an Official Selection. It also was an Official Selection at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival and is expected to make its way to more festivals throughout the year. Santoyo feels honored by the success and is happy that audiences around the world have been appreciating the film, but the Director, Federico Torrado, knows how much the Production Designer contributed toward The Plague’s continued success.

“Working with Laura is one of the best experiences I've had in my career. As a director and producer, I feel very excited working with her because of the level of commitment she puts in every project. Besides being a crazy hard worker, Laura approaches a film from different angles and generates questions that I've never asked myself about characters, story and world building. This process makes me trust her 100 per cent with the creative choices she makes, because I know she's dissected the world and analyzed it to a point where she understands it, sometimes even more than the producers,” said Torrado. “Laura brings a very unique and fantastic vision to all the projects I've worked on with her. She never settles with ordinary ideas and she's constantly adding layers and layers to the worlds she creates making the film richer and deeper than it could ever be. She also has no problems telling the director or producer if something is not working. This aspect makes me feel very comfortable, because I know when working with her I always can rely on her honesty and know that we're making the best choices together as a team. Beyond all this, her attitude on set is what every producer dreams of. Not only is she constantly offering quick and effective solutions to unexpected problems, but every second during production she's giving everything she has to make the best work possible and that you can see it in the end results of the movies she's designed. I feel very grateful and confident every time she's on one of my sets.”

Torrado and Santoyo had previously worked together in 2016 on the film Wytches and found they made a great team. Santoyo appreciated the artistic sensibility the director possesses and his search for poetic imagery. Therefore, when he reached out to the her with his new film, she didn’t think twice before accepting the job.

Once her work The Plague began, Santoyo started having conversations first with the director and then with the rest of the creative team to establish the look that this unique world would have. They had to make decisions about what technology would be available to the characters, where the cabin would be situated, how long the plague epidemic had been a part of this world, and more. After figuring out these details, Santoyo began researching and creating concepts for her designs. The idea that the two leads lived in a cabin in the middle of the woods implied that they needed to have tools essential for their survival. They had predetermined that the twins did not have electricity, so all the light sources had to be either gas lamps or candles. They had also decided that the fabrics used in the costumes and would also be used in design elements like drapes and bedding to show what a minimalistic society the setting was, and the fabric had to look and feel very natural, with little use of dyes and using fibers such as cotton and wool.

It was essential for Santoyo to ensure that every element in each set appropriate to the time and place they were establishing, because any detail that may have looked like it didn’t belong could throw the audience out of the story. On top of this, the world in the story is fictional, and it was therefore up to Santoyo to create it visually. Every detail was designed in such a way that the world becomes very real to audiences, and that is why Santoyo is such a true talent.

“I really liked the process of creating a different world and working with the director, cinematographer and costume designer to create the rules that this world would have. I also liked exploring the themes of what femininity and masculinity mean and how to bring them together visually in one house,” she said.

Laura Santoyo Dangond’s career has been impressive, and she has no plans on slowing down. She knows that talent means nothing without hard work and commitment, and she never lets her success faze her. She encourages those with a passion for film and design to experiment in production design, and for those looking to follow in her footsteps, she offers the following advice:

“Look for stories that you care about and that you feel are important to tell. To try to always work with people you admire. Go to museums and art exhibits to visit buildings designed by great architects, to travel, and to read both classic and contemporary literature. I would recommend to always keep your eyes open, to observe people on the streets, and to pay attention to details,” she concluded.

First photo: Laura Santoyo Dangond, photo by Maria Dangond

Second photo: Laura Santoyo Dangond (left) with Casey Burke (right) on the set of The Plague, photo by Federico Torrado Tobon

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