While much of their work plays a backdrop to the narratives and music videos we love, Set Decorators and Production Designers are instrumental in creating the atmosphere and tone that ultimately sells it all. Los Angeles-based Production Designer and Set Decorator, Natalia Brito has a home that is everything you’d expect from an artist who excels in creating intentional spaces. We had a blast hanging out in her Highland Park abode and learning more about her work behind the curtain, including music videos by Tyler The Creator, DeJ Loaf, Joji, and countless films and commercials.
BLNCD: For people who might not know a lot about the industry, working as a production designer/set decorator sounds pretty niche.
NB: Yeah, I mean it definitely is. I went to film school, and I had no idea about it, but I learned about it through school, and I just immediately was into it… every time there was a project we had to work on, I would try to art direct or design. So it just started out through USC.
BLNCD: What has been one of your favorite jobs, in terms of creating and decorating a world?
NB: One of the first projects I ever did was this little indie film called The Blazing World. It was by this actress and director, Carlson Young. I just built my dream world, and that was a really amazing experience for me, and really confirmed that I was in the field that I wanted to be in. But then also, it’s amazing to work artists who are really passionate about what they do, and really care about the content that they’re putting out, about every little detail. I was really lucky to art direct a few Tyler, The Creator videos last year. He’s definitely one of those artists who just has such a passion for what he’s doing, and such a vision. He really cares about the set decoration, the props, and every little detail. For “A Boy is a Gun” we got to shoot in all these amazing mansions, which we helped curate. Those were already standing worlds, so it was about adding little details, or clearing out some stuff to create the vibe. I also did “I Think” and that was a full build. We built a bathroom and a hallway in a club, so that in itself was a challenge. But then, on the day that we shot, he walked in and looked at everything, and acknowledged that it was what he had asked for, but had decided in that moment that he wanted to change it. So on the day, every department is there waiting to shoot, and he’s like, “Actually, I think we need to take the time to completely change the design of this.” We spent ten hours tearing down what we had done and changing it a little bit, which was really… which normally would have been stressful, but he and the production were so cool about it, and everybody was just down to make it right and wait for us. So that was scary at first, but ended up being one of my favorite videos, for sure.
BLNCD: Do you find that your work comes into your personal life in any way? Do you feel like you are very intentional in how you curate your home?
NB: I mean, I would say that I think I kind of fell into all this, because of what my personal interests were. My mom’s a huge thrifter, huge garage saler. Every weekend growing up, we’d go to garage sales and try to find little knickknacks and whatnot. Our entire house was decorated with furniture that we’d found, or thrifted, or… you know. I just loved making up my space out of little knickknacks that I’ve scavenged. Once I realized that there was a job that was that, I was like, “Okay, that’s what I want to do.” A lot of what’s in my house comes from projects. So it’s funny, because looking around my house, I’m like, “Oh, that’s from this film, this is from that commercial.”
BLNCD: It sounds fun, searching, hunting for specific things?
NB: Yeah, like right now, the project I’m on, we need a six-person jacuzzi tub.I don’t have a solution yet, but we’re going to figure it out.
BLNCD: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the work that you do?
NB: The normal audience has no idea how much thought went into selecting that plant, or that duvet cover, those curtains, or even the shopping bags that someone walks into the scene with. There’s a whole team of people that are making a decision on which plastic bag should be used. Also, some people don’t realize how physical the work can be. Sometimes I’m literally just building sets, or moving a bunch of furniture into sets. So yeah, just that it’s hard work, but I love it, even if it is a little thankless.
BLNCD: When you look at the commonality between your peers in art department, is there a certain kind of person that really thrives in this type of work?
NB: I think that you just really have to be self-driven, for any job in art department, it’s really important. I personally used to be really afraid because I don’t have certain skills. I have very basic construction skills, but I would need to hire somebody on to do a more elaborate build. I used to think I needed to know how to use all the power tools and sew and knit. I realized that those skills are important, but what you really need to do is be driven. If the creative is good and the people on it seem like good artists, you should just say yes. I try to say yes to every job that I can that I like because you never know who you’re going to meet. That job turns into 20 other jobs. You meet 40 other people from those jobs. That’s how I think you make a successful career in a creative industry, and especially freelancing.
“In this short adaption of Margaret Cavendish’s novel, we cleared out both of these rooms and completely redressed with our own rented and thrifted items. I had almost complete creative control over the decoration of the rooms so the dressing really reflects my personal style. Decorating and designing rooms is one of my favorite things to do because you can really use the space to round out a character and tell their back story through their belongings.”
-Natalia Brito on set decorating Blazing World (2018)
“This White Rolls Royce was a last minute addition, so I only had about 8 hours to source it the day before we shot. Surprisingly none of the picture car rental places had one in stock so I had to get creative and finally found one at the last minute through a wedding event company.”
-Natalia Brito on art directing Tyler, The Creator’s “Boy is a Gun” (2019)
“This was my first project of 2020. I worked closely with the director to create a lived in but intentionally minimal world. This was a cluttered family room before we cleared it out and dressed with thrifted items. Though at an initial glance this room might look bare, but each item on screen was carefully curated to help create the general vibe of the video.”
-Natalia Brito on production designing DeJ Loaf’s “Bubbly” (2020)
Photography by Martha Kirby
Story by John Mark