We had the good fortune of connecting with Mengqing YUan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mengqing, how do you think about risk?
I definitely like taking risks, both in my life and in my career. I’m a production designer; I design sets and visuals for films and videos. Working as a freelance designer in the entertainment industry allows me to meet new people and work on new projects all the time. There are always some unknown factors when taking on new projects. My work itself is risk-taking with many firsts. The first sci-fi film, first music video, first animation, first experimental piece, etc. As a designer, I always want to provide a new vision to the team by striving to design things that have never been done by others. Constantly adapting to new situations and meeting new people keeps me excited and moving forward in both my life and career. Risk-taking is the motivation and drug I need every day. The first music video I worked on was titled “Sinking”. It’s about a girl experiencing depression and she tries to end her life inside her bathtub. I designed a fantasy world between life and death. I drew a 6-foot water ring sculpture in my set design rendering. When I pitched this idea to the director I only had a rough idea of how I could achieve it. The director loved my design and gave me the green light. I had never made such a large sculpture before and I was unfamiliar with the material that I planned to use. Somehow there was always some part of me that believed that I could definitely make it happen, even if I didn’t know exactly how yet. I started with the resin material and spent three nights with the team experimenting: how to shape it, how long it takes to heat up, how long it takes to dry, how stable it is, how to transport such large pieces… There were many times I heard my team saying to me, “This is not going to work. I don’t know how this is going to work.” Well, I thought if I chose to take a risk, then I shouldn’t give up so easily. Sink or swim. After three days and nights, we finally finished the sculpture. Then the new challenge was figuring out how to install it and create 6-foot resin sculpture stands. Challenge accepted. Luckily we had 48 hours to prepare this installation. We experimented and failed with many different methods. Finally, we suspended the four resin sculptures in the air with 10 fishing wires. The director and artist were happy with the result and the shoot went very smoothly and successfully. I learned and gained so much from the entire challenging process.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m a production designer who helps directors visualize their story and keep the audience immersed in a convincing film world. I wouldn’t say that the films I have worked on are my own art. Film and TV are collaborative art forms. I have to read the script before I can design the visuals for a film. I think everyone is a special individual though we all share some similar instincts. My job is to find a common visual language to communicate the emotions of the story to the audience. For example, if I’m designing a touching scene involving motherhood and love, I would likely use warm hues and soft materials for my set design. If I’m designing a thrilling scene filled with danger I would probably use sharp lines and darker tones. The production design is part of the background but it is always there to serve the storytelling. I want the production design to feel as believable to the audience as possible, whether the film world is a realistic one or a fantastic one. I love working on experimental videos and exploring new possibilities for film and television. Experimental video allows filmmakers to pursue surrealism in ways that more conventional films do not. I love to experiment with different ways of communicating with the audience through visual language. It is interesting and inspiring for me to be able to break the typical rules and I love to see and hear an audience’s reaction to a new visual language. Trying something new fascinates and motivates me in both my life and career. I grew up in China and began studying painting and drawing when I was 10. I studied animation in college for two years before realizing that it wasn’t where my passions lie. I decided to come to America and study filmmaking. Since I always loved painting and visual art, I decided to become a production designer. I took classes at both CalArts and USC where I studied set design and production design. After working on films at school I was sure it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I began working as a freelance production designer after graduation. As with many others, I started at the bottom and took on many jobs in order to enrich my filmmaking skills. I learned how to communicate, work with different personalities, lead a team, etc. Every project teaches me something new and I aim to learn and improve every day. Nothing is easy and filmmaking always takes a lot of effort. LA is extremely competitive. Working in the film industry is exciting and it is the dream of many to be able to work steadily as a freelance filmmaker in LA. Filmmaking is a complex art form involving business, marketing, networking, communication, talent, performance, patience, luck, etc. For me, filmmaking is my life and I love it for its difficulty and complexity. It gives me new challenges every day. I have realized that committing to being a filmmaker means committing to a lifelong learning experience. I have been working in the film industry for three years and one of the most important lessons I have learned is the importance of communication. Through collaborating with many different artists and filmmakers, I learned the importance of being able to deliver your visual ideas accurately when speaking with others. The production design is a visual art but you also need to be able to communicate your ideas with words to the director and producer so they can clearly understand what you have envisioned and why. If something they wish for might not work, you need to be able to explain why and be ready with a better alternative. These are all lessons that I have been learning and improving on. The situation is constantly changing since I am constantly working with different people. I’m sure there will be many more important lessons for me to learn in my career.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
My favorite spots in the city are San Gabriel and K-town! I love food and especially Asian food. San Gabriel has the best Chinese food in LA and K-town has the best Korean food in LA. Both also have so many options for fun. You can go to a spicy hot pot restaurant with a group of 10 people and follow up with milk tea. You can sing karaoke all night long or relax and rejuvenate at Wi Spa overnight. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My biggest thanks for where am I right now goes out to Awesome and Modest, Inc. I was depressed and unemployed last summer due to the pandemic. Many productions were shut down or postponed. I had no work for almost four months. But one of my seniors reached out to me saying she was working on an HBO show created by Awesome and Modest, Inc. The team was searching for a photo editor to help design their animated collages. I was not only happy to hear about a new project that I could safely work on from home; I was also very interested in the story. I’m very grateful that they trusted me as a new designer. I started working on this production at the end of August 2020 and learned so much throughout the process. The first thing is communication skills. Because all of our work was done online from our homes, our primary method of communication was through chat messages. This was a completely new way of working for me but I soon learned from the way the team communicated with each other. I learned how to respond quickly and succinctly to clearly deliver my ideas and thoughts to the rest of the team. Most importantly, the production designer and coordinator were very kind and supportive. They patiently taught and encouraged me through the whole working process. I feel a lot more confident working as a designer now after this production. I’m really grateful to Awesome and Modest, Inc.
The photo was taken by Richard Sue