Q&A with AFI Production Design Faculty and Alum David Moreau (THE MANDALORIAN, CAPTAIN MARVEL, WESTWORLD)
In addition to being a valued member of the AFI Production Design faculty and an AFI alum, David Moreau (AFI Class of 2006) is one of the most highly sought-after designers in Hollywood. His credits range from big-budget blockbusters, such as CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and CAPTAIN MARVEL, to high-concept TV series, including WESTWORLD, THE MANDALORIAN and the upcoming adaptation of LORD OF THE RINGS for television. He has been nominated for the Art Directors Guild Award for Excellence in Production Design five times.
AFI spoke with Moreau about the ins and outs of the AFI Production Design Program, the impact of the AFI alumni network and his successful career as a set designer and concept artist in Hollywood.
AFI: As both an alumni and faculty member, what do you think makes the AFI Production Design program stand out?
David: Story is a unique thing that AFI does, which our blend of classwork and production experience make possible. In particular, it’s the advantage of having our narrative workshop where you really get to sit down and see how the film you’ve worked on, the film you’ve planned, gets received by an audience. That’s an invaluable experience to have, and I don’t think any other film school does it quite that way.
AFI: Can you talk about the spaces and resources Fellows have at AFI? And the types of hands-on projects they’ll be working on?
David: Fellows get thrown right into the mix with bootcamp and then cycle films. They go into full production mode where they get to see how a film is done in their first year, three times over. And they get the full resources of AFI at their backing. They get mentors that help them through the artistic problems as well as the technical and logistical problems that they’re learning to solve. Those two things have to be addressed to make a successful movie. You don’t have a successful movie without solid logistics and solid artistic ambitions behind it.
In particular, when I was at AFI, I really found it useful just knowing that they had all the basic resources like prop shops and whatnot, but also it was the people you could go to that was an essential resource. Because you can find lamps and other things, but it’s knowing which lamp will tell the best story and being able to talk to people about it is key.
AFI: How did attending AFI change your career path?
David: I got my illustration degree at Syracuse University, and then I went down to Austin, TX, after graduating in 2001. I knocked around the film industry in Austin for a bit and was doing everything in the art department at the time from storyboards to set dressing. I ended up meeting a guy who was applying to AFI’s Directing program and helped him with his application in an art department capacity, so I found out about the program through him. I looked into it, applied and got in. And really my career started with AFI.
At AFI, I learned the technical aspects that form the basis of what I do now, which is a highly technical side of things as a set designer and concept artist. And it sharpened and gave me the kind of knowledge of storytelling that makes me in demand as a set designer in the industry.
AFI: How has the AFI alumni network helped you in getting jobs and onto projects that you are passionate about?
David: It absolutely got me started. Contacting AFI alums got me my first jobs and got me into the union as a set designer, which was my goal at the time. And on almost every film now, I run into an AFI Production Design alum who is working on it in some varied capacity. I’m now at the point in my career where I’m trying to help people I know from AFI reach the network they need to reach. AFI has been an invaluable resource for me – both in terms of jobs and also for advice when I’ve needed it.
AFI: Your credits include some of the most ambitious films and TV series, ranging from Marvel movies to THE MANDALORIAN to the upcoming Lord of the Rings TV adaptation. How did AFI prepare you to work on these projects that are on such an epic scale?
David: It really all does come back to AFI giving me a foundation in story. The logistics and technical aspects of these projects can easily overwhelm if you don’t pay attention to the story. So they hire me because the story always comes first – and that’s what I learned at AFI. It‘s been a joy doing those kinds of films. As you’re going through AFI and once you get out, you can learn the process of how to make movies like that and find people who will show you the ropes and where to concentrate your efforts. They’ll help you find your path in terms of what you want to do, because when there’s thousands of people working on a movie, there are thousands of roles to fill.
AFI: What can a Fellow expect if they are in one of your classes?
David: We always start with visual story in my class because it is a design class. Fellows will then learn how to apply technical 3-D modeling skills to help tell the story, and that will include working with a program called Rhino, in addition to learning how we use all of these tools at our disposal to communicate with other departments to realize the design mission – and that includes everything from working with visual effects to special effects to stunts to construction to talking to directors and producers.
AFI: What advice do you have for people considering applying to the production design program at AFI?
David: I would say the best I like to see in Fellows – and I see it every year – is insatiable curiosity. I love it when Fellows keep asking questions long after I’ve finished giving a presentation. Just being curious about everything that we‘ve talked about. I’ve seen it in people’s essays as they apply. It’s evident in their portfolios. And you can see this broad breadth of someone exploring their own artistry and learning along the way. It’s always a fun thing to see that in a portfolio where you go “Oh god, yes. This is something special.” That sense of curiosity is what defined AFI for me and was why I came back and taught here after graduating.
To learn more about the Production Design Program at AFI, visit our website. The application deadline has been extended to January 26, 2021.