A scene from the Lil-Lets Be You, Art Directed by Daniella Dagnin

Inside the life of an Art Director with Daniella Dagnin

We got to meet up with Art Director, Daniella Dagnin to get some insights into what the life of an Art Director looks like. Just to clarify, this isn’t the Art Director that teams up with a Writer in the agency, we’re talking about the pros that are there to elevate and serve the director’s visual vision. They are the visual voila to storytelling, that if done right, can take your commercial from a Wessel Anderson to a Wes Anderson. Dani is no small-fry and over the span of her career has worked her way up through the ranks of the Art Department alongside some of the industry’s most respected aesthetic icons, like Julie Bonnet, Melissa Maxted Henderson and Lenny Dee Neilson, before going solo some years ago. Here’s what Dani had to say.

Q:  First off, we read Visi magazine, are we also Art Directors?  

Dani: Haha, not quite. An Art Director is the Head of the Art Department of a film or commercial production. The Art Department consists of the Props Masters, Set Dressers, Swing Gang and the Standbys. Basically, a group of the most talented and hard-working people you’ll come by. We help determine and bring to life the visuals of the film or commercial that best serve the story.

Q: What does the process of working with an Art Director look like?

Dani: Typically, a production company or a director would hire me directly. They would share the brief and their vision of how they see the commercial with me. Then I would either put the visuals of the script together in a mood board, based on the director’s vision, or I would further flesh out the director’s treatment. From there myself and my team bring it to life on set. I am hired to bring my own artistic visual interpretation to the script but also to interpret the director’s, and somewhere in between is the final magic.

Top: Daniella Dagnin on set for Converse Kick The Debt /  Bottom L to R: Zuchu and Bradlows 50th Birthday campaign, Art Directed by Daniella Dagnin

Q: How do you become an Art Director?

Dani: As with most careers, there are many different paths into the industry. I came from a Fine Arts background. While I was doing my Masters my work became very involved in video art, installation and performance, and my dissertation was a mix of that. I then entered the industry as a Personal Assistant to Art Directors, then an Art Runner for 4 years, a Props Master for another 3 years working and learning from incredible legends like Julie Bonnet, Melissa Maxted Henderson and Lenny Dee Neilson. I’ve been Art Directing solo now for just over 3 years.

Q: What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in this industry?

Dani: Anything is possible.

Top to Bottom, Airtel Zambia & Azawi My Year,  Art Directed by Daniella Dagnin

Q: Who are some of the directors you collaborate with?

Dani: I did my first feature last year with Monde Gumede, titled Yahoo Boy. I’ve worked with Michael Rodrigues, Kenny Mumba (some of our work has even been on a billboard in Time Square, which is wild) and Thina Zibi. I’m really excited to begin a new project now with director Meji Alabi, who directed ‘Brown Skin Girl’ for Beyoncé.

Q: Tell us about working on your first feature Yahoo Boy.

Dani: An incredible privilege to work on that, wow. ’Good Time’ by Benny and Josh Safdie pushed me to understand colour in terms of narrative and not simply an aesthetic filter through which to follow. Colour has a purpose and it tints the narrative in a brave way – that both distorts and solidifies what the viewer pre-empts.

Monde’s colour spectrum was defined by the extreme ends of purple and orange and some colours in between, but not green, never green. Think Yeoville, Sandton, and the start of winter, so, burnt orange and royal purple. That unharmonious marriage made me think of the 80s. The smoke and mirror swank of the Memphis group. A shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher Price. Think radical and funny at the same time, with a combination of geometry from Art Deco with the colour palette of Pop Art and 1950s kitsch. Let’s also not forget about kitsch – the idea that something is so bad that it’s good – there is so much more to come from this.

Q: What are the biggest challenges of being an Art Director?

Dani: Oy, the budget is huge hey, although it does push my creative boundaries.

A scene from the short Fugue, Art Directed by Daniella Dagnin

We know what you’re thinking ‘Art Directors are the bomb!’ and you’re right! But also; ‘Since when does Hello Circus represent Art Directors?!’ Understandably you might have missed the memo, especially considering the fast-paced growth this talent agency has seen since opening its doors. Hello Circus first launched to represent freelance directors, but the approach has now evolved and sees the company’s Founder and Executive Producer, Vanessa Anderson, rep various creative talent with who she has a connection or to who she feels she can bring value.

Of working with Daniella she says: ‘Dani is first and foremost an amazing artist, with an incredible artistic eye and a superb understanding of how to interpret briefs. Her work is so stylised and visually interesting. She brings an incredible aesthetic to her boards with such an attention to detail, so meticulous. It’s inspiring to see how dedicated to her craft she is. I’ve never come across someone who is able to pour so much of themselves into their work. Dani is also one of the most hardworking individuals, exceptionally well organised and communicates so well, which is very important for an Art Director. Once Dani is on a project, she gives 200%, it’s full on and always beautiful.’

Converse ‘Kick The Debt’, Art Directed by Daniella Dagnin

Contact Daniella Dagnin

Freelancer: danielladagnin@gmail.com

Produced by the IDIDTHAT Content Studio – Credits: Anne Hirsch (Writer) / Julie Maunder

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This Editorial is paid for by Hello Circus. Want our studio to create content that puts your agency/company/kickass ad you made in bright lights for the whole industry to see? View or editorial packages or contact julie@ididthat.co and we’ll make it happen! #Boom