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Meet Karu De Jesus of Production Design & Graphic Design in Hollywood

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karu De Jesus.

Karu, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was born in Puerto Rico, an island in the Caribbean, epicentre of food, music and culture. Home of Salsa, Bomba y Plena; of illustrious poets, prolific singers, under-recognized idealists and beautiful people. Our people are resilient, withstanding calamity after another, growing stronger each step we take. Our blood carries the Indio Taíno, Spanish and African that made our history. We belong anywhere, and nowhere belongs to us. The artist I am today grew up there for 23 years and I am thankful every day for the blessing of growing up in such an enchanting place.

I went to the University of Puerto Rico alma matter of liberal thinking and inspirationally diverse individuals. Graduated with a minor in Theatre set design and a BA in Green Architecture. Here, a professor that also worked in the Film industry introduced me to the concept of Production Design for the first time. My whole life suddenly cliqued and I realized I had found my calling. As long as I can remember, I’ve always been excited about making things with my hands, about materials and how to use them to create a certain image, express certain feelings. It’s what I want my day to be about. No medium was too bold to explore, no limit too unreachable to pursue. Nevertheless, pursuing Production Design would prove difficult in an Island where most people don’t know what that means, and big dreams have no space to breathe. This led me elsewhere, and what other place to pursue film than Hollywood.

Back home, Hollywood does not seem like a reachable dream which means that people either don’t take you seriously when you decide to move 3,000 miles away to do Film or they get really impressed, which in return is the reason why there’s not much Puerto Ricans here, especially from the island. And so, to make my dreams happen I left my home and family behind to pursue an MFA degree in Production Design at the American Film Institute Conservatory (AFI) in Hollywood. Here I met incredibly talented and creative people from different parts of the world that exposed me to different ways of thinking and filmmaking. Mentors that I respect have become like family to me and collaborators I will continue to share my achievements with. After graduation, I got into the ADG apprenticeship program, a program that takes under their wing new emerging artist that want to pursue a career in Art Directing. A couple of months into this program, I got a job in a David Fincher movie called MANK.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It has not been a smooth road, things that are worth it usually are not. But that only proves how important they are to you and the strength of your perseverance. I have no family members in the states, so I came to L.A. on my own, driven purely by my desire to live off my craft. At the time I left my island a lot of young Puerto Ricans were also leaving, looking for better opportunities that were not available to us in a corrupt system that tarnishes and tries to manipulate independent thinkers and big dreamers. We call this a “Diaspora”, it also happened in the 1950’s at the end of WWII when Puerto Rican’s in the island felt they had no choice but to migrate to New York in search of higher-wage jobs.

L.A.’s not a welcoming city, or at least it has not been so to many people I’ve met throughout the years. Young artists that came to the city with nothing but what they could stuff in their car. I started out without a car, which meant I always had to find creative ways to make productions work Production Design-wise until I was finally able to get one after graduation. I myself have gone through things that I know I wouldn’t have been able to withstand at the comfort of my Caribbean island. But again, this only makes everything else even more worth it when you’re able to achieve what you set out to do, especially if you really love doing something and are determined to find a learning experience in every situation life throws your way.

Production Design & Graphic Design – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I’m innately a Production Designer. My job on a film set is to design everything the eye sees in-camera that’s not the actor, costume or the illumination. I feel that my job provides space for me as an artist to elaborate on the themes a film focuses on while providing deeper insight on what type of people the characters are based on the space they occupy. Production Design also helps provide a mood to a scene, a where, a when maybe even a how or a why. It helps the audience fully immerse in the plausibility of the world and time the Film lives in. I think it’s Awesome! The amount of people and departments that it takes to make all this happen is incredible, and to me the experience of making a movie it’s way more gratifying knowing that a group of people are able to bring forth a creation that speaks coherently to an audience despite the innumerable different hands that affected its creation.

Apart from loving to work in movies, I do all sorts of creative things such as Graphic Design, Digital Art, Painting and Building. Nothing feels better than sustaining yourself with the thing you love doing, pouring a little of our soul and love into creations so that the world can enjoy it as well. I love creating, this is the foundation of my soul, it’s my calling.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
What I like the most about California is that in many ways, it reminds me of home, the blue sunny skies, the business of the streets, the diverse culture that is constantly being shared and feeding on itself. I currently live in Glendale, and every afternoon when I go back home the sunset illuminates the mountain in the most beautiful ways. The colours of the sky here are brilliant and very inspiring. I catch myself always wanting to stop and paint something I see happening around.

What I like the least about the city is the way the city can eat you up. Many of us lose the opportunity to relate and develop fruitful relationships with the incredible people that surround us. Because everybody is so busy trying to make their dreams happen, we miss out on the chance to learn from varied cultures, perspective and believes that in return can make us better artists. Which is, in my opinion, one of the greatest things of L.A. the fact that is a melting pot of people, food, culture, ideas and art.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Personal photo by Dolmar Pedro; Other pictures By: Samantha Elle, Hector Oliveras, Silvia Lara, Karla De Jesus,  Christina Kingsleigh

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