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Meet Shi Min Yong

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shi Min Yong.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was born in Singapore, a Southeast Asia city-state. The age of 11, my family moved to Hong Kong. I returned to my home country to do my undergraduate studies and graduated with a B.A. (Hons) in Spatial Design at the University of Central Lancashire. Coming from a family where my relatives had engineering and architecture backgrounds influenced me in some subtle way to explore design. During high school, I was interested in implementing my creativity into three-dimensional spaces, a form of creativity that overlaps with innovation and functionality, where people can interact and experience certain emotions. After graduation, I began my career as a commercial interior designer in a small, tight-knit design consultancy firm. During these years, I worked in a wide variety of projects from retail to lifestyle and restaurants. Interior design is collaborative teamwork with clients and various professionals. My role was being involved in all stages of project development from concept to tender and construction. For every project, what intrigues me is the process, concept designing environments that create a journey or invokes an emotional experience. I did not realize how my experience would prepare me for my career in filmmaking.

I used to perceive film and television to be something that other people do out there. Kubrick’s DR. STRANGELOVE was what led me to discover Ken Adam and led to my research in understanding the role of production design and the art department. Everything clicked into place, I realized my passion is to be a part of the world-building process that creates a relationship to the story, to impact the audience the way I would feel when I am in the cinema.

In the summer of 2018, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my MFA in Production Design at the American Film Institute. I was able to connect and collaborate with other filmmakers in practical working environments learning about the art department, production design, and the art of cinema. I was able to production design and explored other positions within the art department for various short film productions, one notable one being the AFI Directing Workshop for Women short HELLO FROM TAIWAN, which got into multiple film festivals this year including the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Currently, I am designing a thesis short film that was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I was selected to participate in the Art Director’s Guild (ADG) Production Design Initiative and the British Academy of Film & Television Arts (BAFTA) LA Newcomers Program.

Has it been a smooth road?
I knew that by pivoting my career to the art department, some of the biggest obstacles are my limited knowledge, experience, and connection to break into the industry. These led to my decision to not only study film, but focus on production design in my master studies, allowing me to have the time and resources to learn and put that knowledge into practical training. Moving alone to Los Angeles was an anxious experience as it was the first time I have ever been to the United States. No family, no friends, no network, it is up to me to start from scratch and connect. Fortunately, I was able to meet many people from various backgrounds who are my professors, classmates, friends, and collaborators, helping me along this journey in honing my craft, bringing me closer to my goals.

The biggest challenge to date has been the COVID-19 pandemic as the world was on pause for many months. As our thesis films and graduation are on hold, we completed the remaining MFA courses through remote learning. Although the film industry is slowly picking up, the future is still a limbo as new surges could bring everything to a halt again. In these months of social distancing, I took the time to decompress and stay creative by reading, watching films, learning design software, and taking online classes. Later in the year, I received the good news that I got into the ADG Production Design Initiative and the BAFTA LA Newcomers Program. I am very eager and excited to get back into working in the Art Department.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am a production designer for film, television, and commercials in the Art Department. My role is to design the visual world of the story where the characters are set in. The production designer leads the Art Department in achieving the look of the film. Part of the job is also communications and problem solving with the other department heads, taking into consideration of construction, effects, stunts, cinematography, etc., while managing within budget and timeline constraints. My background as an interior designer created a foundation with my knowledge of spatial scale, drafting, 3d modeling skills, and knowing how to work in a team-oriented environment to bring a concept into production and ultimately onto the big and small screen.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
A lot is happening in 2020. This ongoing pandemic has impacted the filmmaking industry significantly in the way we work in the various stages of productions, the way we budget, and the way of communication within the art department and with other departments. We will have to keep trying and figuring things out to embrace this “new normal” until things change in the future. Short term wise in the next few years, remote working and all the tools that come with it will be the norm in the industry.

In the next decade, with the development of real-time technology such as Unreal Engine 5, led walls, these technologies will spur the trend of virtual production to be a more common practice as a pre-production workflow between the Art Department and Visual Effects.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Jimmy Hang, Kenzo K. Le

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