Did you see all those cool props in LAZER TEAM? Well, meet the man behind them! I had the chance to interview Marcus LaPorte, Production Designer for Rooster Teeth!
How did you get started in your career?
My first introduction to Art was from my father who was a graphic designer for 30+ years, He was also an illustrator, and seeing him sketch so realistically with just a sharpie blew me away. Like most children, my Dad was my hero & I wanted nothing less than to be “as good as Dad.” So most of my childhood was spent watching movies, drawing and sculpting with modeling clay. This of course grew into an adult obsession with making things. So after getting a BA in liberal arts with a focus on mixed media, I decided to move to Austin TX and make a stab at getting into the film industry. It was slow going at first. I worked a lot of forgettable jobs and in general was pretty pissed I’d made it here without a clue as to how to actually do what I wanted to do. By chance I happened to meet some industry people, who mentioned the best way to get in the film industry was to work as a Production Assistant, aka “Errand Runner.” I got an interview at Troublemaker Studios, but was up for the Editorial Dept PA. I sheepishly brought my art portfolio into the interview, and was hoping I would get a chance to show it. Robert indulged me, & luckily he liked what he saw. He asked if I was interested in Art Dept instead, and I of course said yes. So my first film industry job was working as an Art Dept PA on Spy Kids 2, where I was brought into the Prop Shop. I was able to perform well enough to be unionized under the I.A.T.S.E. and from there I went on to head up the fabrication departments on most of Robert Rodriguez’s movies including “Sin City”, “Grindhouse”, & “Predators”
How did you end up at Rooster Teeth?
In 2010, after spending about 9 years at Troublemaker Studios, I was looking into the future, and was hoping to transition from Prop maker to Production Designer. I started Art Directing national commercials to get experience, then worked doing both for about 4 years. But at some point the TV commercials weren’t very fulfilling as an artist. It was mostly just shopping a list provided by an advertising agency, which was the epitome of boring to me. Through mutual contacts I was recommended to Rooster Teeth as a prop fabricator for an “Unknown Project” now known as “Lazer Team.” I then began working with concept artists and other fabricators brainstorming the initial LT props, but the feature was far from greenlit at this point. They asked if I was interested in Art Directing some smaller projects to test me out, and after 4 RT Shorts, I was offered the position of Production Designer for “Lazer Team.” I had a really great experience throughout its run and afterwards I was brought on full-time.
What do you do as a Production Designer?
Production designers are primarily responsible for establishing a visual look and overall concept for a film, television or theatre production. They identify a design style for all broadcast & live action sets, locations, graphics, props, costumes, special effects, & lighting, while working closely with the director, producers, & creative directors. Once these creative concepts are decided, the production designer’s job switches into management mode to oversee quality control within the Art Dept. and all the individual creative teams. This management mode often includes:
- Reading scripts to identify factors indicating a particular visual style;
- Meeting with producers and director to discuss concepts and production requirements;
- Researching art history, background politics, historical informations
- Planning and monitoring the design budget;
- Providing scale drawings or models for studio or theatre sets;
- Producing design ideas for costumes, props, special effects, make-up and graphics;
- Identifying and assessing potential studios and locations;
- Sourcing appropriate materials and researching special effects;
- Researching, estimating and preparing a props list;
- Hiring and managing an art department team or teams (depending on the size of the production);
- Instructing the set construction team, scenic artists and special effects specialists and monitoring their work;
- Liaising with the costume designer and the director of photography, as well as the props, lighting and sound directors;
- Attending progress meetings, rehearsals and filming to advise on visual presentation;
- Checking sets and locations during filming to make sure requirements are met and to deal with any queries.
What is your favorite part of your job, and why?
My favorite part of the job is seeing the joy on the faces of Burnie, Matt and the production team when we pull off the impossible. Rising to the challenge really is gratifying, and knowing you’ve made something infinitely better than it would’ve been without your input feels really good. Part of that joy also comes in having crafted something in your hands that didn’t exist before.
And your least favorite part?
Excel forms. They’re an integral tool to maintaining a budget, but its the least gratifying part of the job. Plugging in numbers and making expensive assumptions based off loosely written scripts is definitely not the fun part.
Would you rather fight an Ursa-sized Burnie or a Burnie-sized Ursa?
I would definitely rather fight a Burnie Sized Ursa, I wouldn’t have any problem fighting a mindless beast. But…I would never be able to fight Burnie, he’s just so lovable, I could never fight that guy.
What is your favorite RT production that you’ve worked on, and why?
This is probably a toss-up with “Lazer Team” and “the “Immersion Series” They are both so different which is why I would have a hard time picking. But if I had to pick one I’d say “Lazer Team.” LT was great because I got an opportunity to really get to know Matt, Burnie & the staff. I spent many late nights, under extremely stressful circumstances with these people & that typically leads to a sense of family within a production, and when things get hard, everyone pulls together. These are experiences that I will take with me for a lifetime.
What is your favorite non-RT production that you’ve worked on, and why?
Most definitely “Sin City.” I was working around lots of notable talent & a genius level comic book artist & creator Frank Miller. I was fulfilling a dream of seeing a comic book series I’d spent years looking at as a young man become real. Every moment of that production pushed me in ways I never thought I could handle, and it gave me the confidence that I COULD manage a multi-million dollar department, and do it with style. I’m extremely proud of what we did with the 3 people we had in the Prop Shop for that production.
What is your favorite prop you’ve ever created?
Having grown up around the “Predator” series, I spent years dreaming of making something for those movies. This turned into a reality when I got to make most of the props for Robert Rodriguez’s “Predators”. In particular the ceremonial staff wielded by the Yautja. I sculpted all the parts from scratch out of plastilina, then custom molded and cast multiple versions for various scenes for both Stunts Dept and the hero scenes.
Ok. So, you get a million dollars, but your creatures from the Five Nights at Freddie’s episode of Immersion become real, and you have to survive them for 5 nights in reality. Would you do it?
Oh man, no way, I’m terrible at that game, and I would definitely get eaten. Also, I’m certain I could dream up with an easier way to make a million dollars. I wouldn’t mind having a turn in the 5NAF Immersion set though.
What advice do you have for people wanting to pursue a similar career?
- Keep practicing, and always try to make time to maintain your creativity. Even if you’re stuck working that shit job, try to find an hour or so to just let it all go, and find peace with your craft.
- Never take criticism of your art personal. Its an important part of artistic growth. If someone you respect artistically tells you it “looks like shit”, maybe it’s because it does. Trust me I heard this plenty of times, but it hurts a little less each time, and it makes you better.
- Work as a Production Assistant, and run the errands for a film production. It humbles you, and gives you an opportunity to work on a big project with minimal responsibility. It should also give you an inside look at understanding the actual workings of a film production, and you’ll end up with a huge edge on people with just “talent”. This will also get you acquainted with other people who will likely want to hire you again, but with more responsibility than before. Each step leading yourself into the department you’d prefer to work in.
- Contact your local film commission. They usually have the current productions listed, and will provide contact info for things like casting calls & job listings.
Thanks, Marcus! Be sure to check out his work in LAZER TEAM (in theatres and on YouTube Red), and in Immersion at RoosterTeeth.com!
Joe Dalton11 Posts
I'm the COO here at BIGBITE. On paper, I handle all operational and business-related tasks. In reality, it's more like herding cats. Seriously. I also still have time every once in a while to do some writing and creative work!