Ed Butcher is a successful designer with over 20 years experience. He works regularly in commercials, promos, stills, events and film. His star-studded client list includes Penelope Cruz for Mango, Robbie Williams, Girls Aloud, Sting and the So Solid Crew. Ed, who began his working life at Christie’s Auctioneers, was recently responsible for setting fire to an XX set and making Katie Melua play on a wildly rocking piano. Both intentionally, of course!
Some highlights from Joe’s interview with Ed Butcher:
What led you into art direction and design in general?
A lot of people in the industry come through in different ways. Some people go through Art School and some people just work their way up, and I worked my way up from the bottom. Initially I worked at Christie’s, the auction house, and I was really interested in design and antiques, which gives you a sense of periods and styles – what’s Victorian and what’s Gothic – and it doesn’t seem like a logical background but it is in a way. I just thought it would be great to do furniture and antiques for film and I got into working on film sets and decided that was the way to go.
And what are the three most important qualities you look for in an Art Department assistant?
It could be enthusiasm, enthusiasm, enthusiasm. Also, to have a good sense of humour is good. To be enthusiastic, because at the beginning some people will come along and they could be really well-qualified and they could have done TV design and everything but don’t necessarily have that enthusiasm or that ‘get up and go’. Trying new things – you need that enthusiasm and also to come in and to be able to work with a team. It’s really important to have that. So it’s enthusiasm, a good sense of humour and good common sense.
Your experience spans design on film, retail interiors, event theming and fashion photography. You’ve got a very diverse range of activities you’re interested in. Are there any key differences between each area?
They are very different. The commercials are much more structured, they’re all script-based and you have to do a lot that has to tally with what the client wants. If you have a brand that has a particular colour then maybe that colour is put into the set in some way. Promos are harder work. A bit more creative, you get a bit more input on how it works – the structure of it is the same, you’re still running the department, as I described earlier. Fashion photography is very much driven by the photographers and by the client. If it’s an advertising shoot, then that has a big sway on how it looks. Events and that sort of thing are driven by whatever theme you’re on and are probably more dictated by budget, so you can be a bit more creative on those because they don’t tend to have quite as much money.
Something that jumped out at me when I was looking at your work history was the music videos you’ve worked on. You’ve worked with Oasis, Robbie Williams, Girls Aloud, Amy Winehouse, Sting and there’s many, many more. Do you have a favourite music video that you’ve worked on?
The more design process the better obviously, because it’s much better to have a build than a white set with a couple of props or something, from my point of view. I love working with someone you really like. I just did The XX. They’re a recent one, and that was great because I love them and they’re a great band and I love working with them and it was quite an interesting set. We set it on fire!
But a favourite? Hmmm…. I did a So Solid Crew one a couple of years ago. It was really nice. I think it won MTV’s Best Video. That was a nice one to work on but it was really hard work. I just did a Katie Melua one recently where we built this rocking piano. So she was strapped into this piano, it was black and it had a rounded base, and then there were these guys pushing big poles round so it was rocking all over the place and that was quite a nice one to work on as well. Also it was with Kevin Godley, who used to be in Godley and Creme, and in the 80s they were quite innovative with their videos and it was great to work with him. He’s a lovely bloke.
Are there any designers that you have a special admiration for?
Yeah, there’s people like Ken Adam who was huge and did a lot of Bond films and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. His stuff is amazing and I think he’s a bit of a god in that sense. I think he started out in the Army designing camouflage stuff, where they’d make fake tanks and bits like that so that enemy aircraft would come over and think, “Oh look, there’s a load of tanks,” and, in fact, they were camouflaged somewhere else. He started there and then he got into film. His work over the years has been enormous and I think a big influence on a lot of people.
I love Blade Runner as a film. The conceptual designer, Syd Mead, who came up with the all the drawings for how it should look… and he did Aliens and Tron and a few others. I quite like Space/Horror and that kind of genre so all that stuff, for me, is a big influence.
Check out Ed’s portfolio at www.thedesignset.com.