“Communication is so incredibly crucial to the flow of filmmaking. It sounds so obvious, however what I admired about this production was how inclusive the Heads of Department were about keeping their teams well informed...”
- Ara Nuri Steel, Creative Director - ARACOURT, 2022
ARACOURT answer a few questions about their time working on Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Ara Nuri Steel was on the production as a Design Assistant (Art Department) for Sue Chan, whilst Courtney Westbrook was an Assistant to the Set Decorator (Set Decoration), Rebecca Cohen.
Shang-Chi - Art, Set Dec, Construction and Scenic Departments (2021); Crew photo on the Bachelor Mandarin Home filming set.
What part about working on this film was your favourite?
Ara : I loved being in a department where I could be a part of the development of the design, and see the growth from research, to concept, to build. Production Designer, Sue Chan, and the amazing Set Designers and Art Directors, utilised extensive research, concept art and scale models to demonstrate the design to the directing team, and to other departments. Seeing that process from start to finish was so exciting and fun to be a part of.
Courtney : My favourite part of working on Shang-Chi was to be by Rebecca Cohen's (Set Decorator) side during meetings and location recces. I found that most decisions were made when we were visiting other departments or the sets themselves. It was exciting to see how Rebecca worked with others and how every small decision, could greatly influence the film's visuals. Did you learn anything that has influenced your own practise as a designer?
Ara : Communication is so incredibly crucial to the flow of filmmaking. It sounds so obvious, however what I admired about this production was how inclusive the Heads of Department were about keeping their teams well informed. From my personal experience of working with those Heads of Art Department, I felt as though if questioned by someone from another department could answer most things within my realm with confidence. Having observed such communication skills from seasoned professionals, it has made me much more aware of how frequently, and in what way I stay in communication with my collaborators.
Courtney : I have learnt that it is never too early to start working on a scene. Rebecca had an incredible way of working where her department were informed throughout the entire process. For example, I was researching a scene before the locked script was sent to us, and before we received plans from the Art Department. If the director mentioned in a meeting that we may end up going to a San Francisco intersection, I would be starting my research that afternoon. The best part of this process was that the buyers, dressers, graphics and swing gang all knew what may come to them shortly and they could start their process based on what Rebecca had chosen for the pre-visual packages. We did pre-visual packages, so that when we received the Art Department plans, we were ready to pull from our research for the furniture and lighting plans. Another very helpful reason to start this process early is that you may find something in your research that will influence the set design as it's being conceived. For example, our research often influenced the wall treatments that needed to go into the pans for construction.
“I have learnt that it is never too early to start working on a scene... you may find something in your research that will influence the set design as it's being conceived.”
- Courtney Westbrook, Creative Director - ARACOURT, 2022
Shang-Chi, Behind The Scenes photo (2021); A San Francisco intersection recreated in Sydney, Australia.
What challenges did you face while working on this that you have learnt from?
Ara : Having never worked on such a large scale production before, it took some time learning how to best serve the role that I was were hired to do, so as to ensure a smooth work flow. By assisting so many different Art Directors, and Set Designers simultaneously, it was an interesting challenge to nut out how each person preferred to work, so as to be able to assist them in a way that suited their method best.
Courtney : I found printing a lot of paper challenging (eek!). Unfortunately, on such a large scale film, having visual boards and folders in each area was more practical during countless meetings. I must say, I became very good at organising the Set Decoration department (including the digital server) and feel that in this case, Shang-Chi certainly benefited from my perfectionism.
What was it like seeing something you worked on of that scale?
Ara : It was hard to comprehend the scale of the production until reading and listening to all of the media hype about the release. Having spent over a year collaborating with friends on the production, it was such a thrill sitting there with fellow Sydney crew watching it on the big screen together. To see all of our combined hard work finalised was exhilarating. Recognising all the names in the credits and all the budding ideas fully fleshed and formed still makes me smile. The sense of pride and accomplishment felt for the crew involved and my part in that is unbeatable.
Courtney : Growing up, my dream was to see my name up in the credits of a major motion picture. This was the first film that achieved that goal on a global scale and it was a very special moment that I will cherish forever. As Ara mentioned above, we were able to attend a screening with the Sydney crew. Seeing and hearing the joy from our colleagues as the credits rolled was magical. As Sydney was amidst a lockdown during the films release, many of my family and friends in South Australia were able to see the film before I had a chance a few months after. Funnily, I received many videos of my name in the credits before seeing it on the big screen myself. It made it that more special having to wait.
Tell us one of your favourite anecdotes from working on Shang-Chi.
Ara : One of my favourite moments, and there is many, from working on this production is one of the days I was out in the village being an extra hand for swing gang that day. I noticed the Behind The Scenes (BTS) filming team making the rounds, and kept at my own work and made a good point of trying to ignore them. Almost a year later, Courtney sends me a clip from the BTS, and there I am hanging corn on some drying racks in my bright patterned purple overalls. Not in a million years did I ever think I would make it into the BTS. I’m still embarrassed.
Courtney : Towards the end of filming I wanted to do something special for Rebecca and also her Assistant, Chris Bruce. I decided I'd get two vintage Shang-Chi comic books and get them signed by the Heads of Departments and main actors. I was blown away with how everyone was willing to help make this happen and I managed to get all the signatures I needed. I must add though that a few people cheekily wanted to keep them once they saw what I was doing.
Shang-Chi, Behind The Scenes photo (2021); BTS photo of the corn in the village set.
It was an absolute pleasure working with the amazing cast and crew on Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Please comment below if you have any questions regarding our time working on Shang-Chi. We look forward to sharing more with you.
Videos to Watch: Marvel Studios Assembled: Shang-Chi | Official Trailer | Disney+ (Ara is featured)
Making Of SHANG CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS - Best Of Behind The Scenes How Marvel’s 'Shang-Chi' Pulled Off Its Seven Minute Bus Fight | Movies Insider "Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" Movie - Set Construction Time Lapse Part 1 | Jacinta Leong
"Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" Movie - Set Construction Time Lapse Part 2. The Village | Jacinta Leong "Shang Chi" Movie - Set Construction Time Lapse Part 3. Wenwu's Compound | Jacinta Leong
Quotes: Ara Nuri Steel, Creative Director - ARACOURT, 2022.
Courtney Westbrook, Creative Director - ARACOURT, 2022.