Ever since I could hold a pencil, I would draw and draw and draw. I was born in Australia and I spent my early childhood dreaming of becoming an animator. My parents encouraged me, and I collected every book on the art of animation and cartooning available. Even then, creating a world in order to tell a story appealed to me. Although I did not grow up to work in animation, creating the scenery for filmmaking has been the driving force of my professional life.
I trained in architecture and later in stage design at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney. I soon learned that design for film was the fusion of all of my interests. It perfectly combines the built environment with the freedom and creativity of filmmaking – any time period, anywhere! Being part of a team that is telling stories that entertain and inspire is a great honor and has allowed me to work with some of the most talented and enthusiastic filmmakers in some astonishing locations around world.
Working in the Art Department has taught me many life lessons. First, it is a team effort, which involves many ideas and personalities. It’s an exhilarating feeling that I could never have accomplished working in isolation. Managing to decipher my place in that creative machine is a skill that I have developed and one that has become easier over the years. I have also learned a lot about loyalty and leadership, what works and what does not. Mostly, it keeps me honest. There are never any guarantees in this industry and it makes me and my colleagues strive to always put our best, most interesting and original foot forward. In addition, no two days on the set are the same – often the schedule changes with little or no notice. Learning how to go with the flow is one of the most valuable and zen-like characteristics that I had to develop – and at lightening speed.
A few years ago the opportunity to work in Los Angeles arose, and I jumped at the chance. To be based in a city that is built on the film industry is a great thrill and something that, as a foreigner, still amazes me. I appreciate it as only an outsider would. It is wonderful to be able to participate in an environment where what I do is not an anomaly, but part of a long tradition.
Being a member of any Art Department is fun, and the joy of exploring and executing ideas is the most exciting thing of all.
My name is Deborah Riley … and I AM UNION!