Interview with Lawrence Kim – #1

August 17, 10

Lawrence Kim is a multi-award winning designer whose diverse career choices in design have led him from Architect and Design Professor in Asia/Europe to a design professional currently working as a Production Designer/Art Director on independent feature films and television projects in Los Angeles. 

He was the former Deputy Councilor in the Asian Region (V) for the Union of International Architects (UIA) and international delegate to the 2002 UIA Congress. 

He was a former recipient of an International Ambassadorial Fellowship to London where he earned his Masters degree in Architecture. He is also a graduate fellow (MFA) of the American Film Institute in the conservatory program for production design. 

We worked together recently on a “yet-to-be” published Xbox Live Arcade title as designers. Here’s a brief series of questions I asked Lawrence when we met over lunch.

Tom: What is playful architecture?  

Lawrence:Playful Architecture’ could mean three things: 1) Architecture that is visually enticing and engaging on a visceral level… in other words, the viewer swiftly imagines himself an active participant in and around the structure as there is an immediate level of interactivity on a visual level; 2) an architectural construct that is uniquely different from the merely anonymous construction of spaces (emphasizing more than just function and square footage…) and conveys a considered manipulation of shapes, masses and voids that gives the participant time to pause and ‘read’ a building, and finally; 3) under specific programs it could mean exactly that – the idea that ‘play’ is the key programming requirement and is readily visible in a fun and unassuming manner… take for instance a playground, a jungle gym, a water slide and so on. These are constructions that are at the essence of ‘play,’ where the mind and body can comfortably engage in the exercise of play.  

Tom: And the idea of ‘play,’ could you elaborate?  

Lawrence: The more complex the society, and its regulations for operating in that environment, the greater the need for the simplicity of ‘Play’ within that system. The term is not meant as the antithesis to say, ‘work,’ or, ‘function,’ but a concept that is more akin to a symbiotic response to repetition, routine and rigor in a mechanical fashion. In that sense, ‘play’ is by its very nature a spontaneous and somewhat unregulated exercise in a myriad of expressions. Frank Lloyd Wright was its greatest proponent as he owes his design processes to an early introduction to childhood building blocks.  

Tom: What can game or level designers learn from other ‘visual’ designers?  

Lawrence: Production design is about satisfying a story and a narrative structure. It has to be simultaneously evocative, memorable, and cogent… and yet it cannot overwhelm the setting where the drama takes place. It cannot be superfluous or be a fanciful exercise in style and fashion… unless that is part of the brief. Production Design / Art Direction at its best is the environment that creates a ‘sense of space and place,’ without taking away from the focus of the visual story. You could even say that we are the most visibly in-visible part of a film, if you know what I mean. In the end, the designs must serve the narrative and create a believable reality within the program parameters. Therefore, game designers should try and view the design of a game as a dynamic story – a visual tapestry that is to be woven by the elements of the game program in a time, a space, and a place.  

Tom: What did you like about the game development process?  

Lawrence: I respect the collaborative nature between art, design and engineering bounded by a commercial goal at the end of the exercise. Subsequently, I would say that the process of design is essentially the same; we try our best to celebrate the ‘human condition,’ and the fruits of our labor, whether they are in architecture, film or games, are the penultimate ‘expression’ of our imagination and need to create something within a set of strict parameters (in whatever field).  

One should never forget that even if the program is bounded by limits, our imagination is not, nor should it ever be. It is the task and the calling of a designer to push the invisible boundaries of imagination within our real world needs.  

Tom: What are you working on now?  

Lawrence: I just wrapped a feature film this summer. It was shot on Kodak 35mm Black and White stock and is considered the very last of its kind. It’s an homage to the classic films of yesteryear, replete with a retro 50s and 60s look at Americana, wrapped in a science fiction/musical called, ‘The Ghastly Love of Johnny X,’ due out in 2011. I’m working on the early stages of another feature film, this time a contemporary suspense thriller.  

Thanks very much for taking the time to chat, Lawrence!
(Interviewed on Friday, August 6 2010, Los Angeles, CA)

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