Irreverent, at times depraved, and always provocative, “The Boys” is a masterful exercise in social, political and pop culture satire that does not shy away from shining a light at the darkest corners of the present-day discourses are galvanizing our society. Continuing the ongoing series of interviews with creative artists working on various aspects of movie and TV productions, it is my delight to welcome Jeff Mossa. In this interview, he talks about balancing the art and the craft in the field of visual storytelling, breaking away from the constraints of traditional television in the ever-evolving world of episodic and streaming productions, and the impact the global pandemic has had on the industry. In between all these and more, Jeff talks about his work on the third season of “The Boys”.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and the path that took you to where you are today.

Jeff: When I was in elementary school and middle School watching “Star Wars” and eventually “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, I was fascinated by all of the visuals and the special effects. Back then we only had three channels of television, and they would occasionally have these primetime specials where they would show you behind-the-scenes or the making-of whatever it was, and I had watched a primetime special that was concentrating mostly on Industrial Light & Magic. They were covering some of their work for “Star Wars” movies as Indiana Jones and probably “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, and I was glued to it.

I always had a talent for drawing and art, so I was drawing “Star Wars” characters and all that sort of stuff. I was fascinated by Indiana Jones, and wanted to be Indiana Jones – but of course I’m not a swashbuckling archaeologist. I remember watching this one particular episode and I said to my mom at the end of it that I would love to do that. IL&M at the time was all about miniatures, things like AT-ATs for “The Empire Strikes Back”. I grew up in central Massachusetts in the middle of a very small town. We didn’t even go to Boston very often, even though that was a relatively close city, so my childhood was pretty sheltered. When I said to my mom that I would love to do that sort of thing, it didn’t occur to me that it would even be an option to consider pursuing that industry.

When my mom heard that, she said “Why don’t you?” I probably said something along the lines that I wouldn’t even know where to start, and she said “Well, somebody’s going to do it” and I’ll never forget that. I was in 7th grade at the time, and that’s where my path has started. My brother is four years older than me, and he was a high schooler at the time. He was a dancer at a variety show that they put on at the all-boys Catholic school. They didn’t have a drama club or anything like that, but they would put on a Spring Spectacular every year. I’d go watch my brother and he’d dance, and then the lights would go down and all these guys come out, and they were in black t-shirts and black pants and they’re moving stuff around in the dark.

That’s what I was fascinated with – watching them move the stuff around in the dark. Eventually I went to that same high school he went to and then I became part of that stage crew. I worked on that stage crew for four years, eventually designing all the sets for those shows, knowing that what I wanted to ultimately do was work in a film. I had a guidance counselor there when it was time for us to start applying to colleges, but I didn’t know him that well. He knew that I had designed the sets, and one day in the hallway he asked me which school I was applying to.

He asked me about Boston University and I said that it wasn’t on my list. And then he told me that they had a great theater program and that I should apply, so I did. I got accepted into their conservatory-style theater design program. Now theater wasn’t where I wanted to go, but there’s not really a lot of great undergraduate design programs for film or television, so I ended up going to Boston University.

It was a very competitive program. We started as a group of about 22 designers, and by the end of four years there was four of us who graduated. It was an intensive program, and it was very good for me. I came out of there with a lot of skills. It was the first time that I had had any sort of formal artistic training or teaching. I was doing theater shows and I enjoyed doing the theater, but I still was focused on doing film and television.

So when I graduated, I packed my car and I drove across the country to Los Angeles. I knew nobody there and I had nowhere to stay, so I stayed in a youth hostel for a couple weeks. I never wavered on what I wanted to do, and I ended up getting a job at the UCLA Theater Department as a painter, which eventually introduced me to some graduate students who were working there. They were my age, they were in the film program there and they were assisting designers, and I ended up working with them assisting designers – and the rest is history.


On the sets of the third season of “The Boys”, courtesy of Jeff Mossa.

Kirill: How has the transition of the industry from film to digital been for you?

Jeff: I graduated in the early ’90s, and the first show that I did that was digital was about 16 years ago. At the time we were still doing a lot of film, so I did that and then we went back to film. I would say really it’s only in the past 10 years that it’s been almost all digital.

I don’t know that digital has really affected what we do in the design world that much. I started working in features largely for the first 10 years, and there was one thing that was impressed upon me very early. If you’re in a movie theater and you’re standing in front of a 40-foot or a 70-foot wide screen, at some point you know they’re going to do an insert. You know somebody’s going to be dialing a phone and we’re going to do a shot of that, and then it’s going to be on the screen. That phone is going to be eight feet tall on the screen – which is very much the opposite of what I would do in theater. When I was in theater in college, your audience is 30-50 feet away. You are making things more contrasty, more loose, less precise on purpose because they can’t see the details, and so you have to do broader strokes.

When I started doing films, it became very micro at times. This was before digital was a thing, but I think because I had that training initially, that part of it hasn’t really changed for me.

What has changed dramatically is the ability to shoot in low light, the ability to light sets with practical fixtures more so than movie lights. I’d say this is particularly true in the last 7-8 years that I have a little bit more hand and a little bit more influence in how the sets are lit. I do a lot of built-in lighting into sets, and so I end up working a little more closely with the director of photography and the gaffer then I might have prior to the digital age. Back then they had to use a lot more high-powered lights to expose the film. We would put a practical lamp on stage and then they would support it with a light off stage. They still do that sometimes, but now they can actually use the practical lamp that we put in there as their main source of light. That’s probably the biggest change for me.


On the sets of the third season of “The Boys”, courtesy of Jeff Mossa.

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DragonCon 2022 parade highlights

September 3rd, 2022

After a two year of partial hiatus, DragonCon came to Atlanta over the Labor Day weekend. These are my personal highlights from the opening parade this year.

 

It gives me great pleasure to announce the next major release of Radiance. Let’s get to what’s been fixed, and what’s been added. First, I’m going to use emojis to mark different parts of it like this:

💔 marks an incompatible API / binary change
🎁 marks new features
🔧 marks bug fixes and general improvements

Dependencies for core libraries

  • Gradle: 7.2 ➡ 7.5.1
  • Kotlin: 1.5.31 ➡ 1.7.10
  • Kotlin coroutines: 1.5.2 ➡ 1.6.4

General

  • 🔧💔 A new direct rendering model for all core and custom components in Radiance
    • Instead of rendering components as multi-layer combinations of cached offscreen images, Radiance now uses direct rendering to the Graphics objects passed to the relevant UI delegates and painting methods
    • Use RadianceCommonCortex.paintAtScale1x for visuals that need to “fall” on exact pixels, line single-pixel borders, separators, etc
  • 🔧 Remove all usages of java.security APIs (that are deprecated in Java 17 going forward)

Animation

  • 🎁 New default animation pulse source that is based on the display refresh rate

Component

  • 🎁💔 Unify fire action trigger logic for command buttons by replacing CommandButtonPresentationModel.isFireActionOnRollover and CommandButtonPresentationModel.isFireActionOnPress with a single actionFireTrigger enum that has three values:
    • OnRollover to fire action on rollover
    • OnPressed to fire action on press
    • OnPressReleased to fire action on press release (the default)
  • 🎁💔 Unify text action/popup click logic for command buttons by replacing CommandButtonPresentationModel.isTextClickAction and CommandButtonPresentationModel.isTextClickPopup with a single textClick enum field that has two values:
    • Action to activate action on text click
    • Popup to activate secondary content on text click
  • 🎁💔 Revisit breadcrumb bar APIs
    • Remove exception propagation APIs (they were no-op in any case since it wasn’t wired)
    • Remove index tracking in BreadcrumbItem (not wired to anything)
    • Switch BreadcrumbBarCallBack APIs from StringValuePair to BreadcrumbItem
    • Also rename getLeafs to getLeaves
    • Rename BreadcrumbBarCallBack to BreadcrumbBarContentProvider`
    • Rename BreadcrumbBarModel to BreadcrumbBarContentModel
    • Add BreadcrumbBarPresentationModel and support icon filtering
    • Remove StringValuePair from the API surface altogether
    • Revisit the API surface of BreadcrumbItem
  • 🎁💔 Switch presentation models to use BackgroundAppearanceStrategy across all components. This applies to
    • CommandButtonPresentationModel.setFlat
    • CommandButtonPresentationModel.Overlay.setFlat
    • CommandStripPresentationModel.setFlat
    • CommandPresentationModel.setFlat
  • 🎁 Add single row resize policy to ribbon flow bands
  • 🔧 Fix lost breadcrumb bar path after skin change
  • 🔧 Fix separator drawing over the last text character in MEDIUM command buttons that don’t display icons
  • 🔧 Command menus now toggle open and close on clicks
  • 🔧 Fix issues with command popup menus not closing in certain scenarios

Theming

  • 💔 Simplified visuals of tabbed panes
    • Remove SINGLE_FULL and DOUBLE_FULL from TabContentPaneBorderKind. Apps that wish to draw border around the content area will need to do so explicitly.
    • Remove RadianceSkin.setTabFadeStart and RadianceSkin.setTabFadeEnd and do consistent indication for the selected / rollover tab with no alpha fade gradient.
    • Consistent corner radius of tabs across all skins.
  • 💔 Clean up the signature of fill painters, removing isFocused (not used anywhere, and shouldn’t be since the focus indication is painted separately) and hasShine (specific to StandardFillPainter visuals).
  • 🔧 Fix issues with various color chooser panels, including the correct wiring of the “Reset” button across all the panels
  • 🔧 Fix incorrect bounds of maximized decorated frames on Windows
  • 🔧 Fix inverted logic of ComponentOrParentChainScope.setExtraWidgetsPresence
  • 🔧 Fix null pointer exception in rollover button listeners

SVG transcoder

  • 🔧 Simplify generated code by not emitting identity affine transforms
  • 💔 Remove plain templates

As always, I’d love for you to take this Radiance release for a spin. Click here to get the instructions on how to add Radiance to your builds. And don’t forget that all of the modules require Java 9 to build and run.

And now for the next big thing or two.

This release took almost a year to complete. I needed this time to figure out how to continue evolving Radiance in a meaningful way over the next decade or so. The considerations for what went into this work were laid out last October in this post. The two major areas I wanted to focus on are direct rendering and API consistency.

Direct rendering has touched the UI delegates for every single core Swing component, and almost every custom Radiance component, from command buttons all the way up to the ribbon. API consistency has been driven by the ongoing work in Aurora, as well as the drive to clean up the API surfaces that have been misaligned across the codebase for a while.

Making meaningful changes also means making hard choices about backwards compatibility. Deprecating existing APIs but leaving them available leads to a confusing API surface and increases the cost of maintaining and evolving the codebase. Leaving existing APIs in place, and trying to redirect them under the hood to a “v2” variant places noticeable constraints on what is feasible to do. If I want Radiance to be here in the next 10-15 years, the only practical way forward is to cut out APIs that have not aged well, remove them from the codebase and introduce new ones as necessary. I understand that it causes friction during dependency upgrades on the application side of things, but the only other alternative is abandoning any new development altogether.

With all this in mind, what is next, for 2023 and beyond?

The first major change in Radiance is going to be around defining and using colors. Code-named Chroma, this effort aims to bring more clarity and control over working with colors in core and custom Radiance skins, inspired by the ongoing evolution of design systems such as Material and others.

This change will also find its way into Aurora, as these two projects are twins, in a sense. Once Compose for Desktop hits its official 1.2 release, Aurora will go to 1.2 as well. Afterwards, I will work on window APIs, and will start the long-planned work to port the ribbon component to Aurora.

And last but most definitely not the least, are the plans to explore the third twin to Radiance and Aurora, and bring the theming layer and all the components to the world of Flutter.

As I said last October, it’s going to be a long road, and it may take a bit of time again until the next major release of Radiance. The current goal is to fully complete the color work across both Radiance and Aurora, and have them released at the same time. This will probably happen after the ribbon component is added to Aurora. As for the Flutter twin, it is going to be an exciting, and yet completely unpredictable adventure. I may or may not have something for you to play with in 2023. Time will tell.

Continuing the ongoing series of interviews with creative artists working on various aspects of movie and TV productions, it is my pleasure to welcome Mara Lepere-Schloop. In this interview, she talks about her background in architecture and the transition to the world of visual storytelling, research for period stories, the increasing level of expectations from episodic productions, and finding ways to detach one’s own political and social views from the needs of each story. In between all these and more, Mara talks about her work on the magnificent first season of “The Alienist” and the recently released “Pachinko”, and dives deep into creating the worlds of “Mrs. America”.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and the path that took you to where you are today.

Mara: It was theater for me. I was in first or second grade the first time I went to see any theater. I went to see “The Magic Flute” and I remember more than anything, being mesmerized by the scenery, by the fact that they had created a space and the mechanics of how that was being operated. I thought that aspect of it was just the most magical thing, which is not the typical takeaway. I couldn’t tell you anything about the performance that happened that day, but I remember watching the set changes, and the curtain going up and down, and thinking it was just such a cool thing.

I grew up in Detroit, Michigan and I went to public school there. When I was in the fifth grade, a theater group called, Mosaic Youth Theater of Detroit, came on a touring production to our school, and they had a technical component to it. It wasn’t just kids performing, it was also kids designing the sets and operating them. And that was it. That was the thing that I wanted to do. So I joined that program from the age of 11 and was involved off and on until I was 18. It was basically an apprenticeship program where they taught us every aspect of the technical trades – lighting, sound design, set design. We even built all of the sets ourselves. Once I had been introduced to this world, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to do anything different.

My father is an engineer and my mother is an educator, and they challenged me to not go directly into set design for education, to try something else, whether it was engineering or architecture. So I ended up going to school to get my masters in architecture. If you look at design in general, there’s a lot of overlap in thinking between set design and architecture.

I graduated with my master’s from Tulane University in New Orleans, and I was working as an architect, and also designing and building furniture when Hurricane Katrina hit. It was one of those things that altered so many people’s lives in so many ways, and there were a lot of ways that it affected me personally. In terms of a career, the firm that I was working for was then contracted by FEMA to do door-to-door inspections to survey the viability of housing and to track the impact of the hurricane. We did this every day for several months. As you can imagine, it was fairly depressing, and eventually I needed to change something.

I left the firm, and the day that I finished working, I randomly got a call from a friend of a friend about a film opportunity. Going back to the architecture school days, I had made a documentary about the American perspective of architecture through the lens of home improvement reality television. I was curious about this transitory, temporal concept of design and its impact on American culture. In so many other countries, architecture and design are careers that are very much respected and appreciated, while in the United States design is treated in a superficial way. I was very interested in how this new phenomenon of home improvement reality television was impacting how people thought about architecture.

So I went around the country interviewing people who have been peripherally involved in these shows, as well as people on the street about architecture. I made this as a stand-alone exercise, and I never thought that I’d go into filmmaking. It just was the medium through which I wanted to document this conversation. So flash forward and this friend of a friend had seen it, and he had written a screenplay about insurance companies after hurricanes checking in on houses. He knew that I had just had this experience working for the firm going door-to-door and he had dug the documentary, and he asked if I wanted to art direct this movie.

I had nothing else lined up. I didn’t know what I was going to be doing, so I decided that it will be this one-time thing over the summer, and then I’ll really figure out what I’m going to do with my life [laughs]. That was about 20 years ago, and I haven’t stopped working in film since then. It was a non-traditional path into things – word of mouth, one thing after the other – and I went from art directing and then set designing, art directing again, and then finally to production design. There are still times where I think it’s just a temporary thing. I think that I’m still going to go back to architecture or theater which was my first love, but there’s something addictive about film and television, and the adrenaline.

You work intensely for a relatively short amount of time compared to other careers with a small intense group of people, and you create this thing together and it’s magical. It’s a miracle that anything is ever good [laughs] with so many people that have their fingerprints on the product. I can’t think of any other medium of art where you get to collaborate with so many incredible people and produce something in such a short amount of time. It’s really on the backs of so many that it has the chance of being good or not. It’s pretty incredible.


Production design of “Mrs. America” by Mara Lepere-Schloop.

Kirill: Comparing it to other art mediums, do you feel that there’s certain transient aspect to it? It’s captured by the camera and then is gone from the physical world. It only lives as a flat artifact on a DVD, or maybe even just zeroes and ones nowadays in the streaming world.

Mara: It’s funny. A lot of people ask me at the end of a project if I’m sad to see the sets go away, and the reality is I’m not at all. The only thing that I have to say I’m sad about is the waste involved. I wish that there were more comprehensive ways for us to reuse things, but the industry in the whole is getting better about that.

Beyond that, it’s a part of the magic. You are creating these spaces and these environments specifically for this one story. There’s something so just magical about that if you can get past the waste part [laughs]. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a few different shows where we’ve built fairly large back lots. One of them was for “The Alienist” that we build in Budapest. At the time the show was potentially going to run for several seasons, and so the decision was made by the studio to invest in a 30-year engineering to support that backlot. That set is still standing, and people are constantly sending me photos from new movies and TV shows that have shot there. Over time it’s been slowly manipulated by different people, and there’s something really wonderful about that. It’s a large set that spans multiple city blocks and is several stories high. It’s great that that’s being reused. On the flip side, you have small, one-off sets that you build and when the show is over, they are gone. That temporal quality is part of the magic of making those things. It serves a singular purpose as an element of visual story-telling.


Production design of “The Alienist” by Mara Lepere-Schloop.

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