TRAM – An Insider View to Set Design and Creative Process

Ngoc Tram, set designer for RICE’s Nongshim project, shares her insight and experience in crafting the set for a commercial from start to finish. 

Creativity and constraints

Nongshim was a challenging project for our art team. My scope of work involves two sets – at home and a convenience store. When I first received the brief, I was confident that the sets were familiar and straightforward (it could also be because the drafted storyboard makes every scene look more “digestible”).

On the scouting location day, challenges start to arise. We needed to change the whole store into a “Nongshim store” with Noshim’s decoration and color theme. I looked around the store and realized that its primary colors are yellow and green, with branded stickers all over the walls. The primary mission: “Turn everything yellow into red, make every merchandise into Nongshim products.” A hard challenge, but aren’t they made to conquer? Our team made it within only one day. Even though it was a crazy schedule (from 6 PM to 6 AM), we joked around and moved together forward. 

Creativity seems to stem from constraints. For example, when the store owner told us not to take down all the merchandise, we were low-key freaked out. But I came up with the idea of covering only the outside of the aisle with Nongshim products, and it worked. There are countless more similar situations when you get on set, and you need to react fast. 

Creative Collaboration

Despite the challenges, I enjoy the collaboration process in this project a lot. Set design is the synchronization of many people – the client, the agency, director, DOP, art team. I first received a brief from the client and treatment from the director. Then I propose my design and reiterate it with the director. We shared pretty much the same visual vision, so my design got approved quite quickly. 

This client is very detail-oriented, so I had to be even more meticulous with how to best showcase their brand, where to put the poster, where to place the sticker or lamp. 

Hung, our Director of Photography, wanted to install LED lights into the set to create a horror movie vibe but somehow still make it stand out as a convenience store. We figured out how to work around a tiny store and hid them in the frame. 

Speaking of our art team, I truly enjoyed their energy. I work with the “Burn it all” design team. They comprise young, freshly graduated faces who are always willing to brainstorm, give me feedback, continuously communicate with me. It makes me feel like a part of their team. 

What’s next?

After all the sleepless nights, the satisfaction of a hard-to-win client made me happy. I was also learning about being more prudent with my setup and design on this project. I hope to conquer more significant challenges in the future. 

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