Up-and-Coming Set Designer Has Worked on “Sleepy Hollow” & More
Ryan Garton is an up-and-coming, young, gifted and smart TV and film set designer. And I’m proud to say he was in my UCLA Extension Fundamentals of Interior Design and History of Design classes where he learned thorough research skills of historical eras that, he says, have served him well for his designs of sets on shows ranging from “Sleepy Hollow” on Fox to “Jane the Virgin” on CW.
A graduate of Loyola Marymount University who double majored in Fine Arts and Animation, Ryan says even in college he was spending the majority of his time designing the set for the short animated films he was creating.
After graduation, Ryan held a series of odd jobs that were not art-related and, seeing an ad for UCLA Extension’s Architectural Interior Design Program, decided to enroll. While taking classes at UCLA Extension he landed designer jobs with prominent L.A. architecture firms Bondanelli Design Group followed by SAA, both of which, he says, taught him more than he could have hoped for. Meanwhile, he also earned a certificate from UCLA Extension and a master’s from Cal Poly Pomona in interior architecture.
An art director friend of his convinced him to carve a new career path as a set designer and helped him get a foot in the door of a tightly-knit profession that is notoriously difficult to enter.
That was over three years ago, and since then he has made his mark designing stunning sets not only for “Sleepy Hollow” and “Jane the Virgin,” but also for Cinemax’s “Banshee,” CBS’ “Intelligence,” Fox’s “Grinder,” TNT’s “Legends,” HBO’s “Videosyncrasy,” and Showtime’s “Masters of Sex.” “Banshee” presented him with one of his favorite early projects – designing a dingy strip club on stage that included a full bar, raised VIP section, back dressing rooms and offices.
“I’m in it for the weird authenticity,” he says. “I like being able to break down spaces and details you wouldn’t typically focus on as a traditional designer.”
Ryan also says he thrives on the fast pace of set design and hopes he has made a reputation for himself as a quick and creative producer of design concepts and drawings.
In addition, he is paying it forward, teaching SketchUp, a 3D design course, at his alma mater, UCLA Extension Architectural and Interior Design Program.
“When it comes to a show or a film, I get great satisfaction from contributing to the final product,” he says, “and the final product is so important to me because it is an art form that brings people together and helps us empathize with other experiences through story telling.”
What are the greatest rewards and challenges of film and TV set design?
The greatest reward is the joy of seeing the finished set on film, especially when it closely matches the original concept. The biggest challenge is definitely tight budget and time constraints
Tell us one to three things that most people don’t know about you.
Most people who have only known me for a while don’t know that I am a painter and have painted and sold portraits of pets on the side. Also, I used to have two pet rats. And by used to, I mean post-college. I think rats are fantastically misunderstood animals. Wait. Maybe I should become a rat-rights advocate. . . .
What is one of the best compliments you ever received?
This is a really hard one to answer because I desperately want to sound humble when in reality I am an attention monster. So I will simply repeat a recent compliment written in a card to me by my friend and co-worker: “You are brilliantly funny, serious when you need to be, and hysterically ironic.”
What was the last picture you took with your phone?
Most likely a picture of a parking pillar with the row number and section letter/color. I never have any idea where I am.
What are the major differences between interior design and set design?
Sets are not limited by real world constraints, so this gives the designer more freedom. For example, the finishes don’t have to be real and nothing has to be structurally accurate from an engineering perspective. There is an instant gratification not found in interior design. In addition, there is no long permit process as there often is for architects and interior designers.
What is your idea of a perfect day?
A day that involves an unreasonable amount of wine and cream sauce-smothered pasta, and lounging somewhere beautiful with my favorite people, laughing uncontrollably about something we probably shouldn’t be.
Is there a fun or interesting anecdote you can share about your professional experiences as a set designer? Any surprises?
One of my first and craziest (in terms of keeping my head together) experiences involved recreating/redesigning an airstream trailer interior on stage, increased by 20 percent. We had two actual Airstreams – one we were gutting for parts and one to be used for all of the exterior/location shots. And we were redesigning the interior of the “exterior/location” trailer at the same time. There were so many balls in the air and the process was moving so quickly. I learned to expect an insane and fluid pace and that communication was everything. I still look at those set drawings and shiver.