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Texan Drawn to Venice by Architecture Hits Production Design Stride

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By Paul Chavez, Venice Dispatch

Everyone comes to Venice for a reason.

Set designer Bruce Rodgers was studying architecture and theater set design at Texas Tech University when he started gravitating over here.

“It was the hotbed of architecture when I went to school in the 1980s,” Rodgers said during a recent interview. “I always dreamed of being in Venice and ended up there.”

Venice in the 1980s was undergoing a post-modern architectural transformation with architect Frank Gehry setting the standard for a unique fusion between art and architecture. Gehry’s Binocular Building (1989) on Main Steet is the most prominent example with artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s giant binoculars integrated within Gehry’s design. The building, which formerly housed advertising firm Chiat Day before becoming the Los Angeles home of Google, is one of several Gehry projects from that period sprinkled throughout Venice. The sculptor Robert Graham also was influential at the time with his design for the Doumani House (1982) on Ocean Front Walk, while other notable architects such as Ted Tokio Tanaka, Steven Ehrlich and Franklin D. Israel also were on the Venice scene.

Rodgers, a native of west Texas, moved to Los Angeles after college and started what has become a 26-year career in set design with credits that include six consecutive Super Bowl halftime shows; musical tours for artists such as Beyonce, The Black Eyed Peas, Sting and Johnny Cash; political events such as last year’s Democratic National Convention and the 2012 Country Music Awards (for the sixth time) and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame show.

A scene from the 2011 Super Bowl halftime show featuring the Black Eyed Peas with production design by Bruce Rodgers of Venice-based Tribe Inc. is shown in this photo. Image courtesy of Tribe Inc.

A scene from the 2011 Super Bowl halftime show featuring the Black Eyed Peas with production design by Bruce Rodgers of Venice-based Tribe Inc. is shown in this photo. Image courtesy of Tribe Inc.

He started out doing design work for movies and television when he moved to Los Angeles and later did music tours.

“I just kind of fell into doing television and live shows,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers said he hailed from the school of drafting designs by hand and friends from Venice helped him learn computer aided design.

“I still do the design process by hand, but it’s mixed in with super high-tech computer aided design,” Rodgers said. “A lot of design companies are only computer generated.”

He credited his former assistant, Venice designer Anton Goss, with introducing him to the benefits of computer aided design.

Rodgers has been nominated for two awards at the 17th annual Art Directors Guild ceremony Feb. 2. In the production design category for multi-camera, variety or unscripted series, Rogers was nominated for the Democratic National Convention, while Goss and James Pearse Connelly were nominated for NBC’s hit singing competition “The Voice.” Rodgers also was nominated for his work on the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show featuring Madonna in the awards, music or game shows category.

Rodgers said he spent the first 10 years of his career taking on any job that he could, including live touring shows, car shows, corporate theater, sports competitions and even a stint with the “MTV Rock N’ Jock” show that paired celebrities playing sports with professional athletes.

Rodgers created his design studio Tribe Inc. in Venice in 1996 and it was on Electric Avenue for about a dozen years. The studio now is located on the Venice Beach boardwalk in the Gingerbread Court of shops, while Rodgers calls Connecticut home base. The bi-coastal set up follows a change in his studio’s model that now relies on more remote work, instead of a 10,000-square-foot studio with 40 employees, Rodgers said.

“We’re leaner, meaner and faster,” he said. “People are happier. They are remote and where they want to be.”

Tribe Inc. earlier this month announced that Grammy nominated country music singer Dierks Bentley was embarking on his “Locked & Loaded” tour after choosing Tribe for his tour’s production design and art direction.

A scene from the 2012 Super Bowl halftime show featuring Madonna with production design by Bruce Rodgers of Venice-based Tribe Inc. is shown in this photo. Image courtesy of Tribe Inc.

A scene from the 2012 Super Bowl halftime show featuring Madonna with production design by Bruce Rodgers of Venice-based Tribe Inc. is shown in this photo. Image courtesy of Tribe Inc.

Rodgers also will be providing production design for this year’s Super Bowl halftime show that will feature Beyonce. Rodgers was tight-lipped about the show, but said it involved working with the National Football League, halftime show executive producer Ricky Kirshner and Beyonce’s production team.

“It took several months of combining talents and ideas to come up with something we think will be epic and match the scale and the intensity of the Super Bowl,” Rodgers said.

The halftime show allows for only 7 1/2 minutes of setup, 12 minutes for the artist’s performance and 6 minutes to strike the set and get it off the field, Rodgers said.

“It’s the most adrenaline a human could possibly have,” he said of the Super Bowl halftime show experience.

Rodgers said he’s usually in Venice about once a month for four to six days, sometimes longer if he’s working on a show here.

“I love Venice,” he said. “If there’s any sad part about being in Connecticut, it’s not being near Venice because it’s so cool.”

 

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