It's good as long as it's playful - Abroad Films interviews Balázs Hujber, visual designer

Jun 7, 2021

Balázs Hujber set and visual designer started his career with the guidance of the legendary master and two-time Béla Balázs Prize winner, Tamás Vyer. And even though the kid from Győr could have been a jazz musician, he ended up being sucked into theatre and film. There are now dozens of feature films, including Vault, Liza, the Fox Fairy, The Whiskey Bandit, Control and Golden Life, and about 600 commercials in his portfolio.

"That's the part of my job I love the most. The most exciting part of my life is when I can dream. I'm walking, like, on the street or sitting on the trolley, but I've got the new assignment in my head. At this time, there are no specifics. I'm still searching, and I can imagine a scene anywhere” - he tells me about what attracts him most in visual design.

Perhaps that was the reason why, at the beginning of his career, he felt he had no place in the world of advertising. Director Gábor Rohonyi invited him to StábFilm, where Péter Bergendy and Béla Paczolay were the directors, Gyula Pados and Péter Szatmári were the camera men. The young filmmakers at the time mostly made small films, music videos, and commercials. He was attracted to the creative community, so he said yes. It also happened at a time when commercial film production in Hungary was booming. "We practically made a new film every two weeks. It was an incredibly tight, tense and hard job” - he tells us about the era. He realized that it is not only financially worth working on advertising jobs between feature films, but it is also a great opportunity as a set designer because it provides amazing practice and brings you up to date with modern practises. From locations to fashion, from cinematic techniques to the best building materials, which he can utilize in many ways in his feature films.

Behind the commercial assembly line

"I often have 24 hours to put together the first plan and a corresponding budget, which in our case is not much time. And then the real work begins, but you've already laid the groundwork, and that's when you have to stick with it. You stand there, you go with the flow, you try to react immediately to everything, and if you don't have the routine, it's easy to get buried under the whole thing.”

This is a routine that can only be mastered at work. "When I see a brief set on a street corner, a strange gate, or a garden, I can determine where we can find it almost immediately.

Recently I had to look for a stairwell for a beer commercial, and four minutes later, I sent over the location where we were shooting. I've got so many locations in my head, that sometimes it's enough to search in my head and in my photos” - My database has hundreds of apartments, stairwells, and photos of the interior of many public institutions, I can recall most of them at any time. "I don't say that I always remember everything, but I have a surprisingly good memory of this type. But it's easy for me because I have two hobbies: roaming around and photography.”

But finding the perfect location is only part of the work of the designer. In addition, the architecture and equipment are also part of the tasks and the location's coordination and budget management. In the meantime, he's been cross-checking with the rest of the crew, especially the director, the cameraman, and, of course, the costume designer.

"At best, and if there is time, after the brief, I will sketch a drawing, and I will share it with the director and the cameraman. If they have approved it, or at least we have adjusted the directions, then it will be seen by the costume designer, who will match the costumes to the colour and mood.” Of course, especially in advertising, it's necessary to start from the opposite direction. There was a project where the colour of the character's dress was already given, and he had to adapt the decoration and furnishings to the defining colour.

What do the details say?

The devil is in the detail. A product advertisment defines the consumers.

You have to adapt the material and environment world to that consumer. If it is a high-end product, he reaches for objects, places and interiors that complement it. When it comes to advertising, it's always about who you're talking to. "If we're casting an original scene, we'll set the tone right there. It matters if it's a big apartment with big ceilings, spacious spaces, big glass walls in Buda, or, say, a flat on the outskirts of town. It's a code that takes the whole film with it.

Just how it matters what furniture is placed in the approved venue, or what objects we see, you can use these subtleties to show the nuances of the character's personality. In a feature film, either with a crumb on a table or an unpaid check thrown in.

In advertising films, there is less demand for these, and we need to create more general characters and places so that anyone can feel involved in what we are seeing. Everything in the commercial is a bit like a window display.”

In a 30-second film, there is no time to tell tales about a product. You have to show the product, its colour, atmosphere and feel with only one large-scale picture. "I like to capture the atmosphere even in the visual design plan. Serenity and sadness are all based on colour and light” - we learn the possibilities of the preparation from the designer. What moves you at work? "To play games and to dream more and more worlds – whether it's advertising or a feature film.”