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HaZ on the power of mood boards for VFX

If you're trying to describe a project to win over funders, or just persuade people to work with you, then a mood board can be a great asset, says HaZ
Sync, right? I knew I was going to write a film about robots, and it’s set in a world which is in the not too distant future. But I wanted it to look and feel real. So I would look at images of office blocks. I would look at places like Singapore and Shanghai and how those busy cities have a very atmospheric feel to it. And it’s amazing how Shanghai actually feels very Blade Runner at night, you know, the smog and the lights and the skyscrapers and the big, massive TV screens. And I’m like, this is existing today. So what I would tend to do is, before I do anything, I’ll create what you call a mood board.
So I go into Photoshop. I go on Google. I’ll find those images. I’ll go to Pinterest and download some stuff. And then I’ll create a collage, a montage, right? Because it’s a composite. Slap things together and play with it. Then what I’ll do is I’ll then create a mood book, like 20 pages, use Acrobat PDF, to create in PDF. And then I’ll use that as a conversation piece when I’m trying to get a cinematographer on board. So when I get a cinematographer on board, he’s like, what are you thinking mood-wise? And I’ll show him references. And sometimes they’ll be references from films. That I’ll take a shot of an environment from, I don’t know, iRobot because I love the glass.
Or I’ll take a reference from Oblivion because I love the way the director, Joseph Kosinski, has used architecture. They’re quite inspiring for how we want the set designed. But I’ll then look at photography of wildlife. Or like nighttime forests, the way the light’s cut through– you know, light shafts cut through certain leaves. Or I’ll look at– just anything that explains what I’m thinking, I’ll find that. And usually it’s through images. The other thing also is– strange enough– is music. Music’s a huge inspiration. Because sometimes I can’t find a visual thing. And again, when you’re making– I’ve learned, I didn’t know this until I started making films, by the way.
But the more films I make, and especially making my first feature, is you’re not really describing visually what your movie is about. You’re describing what you’re feeling. And music plays a big part. I remember when I went to MPC many, many years ago we would be compositing, and we had our headphones on. And there’s a reason why artists have headphones on, because they have certain music that gets them in the mood. Whether they’re doing this horrible 200-frame roto or cleanup, you’ve got this music to drive you. It’s like when you go to the gym. So music, images off the web, magazine articles. I’ll get all of those things and create like a mood book, a collage.
And then I’ll look at that collage and go, that’s my world. Now I get to play in it.

Sometimes it’s hard to get people to help out with your great idea.

HaZ Dulull has an answer- a simple mood board can communicate to others the feeling or look you’re after, and get a conversation going. We’re living in an age where people increasingly can’t find the time to read long scripts, and anyway, just want an idea about what the film you’re making will be like.

Mood boards can also help you get a clearer idea about some of the influences, colour ranges, lighting and styles you may need to use in the film.

Referencing other films, images or artforms isn’t copying at this stage- you’re getting people to ‘position’ your proposal in their heads, to understand what it’s like- thanks to the collage of images you show them.

There’s an interesting article about mood boards at

You might want to have a go at making a mood board yourself for a film you’d like to make. There’s no need to create a 20 page document like HaZ, but collecting and referencing images can sometimes help you form a better idea of what you want your film to look like. You should do this in a way that you feel comfortable with – for instance plenty of people use Pinterest as an easy way to collect imagery they find online into one place. If you do decide to create a mood board, do share it with us.

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