It would be easy to use that Hollywood analogy and say that she just flips a switch and makes magic happen, but in reality, Hill uses good, old-fashioned hard work, experience and a keen eye for design to transform the ordinary into fantastical environments. This coupled with a killer sense of humor makes Hill someone everyone wants to be around. So please come by and meet her. She'll be part of the Design Dawgs III panel on January 27 at The Special Event in Phoenix. It's going to be informative, entertaining and Hill-arious!
AOO Events Creative Director and Lead designdawg
IN BROAD DAYLIGHT
By Hillary Harris
Event planners and our creations shine brightest at night. Sure we work during the day setting up events, taking meetings, and attending to details but it all really comes together as the sun sets. That’s when carefully selected saturated colors begin to wash over the unique architecture of the event, the candlelight creates a glow and the feeling of celebration hangs in the air. Without the drama that darkness brings to event design, it’s only natural that we’d find daytime events a little daunting.
But recently, I’ve committed acts of beautiful design … and in broad daylight. The secret? Go big and bold. I’ve outlined two events produced by Warner Bros. Special Events that illustrate my point.
BOLD: Go Bright
I had been looking for a theme for our annual L.A. Screenings at Warner Bros. when I went to The Special Event last year and saw the seed of a look I wanted in these trees by Pink Inc.
They were whimsical and fantastical; so bright in color they appeared to have popped out of a Dr. Seuss book. I found the trees could be custom-made in any color combination I wanted. They were ordered in two color schemes -- neon pink and orange as you can see in these photos. No lighting would be needed to light up the design.
After the trees had been ordered, we began the search for lounge furniture in the same color palette. I wanted the pieces to be modern and simple. The desired vibe was whimsical and playful. We found the furniture then added ottomans around the trunks of the trees and finished the look with pillows. The abstract flowers popped against the solid colors in the furniture.
The finishing touches were cocktail and end tables. I loved the playful curvature of the legs and the all-white enamel look. And although I've never used white chiavari chairs before at any event except a wedding they were perfect for this look.
But what to do about the sun? Because the trees were such a statement, I didn't want umbrellas, but we needed shade. To achieve this, our Warner Bros. scenic arts department created a brightly colors, sixties-style ceiling treatment made from 10-foot-wide, 50-foot-long panels of sail cloth that were rigged to the buildings on either side of the street. As the light hit the cloth, everything was suddenly washed in a very complimentary shade of pink. Everyone looked fabulous! The sun, I learned that day, can be an event designer's best friend.
BOLD: Go Big
For the premiere of the animated film, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, neon colors would be very out of place. Natural was the order of the day. Here, my goal was to make 800 guests feel as though they had been transported to Ga'Hoole, an enchanted forest inhabited by owls. This needed to be done in the middle of the day, and in the middle of Hollywood in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
Without bright colors to help make this event pop, I chose to go big. Scale is a great way to suspend reality and make people feel as if they are somewhere else.
And the first thing to know about scale is that it begins at the bottom. You can't go big without laying a foundation then building upon it. So our design started from the ground up, literally. We used brown carpet throughout the event space. From here, the environment grew. As you can see from these photos we brought in trees (as well as structures built on site to look just like trees), rocks and shrubbery to create a transition entrance from the arrival carpet on Hollywood Blvd. to this fantastical world.
We had closed one lane of Hollywood Blvd. in order to park food trucks there, creating another wall of our environment. These trucks -- The Patty Wagon, The Grilled Cheese Truck, Border Grill and an ice cream truck called King Kone -- drove in at the last minute. Hedges between the trucks were added to further enhance the forest illusion.
All elements were as big and chunky as we could get. These included tables and benches from Town & Country Event Rentals, cabanas created with heavy burlap with rope ties, chunky art-directed signage made from wood planks and even cupcake stands made from tree stumps -- all went into creating the look and helping the event stand out in daylight. In addition we chose a crinkled taffeta linen in a deep brown (like bark) and moss green.
Our big look was built around a central place in the film called The Great Tree (shown in the photo above). Working with a landscape artist, we created the tree branch by branch. Standing at 22 feet high and 30 feet wide, the tree was a focal point of the event. We built or brought in about 40 trees in all to create the fully realized environment.
Everything, the activities and the decor, are part of the event experience. Design work during the day is not just about linen and how many trees there are. It's about layering in the activities and the design element. And since this was a family film the more activities the better! Here we brought in two owls that looked like Soren, the main owl in the film, and a green screen in front of which people could have their photos taken and it looked like they were in the forest with the owls.
The rock wall was both an activity and part of the decor. It certainly went a long way to make people feel they were the mountains.
In the case of this event we brought in big activities such as this Gyroscope installed on a stage that gave people the sense of flying. It took up sculptural space.
It's important to note that when designing by the light of day there are no unlighted spaces where you can sweep bad design under a rug or dark space. Layout out the space with clean lines and highlight the usable space.
Remember, everything will be out in the open so design wisely. Then let the sun shine in!
Hillary Harris is Director of Warner Bros. Studios Special Events. Every year she produces more than 250 events both on the lot in
And this year Hillary also started her own blog: Hill on Hollywood.