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Building Fantasies, Set by Set: Say Hello to Tom Schneider
NCO 106

N: Hi, Tom! How have you been? Where are you chatting with us from?

T: Hey! Thank you, I’m great. I just came back from a job in the US. I’m home now in southeast London.

N: So, obviously, you are most known for the incredible set designs you have been producing over the years. What started your journey into this art form?

T: Thanks! I started in Paris with a degree in historic furniture making and went on to study at the Dirty Art Dept of the Sandberg Institute Amsterdam.

After which, I moved to London and quickly met the people who got me started in set & spatial design.

N: Any quick tips for anyone who would like to get into this industry? (me, LOL)

T: I spent a few years assisting established set designers and learning from the ground up. But really, if you have friends who are photographers, artists, or designers, just work on projects together, improvise shoots, etc., and get your work out.

Direction and Production Design for Bladee

For me, the one main outlet is Instagram; it’s where I met practically all of the people I collaborate with today. Most of the exciting jobs I got were through someone who had noticed my work on there.

N: I loved that installation you made for the underground music duo Nation - simple, straight to the point, hyper-symbolic, & just so impactful. It’s genius. Can you tell us more about it? How did you get the idea incorporating balloons?

Set Design for Nation Soldier

T: Hendrik Schneider (the photographer) and I have an intuitive and organic workflow. We’re interested in the same themes, like dirty surrealism, symbolism, etc., and these ideas often emerge from sharing found images and pitching each other concepts, in this case, a photo of American party decorations. It's the kind of project which also works very spontaneously.

Planning is always key, but a lot happens on set.

N: I've noticed a satirical note in your work, especially in the way you put a twist on mundane imagery. Does the idea of wanting your audience to see their surroundings in a "different light," so to speak, play a role in your work?

T: Well, I predominantly work for the fashion and entertainment industries, which often prioritize surface-level aspects when presenting to the audience. Satire creates an opening to critical thinking.

By hijacking references from everyday life, pop & consumer culture, the work can address societal issues and phenomena in a fun way, perforating the real.

Concept for an exhibition space commissioned by Final Hot Desert

N: Do you believe that the design of a space has a moral dimension, in terms of those who experience it?

T: Clearly, certain designs carry a significant moral dimension, thinking of parliament buildings, state infrastructure, cathedrals, and so on. And there is for sure a moral dimension when it comes to designing spaces in a resourceful and sustainable manner.

Art Direction for SZA's album SOS

However, I'm on the fence about the moral obligation that fashion and entertainment hold towards their audience and within the environments they create.

It can too easily become patronizing, in my opinion.

N: Thank you for your time, Tom! As we wrap up this interview, it seems to me that there's no project you couldn't handle. However, I'm curious: what truly piques your interest? What's your dream project right now?

T: With the AI tools, we’re heading into a crisis/shakeup in image-making. That’s why my interest is expanding towards live events: more fashion shows, performance stages (Pink Floyd, Rammstein, or Tomorrowland) or a SpaceX launch would be great spectacles to design!

Set Design for David Koma SS23


All images courtesy of Tom Schneider

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