Doodling in a notebook is a way of passing time for most kids. For set designer Matt Gatlin, it was the beginning of his career.
Gatlin, 30, was constantly drawing, making animated flip books and interested in scale models. He decided to study architecture at LSU because of his affinity for math and creativity, interning at several Baton Rouge architecture firms while in school.
He’s spent the past four years as a set designer, assistant prop master and prop master on several films. Recently, he was a set designer and model maker on Beautiful Creatures, and he is now doing pre-production as a set designer on Twelve Years a Slave, starring Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender.
Jeremy Woolsey, a local production designer and art director, says Gatlin’s talents in architecture and graphic design make him indispensable on set.
“He brings so much to a project and makes my life easier. Not many people in the Louisiana crew base carry all of those skills so readily in their back pocket,” Woolsey says.
Gatlin and Woolsey have worked on more than 10 feature films, commercials and other projects together.
Most recently, they worked on Pitch Perfect, a comedy about competitive college a cappella groups, with Gatlin serving as assistant art director. He has helped design sets or props for other films, including Battle: Los Angeles, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn and The Baytown Disco.
For Pitch Perfect, which was partially shot at LSU, Gatlin says, “For one scene, we set up a full student activities fair in the small quad area between Hill Memorial and Middleton Library. That means we had to design logos, banners and any material that would be on or around tables for about 30 student club or activity booths.”
When working as a set designer, Gatlin must produce drawings and models to help convince the director the set should look a certain way. He must include detailed plans to aid the construction coordinator’s understanding of how to budget and build the set.
As a prop master, Gatlin is responsible for finding or creating every prop to be used: money, food, weapons, accessories, license plates, skins for vehicles, etc. He talks with directors and producers to determine what all of the props should be, then works with his assistants to ensure prop continuity throughout the film.
Local producer Jason Hewitt says Gatlin brought a laid-back personality to the set.
“The guy enjoys his work, and it shows,” Hewitt says. “We have presented Matt with a number of monumental challenges, and he just smiles and delivers.”