A colorful 115- x 30-foot backdrop, a 30-foot whale balloon, intricate 3D-printed models—these aren’t parts of a holiday parade; these are just a few of the day-to-day creations of artist Dan Phyillaier (’99). Sitting at his computer, Dan works behind the scenes to create designs that will be larger than life.
“It’s pretty incredible to see something from your screen come to life 30 feet tall,” said Dan, referencing a gigantic promotional statue he created of a whale jumping out of the ocean to swallow Jonah.
Over seventeen years ago, Dan began working at Sight & Sound Theatres, the largest faith-based theatres in the country, which put on elaborate productions and performances of biblical stories on a grand scale. Dan has used his art skills to bring well-known Bible stories to life, creating set designs, renderings, and models for over ten productions. Through his designs, people have experienced biblical accounts of Jonah, Daniel, Moses, and other heroes of the faith.
Yet Dan is modest about his abilities, knowing they are not his own but a gift. “God seemed to have given me talent and a temperament well suited for being an artist,” he said. “So I kept pursuing art, and the Lord kept opening doors.”
When the door opened at Sight & Sound Theatres, Dan knew very little about designing a dramatic set for a stage; but he did have a strong foundation in the fundamentals of art. The other designers at Sight & Sound wanted someone who would be part of a team and was willing to learn on the job.
Dan fit their needs perfectly. “The techniques that I use to create art now are very different from the way I was doing things at PCC; however, that reveals one of the great things about my education,” he said. “Instead of focusing on the latest trends and techniques which always change, PCC focused on the fundamentals of art and stressed the importance of hard work and being professional.”
His foundation in traditional painting, drawing, and illustrating serves him well as he uses cutting edge digital tools such as Photoshop, Maya, ZBrush, and MODO to create the finished work.
Because Dan had practiced his craft so well, he knew how to bend the fundamental rules of art to create strong set designs. Often, he uses forced perspective to make sets appear deeper than they are, allowing the set to take up less floor space for easier storage.
As Dan works on a show, he meets with the playwright and director to gain a feel for the mood of each set design. He might create 6–20 different drafts before gaining the director’s vision for the piece, and that’s no simple feat with one draft taking anywhere from several days to a full week to draw. “We try to interpret the vision that is in the director’s head and draw it into something that can be seen and built upon by other departments,” he said.
While most of his designs are for sets, Dan also works on iconic artwork and media drawings for promotional advertising. His favorite show thus far has been Moses. “Every new show at Sight & Sound, we improve on so many different levels,” he said. “I think Moses benefitted a lot from this technically and artistically; however, Sight & Sound was also able to capture both the epic nature and the personal, relatable quality of Moses.”
Sight & Sound’s goal is to immerse audiences in biblical accounts so that they feel a part of the story. The 300-foot stage that wraps around the 2,000+ audience brings the viewers into the very heart of Noah’s ark or the midst of the Red Sea.
In fall 2016, Dan brought a little of that interactive experience to PCC when he came to guest lecture in the visual arts department. As he shared renderings and models of set designs he had worked on, he engaged with students, answering questions and giving advice on how to improve as an artist.
Studio art major Kayla Gaither (Fr., FL) thoroughly enjoyed Dan’s interactive session. “To know that Mr. Phyillaier is a PCC graduate encouraged me to know that the school I have chosen produces artists of such high quality,” she said. “The process from sketch pad to stage has always been a special interest of mine and getting to hear a professional describe it from a Christian perspective was very exciting!”