As Production Designer of 2014’s Zelos, Mari wanted to create a current day look with a slightly forward thinking style. Zelos tells the tale of Maria, a competitive woman in her late 30’s who orders a “Zelos” clone to help around the house. She does this so she can spend more time with her family, but mostly to enable her to compete with her flawless friend Ari. As the story unfolds, Maria realizes that her willingness to do anything to overshadow Ari has blinded her from what is really important in her life; her family. She soon realizes the clone she purchased is her biggest rival of all. The film which concerns itself with modern technological advances, the approaching relevance of A.I., and how it will effect humanity on a very personal level, gave Mari the opportunity to imagine how the world might look. She needed to give a familiarity to the setting as well as portray a sense of how things might become very soon. The style was most present in the clones themselves. Lappalainen communicates, “For Zelos, we wanted the concept of cloning to be something that was mass marketed and manufactured; a part of a regular life. This made our choices a little easier. Style-wise, I wanted to utilize mid-century/modern/clean lines and quirky art work. I wanted to emphasize the normality of how to order a clone from a delivery service; waking it with blue liquid, and then watch the story evolve.” Zelos won the prize for Best Experimental Film at the Montreal World Film Festival in 2015 (as well as First Prize in 2015 at the Rhode Island International Film Festival and a 2016 win at the Atlanta Film Festival) giving credence to the look and subject matter of Zelos.
Though Lappalainen can be seen these days in the role of Production Designer, it was her earlier work as an Art Director on films like Share and Awaken that displayed her knack for defining the look the film’s achieved with their accoutrements, etc. With a very poignant subject matter, Share is the story behind a harrowing video leak that explores a teenage girl’s (Krystal) private experience of public humiliation in high-school and amongst her friends. As we watch Krystal’s decisions in the aftermath of the video leak, Share shows us what it is like to relive a moment you have no memory of, and the ensuing harrowing experiences that follow the event. Production Designer Andrea Arce Duval approached Mari to work on Share after the two had worked together on the film Awaken. Mari Describes the look of Share stating, “Share had to be dark, even during day time. Carefully chosen locations and colors were needed to help the story; almost like Krystal is in the shadow/followed by shadows all times. We had to make sure we didn’t have anything with too bright colors around, for fear of losing the feeling of it.” The aforementioned Awaken is a steampunk, fantasy oriented story. The main character, Sophie, is a prisoner in a factory. Sophie, like many others, has been brainwashed; transfixed with music and cannot wake up from it. One day Sophie accidentally wakes up and attempts to find a way to free all the workers. She discovers that her mother led a resistance years ago, trying to overthrow the dictator. Will Sophie lose her life like her mother did trying to save her peers? The production was both a challenge and an opportunity to be very creative. Lappalainen explains, “The main concerns were about having these gigantic places and how to fill them up to look united and a like a blended world. With great planning, the creative team managed to find appropriate spots and the use of VFX set extensions added a lot. Art wise, we were considering the manufacturing time for more unique elements and sourcing pieces you couldn’t get from the corner store. It was exciting to have a chance to create something so visually strong. Our locations were serving us very well already, adding extra layers of peculiar and industrial elements to complete our goals.”
Working recently in the genre of (for the first time) Horror as Production Designer, Mari helped to materialize the look of a cursed WWII Japanese bunker in Gehenna: Where Death Lives. Writer/Director Hiroshi Katagari (who is credited with working on such films as Jurassic Park, A.I., and War of the Worlds with Steven Spielberg, as well as projects with Guillermo del Toro, Sam Raimi, and Rob Marshall) selected Lappalainen to be the Production Designer creating the dark and frightening world of an underground bunker in Saipan. The film necessitated trips to both Saipan and Japan, where Mari visited bunkers and museums to photograph and research the look and feel that the film required. As the Production Designer on streaming platforms, Lappalainen has created the look of the second season of Guidance (produced for television and online streaming by Awesomeness for domestic distribution via Verizon Go90 platform and international distribution in the UK via ITV and Canada via DirectTV). SJ Hodges (Executive Producer/Showrunner on Guidance) declares, “I knew Mari was the perfect fit for the job as Lead Production Designer for the second season. She did a tremendous job. I wanted to take a more cinematic approach for the second season, implementing a ‘noire’ tone and look in order to reach the level of quality found in premium cable content. Mari showed tremendous ingenuity and genius by transforming the sets we inherited from a prior project and completely re-working them, giving the second season of Guidance a much more high-end look that is truly mind-blowing. She added depth and layers to the sets that helped support the actors in their work and collaborated extensively with our cinematographer and lighting designer to elevate the project. Season one of Guidance had a remarkable 6 million subscribers within the first week alone, and I’m certain season two will accrue even bigger numbers thanks to Mari’s contributions in her leading role as production designer.” The Netflix production Meridian is an eerie film noir which combines a classic detective tale with bizarre visuals, loud special effects, and creepy imagery. As Production Designer on Meridian, Mari was once again called upon to blend past and future components to assist in creating a viable backdrop for the action to take place on screen. Meridian’s Director/Writer Curtis Clark notes, “Mari did an excellent job of recreating the 1947 film noir look that I wanted for the film. She demonstrated exceptional creative talent and worked diligently to materialize the world we needed for the film. She has an eye that perfectly sees what a filmmaker wants to see.”