Designing the future will be a part of the production designer’s role. We’ll look up and in five years from now there will be a group of people who will have shown the way. And some of them will have been production designers that have helped fundamentally to shape how movies get made.
Some of it will become more virtual. Some of it will become more divided up into groups, bringing aspects of the movie together both in realtime and later. But how much of a “collage” can the movie sustain, so that it still feels like it’s of a whole?
It’s like when they first thought about going on location and they discussed how to integrate that with stage sets or back lots and still make it look whole. My mentor Richard Sylbert looked at me at one point and said, It looks like you’re going into the digital realm. And whatever it’s becoming now, it’s going to be different. It has to evolve and the design challenges will evolve and I’m interested to see where it goes.
AS: Several films you’ve co-designed with another production designer. How do you feel about sharing the job?
RC: I love it. Collaborating is the way I’ve been able to maintain a career and progress and prosper in these last twenty years. Because if I drew lines around what I thought was “mine” I wouldn’t be helping the production. On The Polar Express we were all digital and that’s why I brought in Doug Chiang, who could go from conceptualization all the way through to the end of the visual effects process. There was a period of time where the idea existed of a territorial battle between production and post production. From the time of the Star Wars prequels all the way through ‘til maybe eight years ago. But I will always engage the visual effects people as though they are co-designing with me as the directors are. That’s why Robert Stromberg said there were really three of us designing Avatar. And there were. There were many, many more people on that team that were contributing mightily to what you see before you.
I’ve certainly been involved in post production but sometimes I work for free to do that. And I don’t blame a producer for saying, We don’t have the money to have you around for this. I just want to be involved if I can to help the process. But generally, the narrative of the movie and the characters, and what their motivations are, and why something should be the way it is, is embedded strongly enough in the production that’s shot, that in post it simply carries through. Not to say you just relinquish everything, but I think these territorial battles or non-battles have been irrelevant to my process. Any time a production designer feels like they have to be territorial they’re missing the point of their job. Because their territory is the movie. And what’s best for the movie.
No one’s ever going to step on my toes. I’ve always maintained that you’re never going to find my toes. That’s not possible. I don’t care who the person is. It could be Jim Cameron who knows how to art direct a movie and can come in and production design, while he’s directing, any movie. It’s just that his process is enhanced when he has collaborators who are also production designers such as Rob and I were with him on Avatar. We brought so much to the feeling, the process, of what was accomplished.