Ruth De Jong
AS: How involved were you in designing that alien entity in the sky in Nope?
RDJ: I did a huge deep dive into these super crazy, underworld creatures that live deep, deep, deep, deep in the world’s oceans. Jordan said he wanted people to be afraid of the sky after seeing this movie like they were afraid of the water after seeing Jaws. We sent this on to the VFX illustrators to begin to use these references and ideas for their illustrations. The entity “jean jacket” was entirely created with visual effects. Jordan worked very closely with them perfecting his vision for this creature.
Everything else on land, in real life, we built. We built the house from the ground up. Both ranches connected. We loved the idea of the connectivity, even though most people were like, You can cheat that, it doesn’t matter. But Jordan, Hoyte, and myself loved the idea that it was all one place. When Emerald rides from the house all the way through the ravine, that was all one shot. Which is amazing!
AS: You built all the exteriors?
RDJ: Everything. The house 360º and the entire theme park and stadium from the ground up. It was just a flat piece of dirt and I said, I’m going to build it here. It was great having just come off of that when Chris told me, You’ll have to build. I was like, Great, same team. We’re picking up, going over here. It was nice to go from something completely out of Jordan’s mind to a historical character study. A lot of people asked, Would you have liked a break between the two? I said, To be honest, no. Because taking on a Chris Nolan film you need that energy. I was in it so deep with Nope that it was nice to bring that energy and enthusiasm to Oppenheimer.
AS: That’s one thing I love about production design—going from one extreme to another. Not going into the same office every day for years…
RDJ: That’s what keeps it exciting and that’s what keeps you on your toes. To have a personality change. Versus, like you said, reporting to the same office on repeat. People who say, I can do this in my sleep. Because you can’t do what we do in your sleep. It takes all of you!
AS: How do you feel about sets being visible versus invisible? Or sets being seen as characters?
RDJ: In many cases a set can be and is a character but my main goal as a production designer is to ground them and have them blend so deeply to their landscape you don’t think twice about it having been “created” for this purpose. I want it to fall back and blend seamlessly. I do not want it to be distracting or to take away from the story in any way. The sets are meant to compliment, enhance and tell more of the story without trying.
My goal is always to ground them no matter what. Production design is at its best when you think it was just there, it wasn’t constructed, it wasn’t made. And that’s a hard thing to do. That style of designing is often overlooked. A lot of that came from coming up under Jack Fisk and his passion for truthfulness, rawness, honesty, and a passion for research. I’m carrying the torch but also, that’s what I know to be true. There’s something about being able to create something from complete scratch and then convince the audience that it’s been there forever.