AS: What’s it like having your son in the business?
MN: Well, I have all the normal issues that a father has with his son. When you want your son to be the best at something. So of course everything he does when he’s younger, he probably did it exactly as you would have done it when you were his age. But of course you tell him that’s not good enough. So that whole process goes on and pretty soon you catch yourself doing that and that’s just a discussion of parenting.
But when he became my assistant art director it started to get really interesting. Particularly when I worked with Mr. Cameron and we were in my office together. Jim would come in quite often. There were so many set designers and art directors working with me on that project that we put Daniel in my office off to a corner at a drawing table. Jim would come in, talk to me, and then he’d go see what Daniel was drawing. Dan did drawings of the Mars Ascent Vehicle. Once you land on Mars you need a vehicle to get off Mars. When you work on something like that with Jim there’s a lot of physics involved. There are a lot of scientific parameters that have to be met.
When we finally put the project on the shelf the producer called me and said that Jim had asked her, Who’s that kid that was working with Mike? And she said, Well, that’s Daniel, that’s his son. And he didn’t know. He thought that was any other set designer. That was a validation.
Getting something like the Mars Ascent Vehicle that has both the science and looks cool, that’s a tough nut. So Daniel held his own. It was at those moments that I realized I had someone working with me who could be doing his own thing. And so very shortly after that he went off and started doing his own projects.
AS: Is there any set that you worked on that stands out as your favorite set?
MN: Well there weren’t so much favorite sets as there were sets within wonderful locations. You know doing the Admiral Perry story in the Arctic [Glory & Honor] was exceptionally wonderful. Like taking a komatik sled and a snowmobile 45 minutes out from camp to the place where I was building the lodge. You know in January when it’s minus fifty? Those are fun projects. You’re going along and the director’s in a komatik sled behind your snowmobile and he gets dumped out and you don’t know it. You come back 30 minutes later and go, Christ, where’s Kevin Hooks? And then you find him and he’s got a new perspective on Hollywood. That shit out there is real. You know the Inuit guide that takes you out in those locations has a gun. He’s got the gun for the polar bears and he’s got the gun for the seals in case he sees something to eat. I love going to places and bumping into another culture.