Sometimes we end up constructing more than what’s written. I always refer back to my Batcave [in Batman v Superman]. The Batcave was a huge set, with thousands of possibilities of shooting. From one room you could see through three of four other rooms because they were made of glass. But the movie is not about the Batcave. It’s not about trying to sell “Great Design,” it’s about trying to tell the story of Batman. As a designer, you’re going to try to do a great design but at the end of the day maybe a third of that’s going to be used. Because the story doesn’t require more than that. But you still have to build it. And if you build it and don’t see it, this is where the little ego of the designer says, Oh my God I wish we’d seen this! I wish we’d seen that! Every designer will tell you the same story. I wish they’d shot it this way or that way. But you look back at it later and the movie’s amazing. Are we making a documentary on the Batcave? No, you have to tell the story. So you step back and you realize that this is what you were here for, to help make this story work.
The other thing that sometimes happens is that it will go the other way around, where suddenly another set you didn’t think much about ends up getting featured by the director. Ultimately you need to really understand that this is not your movie, it is the director’s movie. You do the best work you can and just let it go.
AS: What do you think about the recent use of the Unreal video game engine for in-camera visual effects that require very little post production work?
PT: It’s insane. We’re all trying to get into that now. But it’s not a cheap way to do things. If you do this you have to design the whole movie upfront, in 3D, rendered with textures. A lot of movies are going to start considering this. It’s a great way of working but you have to be aware of how to handle it. You have to create sets based on that concept. The studios have to agree to a huge upfront design phase. But the thing that’s amazing is the quality of it. It’s stunning! It’s definitely the way of the future.
AS: Are you still directing?
PT: I’m directing all the time. But I’m not directing all the time. I’ve got three projects I’m directing and I’m not even talking about my personal project in development. New Pennsylvania is the closest one. It’s a sci-fi thing based on a best-seller called Pennsylvania by Michael Bunker.
When I directed Underworld: Rise of the Lycans it did quite well for a small movie. It made close to a hundred million dollars and it was my first film. It was well received, with good critical reviews and the audience liked it. To me it’s far from being a masterpiece, I was thrown into it with little time to prep, but I had the best time. And after that I began to get directing offers. But as a director you start a project and you can be working on it forever and the thing still might not happen. It’s a much harder world to be in. It’s a lot of commitment that could potentially lead to nothing. So I’ve been developing the things I believe in and still doing my production design and having a blast of a life.