AS: What are the attributes that you think a production designer should have?
PT: I think the most important aspect a production designer should have is to first of all put in his mind that he doesn’t own the design of the movie. The designer needs to do something very special. The job of the designer is not to bring his own vision to the table it’s to bring the director’s vision and that should never be forgotten. Because you don’t become a great production designer to a director if you’re just trying to impose what you’re doing. However, it’s great to suggest. It’s important to open doors to a director that maybe he hasn’t seen. But you never, never forget that this is not your vision, it’s the director’s vision. I’ve worked with some very strong visionary directors. If Dark City was directed by somebody else it would not look like what it looks like now -and why is that? It’s because the director Alex Projas was the man in charge. So I may have put ideas on the table, I may have created some direction for Alex, but ultimately the movie is his and the vision is his. That to me is the single most important thing for a designer to remember: that that vision is the vision of the director. And this means that you have to be able to communicate properly with this person.
And then the next very important step is your team. The people you work with. You have to give them space to bring something to the table. I’ve seen people who are so much in control of everything and so afraid to give away little bits and pieces. They control everything to the final stroke of a pen and I think this is a mistake. It’s important to let people bring something to the table of whatever design you do. I have a tendency to design very roughly because if it can stay rough I can give my artists a chance to bring some of their own ideas to the project. At the end of the day I believe all of us have a specific style that we repeat all the time. I do, and I have to fight that. When you bring somebody else to the table and you give them a chance to bring something to your own designs, then every one of your works has a different flavor. That to me is the essence of the job.
AS: What happens if there is a disagreement between the director and the production designer or effects?
PT: That’s a very personal question. You have to create an explanation for the director to understand why yours may be a great idea. It happens very often that the director’s going to turn around and say, You know what, actually that’s a great idea, or, You know what, I really don’t want to go there Patrick. And you have to know when to stop.
With your team it’s the same thing. When you’re working with your team give them a chance to tell you why. And maybe it will become really clear why this could be a better idea. You know you’re not working in a factory with a bunch of machines. You’re working with people who are all here to bring more to the table. Take it, work with them and I think you’re going to grow for the rest of your career. If you get stuck in your own little vision this is very limiting and not fulfilling.
patrick tatopoulus’s designs for creatures are amazing such as the beast in outlander and pitch black, its good to know those creatures will always live on in the films they appear in.