So let’s say I’m going into a movie like this, I just got the call, I got the job. First, I’d do my homework. I’ll do the research based on my idea of the movie, do my own kickass visuals, with great mood-boards, to impress the director with something like that. Next I’d hire some top-of-the-line concept artists. And obviously a top-of-the-line art director who has worked on big movies. That person will look at two things, they’ll look at their next salary and also how to keep working at the level they’re currently working at. They want to work on the next big movie. If you are someone that’s enjoyable to work with, and someone who knows what they want, you don’t have to be an incredible illustrator or a concept artist.
You might say, Well, I want to bring some of my team from the smaller films. If you want to do that, you can do that, but they should also frame themselves with people who have worked on big movies. Big movies are not necessarily more difficult than small movies but it’s a different way of thinking. You need many more people to make those projects work.
And lastly, don’t be afraid to be humble. Don’t be afraid to say, Hey guys, I’ve done this in the past but I haven’t done it to this level, what do you guys think? When I did my first movie as a director I had no directing experience whatsoever. Len Wiseman [Underworld series creator/director/producer] came to me and he said, At the beginning of my career I had no idea about lighting, I barely knew what kind of light a 10K was. So I took my little sketch pad and sketched my idea and said, I would like this, I just don’t know the term for it.
I’ve done the same thing for my movies and people reacted in a very positive way. You have a vision and they respect that. You don’t try to make believe you know everything. When I designed Independence Day with Oliver Scholl we both started as concept artists. We both came from nowhere and then suddenly we’re production designing a movie of that scale together.
What we did was, we hired James Teegarden, who was one of the top art directors at the time. He’s one of the best I’ve ever met. The director knew Jim was the backbone of the art department. He knew that the set would happen because that art director knew what he was doing. We never tried to make people believe we were in charge out there, you know what I mean? We designed, Jim made sure it happened. Stay humble, people will respect you for that.
AS: On those bigger films with ten or more art directors do you ever get a producer coming up and asking, What are all these art directors doing?
PT: First of all, those discussions happen pretty early on. If the movie is big enough you’re going to need people. Your supervising art director becomes the person that oversees everything, not just technically but artistically as well. He or she can only spend so much time on each individual set every day. It then becomes clear that you’ll need to have somebody else be the next person in line that’s going to be specifically dedicated to those two big-scale sets or that one big-scale set.