It was luck. I was packing up the archive boxes for Interview with the Vampire, everyone else had left the movie, and I was literally putting the lid on the last box when Roy came in the door and said, Hello, my name’s Roy what do you do? I’ll talk to my producer. You can stay on. I need somebody running around for me. If I’d literally packed that last box off and gone to my car I’d never have met Roy. And then I’d never have met John. It’s as strange as that.
AS: Any advice for people just coming into the industry?
DW: It’s interesting because the industry’s going through a sort of minor technological revolution and at certain points in the film industry’s history, especially in Britain, people have been able to capitalize on that and move up very quickly. At the moment there’s a big question about the amalgamation of visual effects and the art department.
My advice to anybody coming in would be, Be creative, be imaginative. Learn the current technology to the highest level you can because you’ll move a lot faster. Old guys like me look at people that are twenty-five who are very, very fluid in current software and say, I need that guy with me on the next job because I haven’t got a clue how that works. You know it is as simple as that.
The art department still has so many different pathways within it. I think designer’s obviously what everyone wants to be but still you can make a good career out of being a good sketch artist or a visualizer. You can make a career out of being a set decorator. You can make a good career out of being an art director. You have to make that decision at some point. Because the trouble is any one film only needs one production designer or possibly two, like we had. But you’ll always need more art directors and you’ll need a lot of set designers and you’ll possibly need two set decorators. You know, the further down the pile the more possibility you’ve got of getting a job in the beginning days.
AS: So get in there with one of those jobs and then make your choice…
DW: Sometimes it’s by a process of natural selection. Designer Steve Scott who designed Hellboy once told me, Never be good at anything you don’t want to do the rest of your life. If you’re good at designing you’ll be a production designer for the rest of your life but it is true there are people that are phenomenal sketch artists and they get very well paid for it, but they end up on those rails. And a few, like Robert Stromberg or Rick Heinrichs, they break out and do other things.
AS: Do you plan on doing more jobs as production designer or as an art director?
DW: I’m art directing this film for Dante but I thought to myself, Well, Dante’s a very, very good designer and Martin Scorcese’s a very, very good director. Martin’s probably never going to use another designer again apart from Dante. So I thought that this was actually a good thing to do. Dante said to me, You should be designing. Please do my movie but after that I never want to see you again! It’s been written on the wall for me now. I’m going to do this film and then I’m going to see what happens afterwards.