Kim Sinclair won an Academy Award as Set Decorator/Supervising Art Director on the record-breaking blockbuster Avatar this year and has also designed numerous films, all from his home base in New Zealand. Currently working on Tintin with Steven Spielberg, Kim lives on the cutting edge where virtual and practical sets come together.
AS: On Avatar your primary involvement was the physical sets?
KS: We shot all the live-action in Avatar here in New Zealand. If at any time, in any frame, there were humans either in the foreground or the background, any humans at all, they were shot in Wellington. We provided a lot of large sets. The vehicles, the weapons, the props, the dressing. It was all pretty straightforward but the trick was the integration into the digital world. There were shots that were purely digital and there were shots that were purely live action. However, a large percentage of the movie featured digital characters in real environments or real people in digital environments. And that was really the challenge.
AS: What was your process collaborating with Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg?
KS: Rob Stromberg headed up what we used to call the virtual art department. In LA and he had a team of designers and they designed the look of the planet, the look of the vegetation, and they headed up the creature designs. They did some 3D modeling but basically that went to Weta Digital in New Zealand. That became the virtual world, the digital world. Meanwhile Rick Carter headed up a design art department in LA and designed the sets and the vehicles. There was overlap and integration between these departments but basically they designed the traditional, built environments. That information then all came down to me in New Zealand. I had one meeting with Jim [Cameron] in LA during preproduction but for the most part Rick dealt with him in preproduction because they were both in LA. Rick used to come down to New Zealand about once every three weeks for about two or three days at a time.