Kim Sinclair

Kim Sinclair

While we were building the sets we used to do video conferences with Jim. I would actually walk around the sets with a video camera plugged into my laptop and send that back and Jim would give us his comments. Some time before the shoot Jim came down and we had him full time in New Zealand. It was a two-way process with Jim but basically he said, Okay here’s the idea, make it work. We were really getting it out of his head and onto the screen.

Some of the sets, particularly the aircraft, were quite challenging. They were quite lucky in LA in that they had “blue sky design” -they could design something and not worry about how to build it! So we’d get it and go, Holy cow, how are we going to build this? We couldn’t change it because in many cases it had become motion capture assets. And we’d have performance parameters . If a door was a door it had to be a door. It could look like anything but it had to be that exact size, that shape, that place in space. The pivot points couldn’t be changed or the spatial volume. So that was quite challenging. We pulled out hair out over that one.

It was also challenging because we were working to a budget. People will say it was the most expensive film ever made but every day we didn’t do something that we wanted to do because we couldn’t afford it. We often had to find cheaper ways of doing things. Jim is very practical. Giving him two choices he would sometimes say, Which one is cheaper? Or, Which has the best production value? You would say, Well this looks slightly better but it’s gonna cost a lot more and he would say, Look, I don’t think the value is going to be on screen. Go with the cheaper option. It was quite fulfilling to work with a producer/director -someone who was wearing a director’s hat but who was also conscious of cost.

AS: You hear all kinds of different stories of what James Cameron’s like to work with.
KS: He was very good in New Zealand. He might have been “good Jim”. He was very good to work with because it was his world we were building. He was very good at communicating what he wanted. And very practical. I got on really well with him. In fifteen months I got shouted at twice and apologized to once. So that’s pretty good! Jim would seek me out, pat me on the back and say, This is a great set, I’m loving it. I couldn’t ask for anything better, good work. I don’t know how many years I’ve been doing this but it’s quite unusual for a director to publicly seek the designer or art director on set. They might think of it but not say it. Jim would often say it on set in front of crew, which is nice.

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About the Interviewer

Tom Lisowski is a production designer who has designed swamp mazes shot in China, crumbling cliffs in Utah, future arenas in South Central, dilapidated tenements and twisted laboratories under luxurious mansions... William Anthony is a Los Angeles-based commercial and editorial photographer specializing in portraiture, lifestyle and documentary imagery... Guest photographer Nelson Cragg is an award-winning cinematographer who shoots and directs television, feature films, and commercial projects. Contact ArtStars: