Guy Hendrix Dyas is a rock star in the world of film design: he designed Christopher Nolan’s Inception, Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Terry Gilliam’s The Brother’s Grimm, Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and is now hard at work on Spielberg’s latest, Robopocalypse. After studies at the Royal College of Art in London and Chelsea College of Art and Design he went from industrial designer to visual effects art director to concept artist and finally to production designer where he quickly rose to the top of the field…
AS: I was amazed to hear how much of Inception was practical versus CG. Is it true that the foundations of the fortress in the snow were made out of ice?
GHD: To our surprise many people have commented on how they thought the hospital was a real location but this bunker-like fortress doesn’t exist. Very early on Chris and I made a crude clay model of this set, Chris wanted to create something akin to what he’d seen in some of his favorite Bond films, that’s how we came up with a mix between military, governmental architecture and Panopticon prison design. Very quickly it became apparent to us that this set would have to be divided into two separate builds. The interiors were built on stage in Los Angeles while the multi-level exterior was built at approximately 7,000 feet in altitude.
Chris chose an amazing part of the high mountains of Calgary which was quite remote but the final result was worth the effort, seeing our large set built against such a beautiful natural backdrop really made our construction crew proud. The beauty of this natural site also meant that concrete foundations weren’t an option so instead, to anchor the set, we dropped large wood posts into holes filled with water and let them freeze into place. Using ice to stabilize the foundations was something that I’d never used before but it worked amazingly well. We started building the exterior portion of the set in Calgary with a Canadian construction crew in late summer so as to be able to have it completed before the heavy snow set in for the winter. Despite a few blizzards we were really fortunate to have perfect weather conditions and during the shoot we benefited from real snow blowing across the set.
AS: And the train that runs down the middle of the street- that was real?
GHD: Chris Nolan uses CGI very cleverly and for Inception shooting in real locations and using practical sets was important whenever possible. We knew from the start that the freight train sequence was going to be shot 90% in camera and require us to have a real train driving through the streets of downtown Los Angeles smashing cars. The art department worked in tandem with the special effects and stunt departments to make it happen. We molded parts from a real freight train and assembled them onto an extended truck chassis, the front was reinforced and weighed down so as to enable it to stay on its course despite obstacles.