Guy Hendrix Dyas
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.
AS: You’ve told this many times before but what was it like creating those Penrose stairs?
GHD: The Penrose staircase is based on an optical illusion made famous by some of Escher’s drawings. It’s an ever ascending staircase which can never be built or made functional in the real world which is why it was so much fun to create as a set. However, perfecting it took a lot of research and development and we used traditional models as well as computer models to determine its exact dimensions as well as the camera positions needed to pull off the illusion. We ended up building our Penrose staircase set in the UK inside the atrium of an empty office building, the actors walked up the staircase to its highest point and the final shot was created thanks to clever camera work.
AS: What was it like working with Christopher Nolan? Is he a visual director?
GHD: Chris ordinarily works with the same crew but as his production designer was unavailable Chris sought out a new designer for Inception and I was lucky to be chosen for the job. I’ve been a fan of Chris’ since Memento and there’s no question that he’s an extremely visual director, actually all good story tellers are visual people. One of the most exciting aspects of working with Chris on this film in particular is that he has a genuine interest in architecture and film design and he’s said that he would’ve liked to have been an architect had he not become a filmmaker.
AS: I hear you’re working on Steven Spielberg’s latest- what type of project is it?
GHD: It’s a science fiction film, a very ambitious project based on an upcoming novel by Daniel H. Wilson, a talented young writer who also has a Ph. D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University. It’s great source material and everyone is very excited about adapting it for the big screen.