What’s also really fun working on a musical with Rob and John is that when we design a musical number, because they have a Broadway background, we build it all for real. Meaning what you’re seeing on camera is all physically happening in real time like it would be in a Broadway show. So if a drape comes up and then a ramp comes out and a staircase drops in from the skies and set pieces come in from the left and the right, from the wings, it’s all physically happening in real time. We always have run the number all the way through. So the first time we film it’s the entire number run all the way through from beginning to end just as though you were sitting in a Broadway theater watching a Broadway show. And that’s really unusual but it’s also just been great training. You know the fun thing about being a production designer on movies is that you get to learn all these new things, every show you learn something new. And to have this sort of background in how a Broadway show is run and lit is very exciting and all comes from Rob and John.
AS: Is Rob Marshall a very visual person?
JM: Extremely visual. So when we sit down in the rehearsal hall we’ll just start talking and I’ll come in with ideas. He did something which was, I thought, really, really clever. The first feature film he directed was Chicago and he cast the crew exactly the same way he cast the cast. With as much effort. So he put together a little team that included Dion Beebe and Colleen Atwood and myself that were all people that had an absolute meeting of the minds with him. We have incredibly similar tastes. And when we come together to talk about something we generally are coming in with the same frame of reference and the same sort of ideas and if not we get excited about something new and we sort of riff off of one another. So it’s a really nice, creative team.
AS: Do you ever do any pre-vis with SketchUp or anything else with 3D models?
JM: Absolutely. All the new technology is just fantastic. And we do a little of everything. I do still keep with some of the old foam-core models. Because I find that it’s something that people have fun with. I had a really interesting experience. I did the film Wanted in the Czech Republic. The director is Timur Bekmambetov and Timur owns a giant visual effects company in Moscow. And he brought his team with him. They were absolutely amazing in that I could do a little floor-plan sketch on a cocktail napkin, like the worst thing you’re ever supposed to do, with elevations, take a picture of it with my phone, email it to Moscow, and the next day we’d have a beautiful 3D model you could walk through. It was just brilliant. And that’s how he worked. Everything for him was in that 3D world. And we were doing a set and I explained to him that I was going to build a foam-core model of it and get the video camera and put it in and he just looked at me with a smile on his face. Like I was a caveman. And he goes, Really? You’re going to do that?
And I said, Let me just do one and see what it’s like. It was an extension onto an existing building so we built the side of the building, and again, the simplest model you could ever imagine. And then we built what we were going to be building onto it. There were going to be some very big, wide-shots that linked into helicopter shots. So I set up the model in the middle of the big central meeting room with the big-screen TV and with the little video camera and I had the little figures and I actually made cars and all the little action props and brought him in and showed it to him. I showed him how the helicopter shot would work. I held the little video camera in my hand and moved it very primitively through doorways and over towers. And he just looked at me again with that smirk on his face like I was just a caveman. So here is the guy who owns the biggest visual effects company in Moscow sitting with this guy from America with his little pieces of foam and his little video camera and we just all laughed because he’s such a nice guy.