Grant Major

AS: Have you been mostly working in New Zealand since we last talked?
GM: Predominantly, but not exclusively. Mainly I’ve become a New Zealand go-to person for the movies that come here.

AS: Were your movies like the Meg and X-Men: Apocalypse shot there as well?
GM: Apocalypse was shot in Montreal but The Meg was shot here in New Zealand.

AS: Do you still tend to bounce back and forth between big budget movies with tons of visual effects to smaller, local movies?
GM: Yes, as much as I can. I have predominantly been doing these larger films but I also try to support the New Zealand film industry here.

AS: With the importance of visual effects increasing does it ever seem like a VFX house might take over the actual design of a movie?
GM: The Production Designer normally comes on very early and ought to be involved in and designing those visual effects. If they are going to appear in the movie it’s really the production designer’s responsibility. We have to really wrestle that into our own camp. Production designers need to be able to actually work on visual effects. We need to be able to produce these things. I know it’s a different skill set but it’s essentially part of the production design process.

AS: When we talked before, we discussed how a lot of visual effects can go on after the production designer leaves.
GM: The way I work is that I hand over to the visual effect supervisor a turn-key design so everything’s been conceptualized and modeled in 3D as required. All research files go with that, all the texture files, color choices and everything else. For example, on Mulan the art department produced the complete visual effects set extension work that was required. Now, I expect some things to change and some things to be massaged as they go, but with all the information they’ve been given they have more than enough material.

AS: Hannah Beachler talked about doing the same thing on Black Panther. Designing the whole city of Wakanda before the 3D models were handed over to visual effects.
GM: That’s our job, you know? The design needs to be cohesive. Everything in proportion to each other. It’s important that we sort of stamp our personality and our techniques on the visual effects area. It’s a tool, really. It’s a tool for visually expressing time and place and what have you, so we need to take control of that.

AS: On a movie like The Meg were you involved in the design of the Meg creature itself or was that a whole different team?
GM: It was a mixture of both. Because it interacts with the submarines and it interacts with the big marine biology lab in the middle of the ocean, we had to have an understanding of what the Meg is, what its actual size is, what its look is and how it functions. So yes, we did model that up and ultimately those designs were taken to visual effects. They developed the skin texture and all the finer points, but we started the ball rolling with what it actually looks like.

7 comments

  • Tom, this is a wonderful blog, thanks for the info.

    Do you have any advice for aspiring production designers? I live in Philadelphia and recently finished architecture school but I very much want to design films.

  • Glad to hear you like the blog! The best advice I’ve found is to just get out there and start doing it. Work on low budget videos, short films, commercials, anything you can get your hands on for low money. A lot of these directors will call you when they start doing features. And then call you again when the features get bigger budget. K.K. Barrett started with commercials and music videos for Spike Jonze, Grant Major started on smaller movies with Peter Jackson, and Jack Fisk rented a van and brought his own tools out to Colorado to go do Terence Malick’s Badlands. He not only found an auteur to work with throughout his career, he also met his future wife, Sissy Spacek.

    Also, you may want to move to LA or New York or anywhere there are schools like USC, AFI, NYU where talented directors are just starting out and looking for designers….

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  • Thanks so much for the response.

    I’m actually working on a short film with an old friend of mine who just graduated from USC and is trying to become a director so I guess I am on the right track! He lives in and will be shooting the film in San Diego but we’ve been able to work together so far by way of email and it’s been a lot of fun. I guess I will see what comes of it! If nothing else I’ll have some material to add to my portfolio.

    Thanks again!

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