Grant Major

Grant Major

I do feel there is a problem with post-production work going on after the production designers leave the show. I want to be able to move on to vis effects after the film and personally follow though on designs that are being done. Because such a lot of the film’s design now happens in this vis effects world. It’s kind of awkward leaving something like that to someone who can do whatever they want after me. I prefer having control.

AS: With Lord of the Rings was it the case that the visual effects went on for months after you left?
GM: That was the case. It’s not good being away but it was such a long project with such a lot of pickups in the latter stages that I was moving very far away from it anyway. I knew a lot of those vis effects people and I knew that it was all in good hands. Also, WETA was a great place to just go in and have a look at how things were going. And Peter’s a very visually-oriented guy. He never gives it away completely to a vis effects house.

On King Kong I had a visual effects art department, which is a step up from The Lord of the Rings arrangement. We had a little art department in WETA Digital and we were still designing things during that post-production phase. I was able to keep up with what was going on that way.

For example, a lot of the virtual New York sets that we did for King Kong had a lot of graphic work on them. Sign writing and everything New York used to have back in the thirties. A lot of that was going on during that post-production phase. It worked out quite well having an art director in there.

AS: You mentioned that Peter Jackson is a very visual director. Does he follow the designs being developed in the early stages?
GM: He’s very refreshingly collaborative. He’s really into listening to what people think. For example, he’ll often have little competitions with pre-vis artists to come up with great little action sequences that help tell his story. But at the same time he’s the last word on all the artwork that we produce and everything is done to present to him. He also has a very, very long memory. It’s incredible considering the length of time that these projects take to design. He remembers things he’s told us a year and a half ago. He’s both collaborative and also a micromanager of all aspects of the film.

AS: What has kept you guys working together so long?
GM: Well, I’m not doing The Hobbit, that’s being done by one of my art directors. But before that it was well over ten years on the same projects. When we met I’d been designing for not even four and a half years and Peter had been doing these small, very cheap “splatter movies”. Very wacky horror films. His producer asked me to work on a film called Heavenly Creatures which was made on the south island of New Zealand and we got on really well. We basically rose through the ranks together I suppose. Heavenly Creatures was really successful so he asked me to do the next one. And that was pretty successful so he asked me to do Lord of the Rings and that was successful so he asked me to do King Kong and so on and so forth. He has loyalties to the people he has employed before and we’re friends.

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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: tom@artstars.us