AS: How about Terry Gilliam? I also interviewed David Warren, who was nominated for an Oscar for Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.
DF: David was my art director for Hugo. He actually started with me, when Terry Gilliam introduced me to him. He also did a piece of Interview with the Vampire. And then I called him for Sweeney Todd. Then I designed another movie with him, Defective Detective, which we never made. I designed five movies for Terry and we did only one! He called me many times. I’m friends with Terry. I’m very close with Terry and I’m sorry it’s difficult for him to make movies sometimes. But what can you say.
AS: On Sweeney Todd you worked with Tim Burton who’s also known to do a lot of drawings. Tim Burton recently had an exhibit of his drawings here in LA.
DF: I went to see the opening at the MOMA. He made many drawings. But with me he made nothing! I’m not kidding! Before Sweeney Todd I designed another movie for Tim Burton, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, which after four months we didn’t make. I designed the entire movie with everything ready to start to build and then the producer said, Oh Dante, I’m so sorry. I don’t know why. And then Tim said, Dante, would you like to do another movie, it’s a small movie called Sweeney Todd. I said, Of course, anything you want, and I started to design the movie. And then I came to London with the drawings that I did in Rome and he said, Good, good, and we had a very nice relationship.
I remember one day Tim came to see me in my office, which was in front of his office in Pinewood. He brought a yellow piece of paper and he said, You have to do the window like this. And then he looked at my table and he saw I already had sketches of what he asked me to do and he said Oh, my God, you already designed this. I said, Tim, can you please sign your sketch? He said, Oh Dante, I love you.
He would go to see the set many times without me, by himself during lunchtime. He’d just walk around.
AS: I loved those sets. How much of the London sets were greenscreens?
DF: When Tim first called me about this movie he said, You know Dante, we have to do a lot of greenscreen because we don’t have enough money. So you have to design all the sets but sometimes you have to not build too much. And then I said, Okay, okay, okay, and then after a few weeks I said, Listen, how much do you have for the visual effects? He said, Something like 15 million. I had 2 million and a half missing so I said, Why don’t you give me part of the visual effects money so I can build something more? And then maybe it’s better for the actors than shooting against a greenscreen. So we agreed and the producers said yes. So we built almost sixty-five percent of the movie. It’s a real set. London, the market, the square where he lived, the chocolate shop, where the barbershop was, everything was built to scale.
For the visual effects that we did use, I created a book with all the images with Tim. It was like a storybook for the VFX supervisor. He did a great job.