Nathan Crowley

Nathan Crowley

When I look back at films like The Parallax View they have great scale. You can have a man running through Madison Square Garden. You get huge scale very easily. Obviously the scene has to demand that. Scale is very lonely.

You often have to fight producers and ADs. Oh we’ll just pick up that scene while we’re over here because they’re just having a little conversation. I call it throwing away a great opportunity. Producers and ADs will say, Oh, well, it’s an eighth of a page! But some of the greatest visual scenes in film have no dialog.

Yeah, let’s throw it away. Let’s throw it away somewhere great! For me when I try to get scale in architecture I do it with real places. It’s very hard to achieve scale by building a set. You’ll never get the scale you get with real architecture. Combine the two.

AS: How do you feel about people trying to create scale by doing a small build and extending everything with CG?
NC: To me I rarely believe it. It doesn’t feel right. There’s no atmosphere in it. Like the bulbs in The Prestige. A lot of people would say you could do that digitally. We did that for real with hundreds of light bulbs in a field. And then we got fog that night. When they went on the camera operator was saying, I can’t see this! But it was the most phenomenal shot in the film. The fog gave it emotion -something unexpected that you cannot plan digitally.

AS: Someone mentioned that the Bat vehicle in The Dark Knight Rises was really sixty floors up.
NC: You put it up on the real roof in New York so when they get out of it they’re really sixty floors up. You have the conversation with Catwoman and Batman with the vehicle behind them with a real view of NYC and then you do the landing digitally. You do the taking off digitally. But you have the real thing in the real landscape with the real lighting. When you do greenscreen set extensions on a sound stage what are you matching? You’re not matching anything but artificial light on a set and a plate reference.

When we’re in the garage we just assume everything’s real and there are no VFX. That’s where we start and then we see what trouble we’re in. Obviously there are plenty of VFX shots but we try not to start in that mind set.

AS: How involved are you with designing what the Bat looks like and the various other vehicles?
NC: They’re the first things I work on. I usually design them in the garage using models. I designed all of them. It’s a great way to start a process. It’s just me and Chris. Again, he should be writing but he comes down to hover over my shoulder while I’m gluing this shit together. Do you really want to put that there? It’s like, Chris, leave me alone! He just doesn’t want to sit down and write. Like every kid he wants to be playing with model kits in the workshop.

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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