Nathan Crowley

Nathan Crowley

It usually takes me five concept models to get to the final design. Usually by then all the skin off my hands is gone because of the glue. The smell of glue is so strong I have to leave the garage and go out. I design them and then I give them to my 3D guy to draw up. I’m really proud of the Batmobile, the Pod and the Bat. The Pod was the hardest thing to come up with.

AS: What would you say are the ideal characteristics a production designer should have? Is being able to make models a requirement?
NC: I always believe you should be a jack of all trades. You have to have a love of design. The love of story. You have to love film. Films like David Lean’s Great Expectations affected meTo me I get a lot of my inspiration from artists. Exhibitions. Museums. You have to be aware of the world. You should always be looking. It’s about being adventurous. How can you describe something visually? Really engage someone emotionally through visuals? How can you do that? I think my strong point is scale. Sarah Greenwood’s strong point is color. We all come to it from a different perspective.

I like being able to do things myself. I can get into a film before we start preproduction. I can explore it. I like not having to have a ton of people around to begin with. All the tools should just come naturally like a writer using a pen to write, you should just be able to access them. It helps you move faster.

AS: What advice would you have for someone just starting out in the business?
NC: If I was starting out with the knowledge I have now I’d be looking for young directors with great stories. I think those guys are usually writer/directors. You need to find people you want to work with and help them. Many directors starting out have no idea how a designer can help them. Young directors that have never had a production designer open their eyes. You have to make yourself be invaluable.

AS: What do you like about designing movies?
NC: I just get exciting by stories. We were going to do a film on Alan Turing, a mathematician who lived during the Second World War and came up with the idea around 1920 that machines think. What I love about film is that then you say, Okay, let’s explore Math in film. How the brain thinks. Let’s look at nature. Repetitive patterns. Patterns in snow, footsteps, rhythm. We went down this road, this tangent that brings you back around into the story and you add that to the design.

You ask how people live. How does this character live? It’s like being a detective. Then you tell a visual, emotional story with themes that underrun the characters.

AS: What do you think is the future of production design?
NC: I’ve worked on a lot of very digital films and I remember the art department being terrified we’re all going to be out of work. I was like, What are you guys talking about? The most valuable tool you have is being creative and there are not that many people who are. Our job is never going away because people want ideas. No one is going to replace the idea. Design is about ideas and taste. You can’t replace that. That is why you’re valuable. Design will never change. The Art Director’s Guild has nothing to worry about. Because people will always want someone who comes in with a different way of looking at things. Just keep retraining. Keep up with technology.

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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