Case Study 2: Discussions with Production Designer Guy Hendrix Dyas

Guy Hendrix Dyas discusses aspects of the design for Inception:-

Dyas also pointed out a telling sign of Nolan’s directorial philosophy: if you look at the accompanying image, you will see scaffolding supporting the stairs. Most other directors would use a green screen to create the effect: Nolan wanted the stairs built, and then used visual effects only to remove the scaffolding and complete the illusion. “Only about 5 percent of the scenes in this film actually use green screen,” Dyas says. “You’re talking about a film that has real rotating corridors, elevator shafts that were built sideways in warehouses so that it would appear 300 feet long. We have tilting bars, real trains smashing into cars.”  Guy Hendrix Dyas discussing design for Inception(LOPEZ, J., 2011)

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Image available at http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2011/01/inception [sourced on 17/05/2014]

In a film that is so ground breaking in terms of CGI and  post production techniques the statement that only 5% of scenes were green screen is surprising. It’s an important point to make when looking at what the designer has to do at the pre-production stage when dealing with the newest technology; that green screen and CGI is only used when really needed.

The early stages of Inception’s design process started in Director Christopher Nolan’s garage with Dyas creating a 60 ft scroll depicting the history of 20th century architecture. This became the foundation for the design of the film because architecture was so important to the overall ideas surrounding the story. It was all about building landscapes within the dreams of the main character and reflecting his state of mind. Much of this was done through the architectural landscape that they inhabited  with scenes depicting DiCaprio’s character.

“You’ll notice at as it stretches back, the buildings get taller. I imagine Cobb and his wife started off on the beach, building buildings that were homages to their heroes of architecture. As they built more and more, they were building their own 3D museum of the most stunning architecture.” Discussing how the architecture influenced the film (LOPEZ, J., 2011)

When Cobb returns with Ariadne to the dream city, however, they find it in total disrepair—again a design concept with a specific idea behind it: “The mere fact that they were eroding away into the sea, and the sea was eating into these buildings, was another visual method of showing that he was losing his mind,” he says. Dyas and Nolan discussed the look and feel of architecture that had been abandoned, specifically at the site of the Chernobyl accident, and had the good fortune of coming across a housing site in disrepair during a drive around Tangiers, which became the final set for the abandoned dream city. (LOPEZ, J., 2011)

The film is full of metaphors and symbolism such as the crumbling buildings representing the loss of mind. Visual metaphors are another aspect of design that is discussed at the pre-viz stage of production. It’s important that the visual clues match the story that is being told, whether they are subtle or not. Inception was full of these visuals such as the maze like Penrose steps; a Escher inspired set that was actually built in reality. This was to echo the ‘fetish-like obsession with stairs.

“We went through 12 different physical cardboard models of the Penrose steps before we came up with something that worked,” Dyas says. “Once we did that, we created a digital model and started looking at what camera lenses would make this look like an Escher painting. Only then did we start building a staircase. Dyas discusses the steps. (LOPEZ, J., 2011)

They continue the maze like feel of the film with many of the interiors such as the Great Hall, with levels and steps and included other visual symbolism such as the use of lanterns. Dyas pointed out that in Japan lanterns are a symbol of lost souls, so this was incorporated into the design.

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Image available at http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2011/01/inception [sourced on 17/05/2014]

What’s important to note at this stage is that design is not all about creating a set for the actors to inhabit, it’s also about world creation and visual pointers to what the Director envisages ultimately what the characters are feeling, how that translates on-screen. In my set design I wanted the government buildings such as the Medical Research Centre to have a clean, more ordered feel compared to the dirty streets of London. It needed to feel imposing in some way. There is also a claustrophobic feel to the entire film. The research centre is underground and had to feel like that. I kept the colours to cool blue and grey hues for the interiors apart from the arena space which has a blend of future and medieval, though the future has almost reverted back to the past in many ways. Outside, the streets have an urban look that uses green/brown colours. It’s organic but dirty and uncared for. The Medical research centre also has a church like feel with eyes being drawn upwards towards the laboratories and levels above. Science playing God. The arena that houses the Huntsmen being even deeper could be viewed as a form of hell. My street alteration also incorporates elements of symbolism with the use of eyes in the graffiti and wings of a dove. I am trying to create a cluttered suppressing environment in which you feel that you are being watched. The towers in the background with the search lights add to that, creating a prison like environment. In the book, London is walled in, no one can leave and they keep the cities and the countryside apart.

Looking at the practicalities of set building my walkway would be constructed with scaffolding very much like the Penrose steps in Inception. This would be clad but should the walkway need extra support, scaffolding poles could be CGI’d out. This would be an effective way to use CGI instead of creating an entire set digitally. Only using the technology where it is needed.

The early stages of film design are not just about research and sets, it’s about the whole philosophy of the film, world building, subtle visual messages etc. These aspects are discussed at the pre-production stage, whether CGI is used or not.

 

References:-

LOPEZ, J., Inception Production Designer Guy Dyas: “Only 5 Percent of Our Scenes Used Green Screen” Available at:- http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2011/01/inception. 2011 [Online-sourced on 17/05/2014]

 

Categories: Case Studies, MA project, Post Production, The production designer and art department | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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