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Overview (1)

Born in New York City, New York, USA

Mini Bio (1)

A native New Yorker who worked as a Stage Lighting Designer in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the music industry, and then, after studying architecture in England and Italy, went on to do several architectural design projects in London. He entered British film as an assistant to several British Production Designers in the mid-1980s. First for Stuart Craig on Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes and Cal (both 1984) and then for Ashetton Gorton on Revolution (1985). His Production Design career began with TV commercials during the years 1985-1995 for many different Directors, including Ridley Scott and David Fincher, with whom he would go on to collaborate on feature films.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Anonymous

Trivia (1)

Graduated from New York University with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1969, The Polytechnic of Central London with a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1980 , and the Royal College of Art with a Master of Arts degree in 1982.

Personal Quotes (7)

[on communicating with the directors]...whatever the genre is, there's a kind of vocabulary of elements, whether it's lighting or shape language, to use a phrase, and how you can apply that to any genre. How the set dressing, the density of which, the detail of which, contributes to the storytelling, which comes out of commercials. You know, "How do you tell a story in 30 seconds?" There's got to be a lot of visual information, a lot of dense visual cues to people to tell a story in a very short period of time. So you apply that only in a longer version to a film. The richness of lighting, the conception of scale. You go from doing Se7en (1995) and then you end up doing Gladiator (2000) and suddenly there's a whole kind of exponential, quadratic jump of scale. And how do you cope with that? Don't ask me. You just do it. [2015]
[on his collaborations with Ridley Scott and David Fincher] I met both of them through commercials, at a stage where commercials were not only selling something but they were also very entertaining and I think set the bar for advertising. And especially Ridley. He's part of that era of British advertising when commercials were actually more interesting than a lot of the films they were making at the time. They were surreal. They were stylish or they were cinematic in concept. But at the same time you didn't have to put your name on them, so you could experiment to the point where you made a mistake and no one would know. You could use new technologies and equipment. So it was a great training ground. After the British cinema industry collapsed under Margaret Thatcher, I came here and I couldn't get arrested for American films for the fact that I had no American credits. I couldn't get in the union. So I was obliged to work on commercials because it was the only thing I was allowed to do. I had just finished doing a job with Ridley's company and I was preparing to go back to the U.K. where I was living at the time when one of his producers came up to me and said, "What are you doing?" And I said, "Well, I'm just doing my petty cash receipts and I'm traveling back to London." She said, "No you're not. You're coming over to Propaganda with me because I've got a job with David Fincher and they need a designer because there was an illness and the guy that was supposed to do it wasn't physically able to do it." So it was an emergency. That was how I met Fincher and I worked on several commercials with him for a while, and then suddenly out of the blue came this project called Se7en (1995), which was an indie film at the time. And then Brad Pitt came along and he had a limo in his contract and the limo had a union driver. So anybody on the film had to be in the union consequently. I was already on the film under contract so I got unionized. (...) And that's how I got to work with Ridley because the next thing I know I'm in the union and I can work with him on features. Talk about lucky breaks. That was my lucky break. [2015]
[on protecting the integrity of your design] The Counselor (2013) was a small movie. I loved "The Counselor." I think it's one of Ridley's best. Just listen to the dialogue. It's literature. It's Cormac McCarthy world, the ambiguity of it. The non-resolution of the story and the characters. It's typical of his universe. I love all that world. Unfortunately I think it wasn't to the taste of a modern audience. It was a little bit too literate and too obscure and too unresolved. But there were six people in the art department doing all of that. We're all doing everything. That was fun. It was more fun than doing, say, Kingdom of Heaven (2005), which is probably the biggest production we did, or Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), with a huge art department and several countries with dozens and dozens in the art department. You lose the intimacy and the control and people step outside the box all the time and before you can stop them. They're turning the concepts on you, which is human nature to a large group. You set up certain design parameters, rules of the world you're trying to create, and then people are always trying to add their own personal take on it and it usually diverges from your own. And if you set up rules of color palette and lighting and sort of proportion ideas of shape and people start embellishing those things, then you lose the integrity of the design. And the audience senses it. In simple terms it just gets very mixed up and confused, whereas if you stay faithful to the rules that you've established - for example, in The Martian (2015), the color palette is white and black and silver and gold and orange. Why? Because those are the colors that are functional and practical to do with solar and cosmic radiation shielding, and the materials that are to do with weight and strength and tolerance of extreme temperature. So there's always that. People will start adding color because they like color and they get bored with the same palette. But if you look at the movie, I mean even the planet is black and orange. [2015]
So the more you talk about the specifics of the narrative, the more constrained you are in terms of your design, which I love. [2015]
[on The Martian (2015)] We built it in Budapest in the Korda Studios, which has the biggest - the reason we went there was because it has the biggest stage in the world currently. It's as big an area as the advanced stage in Pinewood, the previous record holder. But it's 20-odd feet higher. So we also could then put up the biggest green screen in the world, a four-walled green screen. It was enough space to do a big Martian landscape, drive our rover around at speed, reset, go right around, build our habitat and later put our ascent vehicle legs. [2015]
[on solving The Martian (2015)'s design problems] We all attended group meetings almost every day and sat around with physical models of set concepts or looked at digital animations based on these concepts with Ridley and everybody as a team to try and figure out how to make the film. And one of the biggest conundrums, at least for me and the visual effects department and the stunt department, was the gravity wheel and how to get them off the bridge and down the rabbit hole and into the rotating wheel where they would achieve gravity. And that's really the only way you can do it currently, at least, you know, in a vacuum of space. And how to do that, to have them flying around going down these tubes into those little pods of the rec room or the gymnasium? And then there were two others that were implied to give it balance, because you must maintain the center of gravity of an interplanetary vehicle. You can't have like an asymmetric design. So we had to have two more, but we presumed that would be like a science lab, that may be sleeping quarters. But we weren't scripted in those. We could have been. Anyway, how to do that? So we scratched our heads. We looked at Kubrick's gravity wheel, the famous Ferris wheel set where you see Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood running [in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)]. And we tried to figure out how they did it. We couldn't because of the scale of the diameter that Ridley wanted and the size of the Hermes, which was, you know, 200-plus yards. It's like two football fields long. So the wheel in proportion is quite large. It was over 65 feet in diameter on the interior. So you're talking about a big wheel. Kubrick's wheel - we looked at the footage - was built on the biggest stage at the time and was about 40-odd feet high. So that was too small for us. We looked and looked and looked at his footage and particularly Dariusz [cinematographer Dariusz Wolski] and I were watching it and there was one part of the sequence where Keir Dullea goes around and comes down the shaft out of the core and goes down the shaft into the wheel, much as we did. And when it gets around the back of the core there's a little stutter in the camera, just imperceptible. But it's there, and when you slow it down you can see that there's like a jump, so we surmised that they stopped the camera, stopped the wheel, reset and then carried on. So then it came: "We don't need to go around. We can do 180 and we have computer control wire rigs and we can time the move and the movement of the set piece so they arrive in perfect unison and go down the rabbit hole." Then we pick them up on a different set, which is this full-sized compartment that was quite big and rotated, I think, through 45 degrees on a hydraulic gimbal, which was smooth and variable speed and didn't shudder just because it was hydraulically moved. No gears, no cables. So you could just stop it on a dime and nothing would move. [2015]
Do your research. Do your homework because it all pays off in the end. You're only as good as the people that you work with.

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