Paul Inglis on Quantum of Solace and Skyfall.
Paul Inglis was art director for the 22nd and 23rd James Bond films: Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, which were released in 2008 and 2012. He is also notable for his work in Prometheus, The Young Victoria, Children of Men and the TV series Game of Thrones. His current project is Gary Shore’s Dracula Untold.
Here he talks about his work on the James Bond films.
You’ve got a very interesting job. So how did you became an art director?
I always knew I wanted to be involved in some strand of the arts, and I also loved watching films and was fascinated by how they were made for as long as I can remember. For a long time, though, I really didn’t think there was any way I could be involved. It seemed so distant from the world I lived in. So when I left school I undertook an Art Foundation course in order to decide what I might pursue for a degree. I found that I loved the three dimensional aspects, something I hadn’t been exposed to previously, and so undertook a Graduate Degree in Industrial Design. I thought I might try and get into the physical Special Effects world, and the course taught me a lot about construction drawing, model making and computer rendering. It also opened my eyes to the potential of design decisions, and helped me to realise that the art department might be a more exciting course for me. So from there I undertook a Postgraduate Degree in Design for Film and Television at the Royal College of Art in London. It was a brilliant course and it gave me the beginnings of skill-bases that I still use to this day. It was a very vocational course, and I managed to get straight into professional art departments straight away thanks to it. From there, I gradually moved through from smaller films to bigger and more prestigious films.
What kind of relationship did you have with James Bond before you started working on the films?
As I child I had grown up with the Roger Moore era of Bond films, and saw a lot of them, from The Spy Who Loved Me onwards, in the cinema. They are in institution in Britain, but I don’t think I ever saw them as anything other than quite fun films to watch. To be honest, I was more of a science fiction fan. I only read my first Ian Fleming Bond novel whilst working on Skyfall. I had always respected the craft behind the Bond films, but never thought I would get to be part of them.
How did you get involved in Quantum of Solace (2008), your first Bond film? And how is it to be part of the Bond family?
In 2007 I was Supervising Art Director for The Young Victoria, and one of my team was Chris Lowe, who was art directing for me in that instance, but for whom I art directed several times previously when he had been supervising. Part way through the production he got a call from Dennis Gassner, who he had worked with on The Golden Compass. Dennis was designing Bond 22 (as it was at that point), and wanted Chris to be involved. It transpired that with Dennis and director Marc Forster there was going to be a lot of new blood coming to Bond. Eventually it was agreed that Chris Lowe would supervise. I still had commitments to The Young Victoria, and thought I would probably not be available in time to be part of the Bond team. As it transpired, the third act of the film was being re-written, and I became available at just the right time to take on the sets for the finale – the Perla De Las Dunas hotel. As is so often the case in film, timing and luck are major factors in getting an exciting job or a career move. You have to have the ability and the experience too, and the commitment to take advantage of the luck when it comes your way, but luck is definitely a factor.
As far as being part of the Bond family goes, it’s certainly something to be proud of and to enjoy. My dealings have been more with Barbara Broccoli, and she is amazing at looking after the crew on a very individual level.
How would you describe a workday as an art director and how would you describe the role of an art director? Some of our readers may not know the difference between an art director and a production designer – what is the main difference?
The production designer of a feature film is ultimately responsible for crafting the physical look of a film, in conjunction with the director. The Director Of Photography is then responsible for crafting the photographic look of the film. As an art director, you are there to support the production designer in achieving what he needs. This will involve making sure every aspect of the set you are responsible for is being dealt with, from taking the initial research and concept art in order to start the process of realising the finished set. This will start by creating sketch models and drawings, having conversations with other departments (stunts, special effects, visual effects) where necessary, and by continually liaising with the director and designer. There is also a budgetary aspect to the designs, so it’s important to keep the construction manager in the loop too. Over time, the designs will become refined, to the point where proper construction drawing can begin.
Every part of everything that has to be built has to be drawn in exacting detail. Some sets might only need a handful of drawings, but some might need dozens. Over the course of a large feature film it’s not unusual for the art department to produce 700-800 A0 construction drawings. The art director needs to make sure this drawing is happening quickly enough and in the right order to keep the requisite information flowing to the construction department. The next issue to be dealt with is to find and issue references for texture and colour to the plastering and painting departments. As the sets are being built, the art director constantly stays in touch with the progress of the set, making sure that it’s heading in the direction that the designer needs.
For an art director, it’s important to have a grasp of several facets: an understanding of architecture through the ages; an understanding of how a film is shot and what the camera needs; an understanding of the processes needed to make a finished set; and the ability to communicate and keep information flowing.
On both Quantum of Solace and Skyfall you have worked with production designer Dennis Gasser. What was it like working with him?
I was a big fan of Dennis’s work with the Coen brothers, so it was really very exciting to get to work with him on Quantum of Solace. As a designer, Dennis is very trusting. If he feels that you have the feel for a set, and that it’s heading in the direction he wants it to, then he’s happy to let you run with it. But if there’s a set that he needs to work through, then he’ll be involved very closely with pushing the finer aspects of the design work forward. His graphic design background give him a distinct lean towards solutions that involve pattern language, and this fits in well with the Bond signature look, as much as there is one.
How is it like to create art design for the James Bond films? What was the biggest challenge on Skyfall?
Skyfall was extremely well set up, so it never felt like there were any insurmountable challenges. Getting to discuss the design of the sets with Dennis, and with Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins, was such a treat that everything seemed eminently possible. We had a lot of sets to build, and a limited number of stages, so that was tricky. The MI6 Bunker set and the Shanghai Shooter set both had to fit onto the 007 Stage at Pinewood at the same time, so it was pretty tricky to make sure neither set felt compromised, whilst also making sure they were workable. In the end it was just fine though. I don’t think anyone would ever guess that when Patrice is acting as a sniper he’s on a set which portrays the Shanghai skyline in-camera, whilst having to share stage space with another large set.
Throughout the Bond history, Ken Adam and Peter Lamont “defined” the Bond production design and style. Like the lavish / larger-than-life world of James Bond – semi-futuristic sets like the volcano set in You Only Live Twice, the supertanker set in The Spy Who Loved Me, the ice palace set in Die Another Day and so on, How important is it to continue this established tradition and how much weight is put on creating a more realistic universe in today’s Bond films?
That’s really a question for the producers, the director and the designer. For my part, I love the old Ken Adam designs, and I’m always going to draw the sets I’m looking after with some of that sensibility. At the same time, each script is individual and the demands of the story telling are always different. To an extent, you have to disregard the design history of the series, and look to what the specific film you’re working on needs.
Skyfall ends with the re-introduction of the beautiful old M’s office – one of several scenes in Skyfall that gave me goosebumps. Is this set a completely accurate reconstruction of the office seen in the older films, or are there a few changes from the original set?
Interestingly we looked back through all the previous films that featured that version of M’s office, and over the years they’ve all been different! We put together a “greatest hits” version of the office, that had what we felt to be the most iconic features, but laid out in a way that worked for the scene that Sam Mendes wanted to shoot. The geography of a set is always defined by the specific scenes that need to be shot, and by the instincts of the director who needs to build that scene.
It may be a difficult question, but how do you explain the success of the Bond movies?
I think the success of the series has been due to different factors over the 50 years they’ve been in existence. To begin with the films portrayed places and events that its audience would never be able to experience first hand. They were also amongst the first action films. Most important, though, is the story telling. Ian Fleming created a character with James Bond who is fascinating and who is now owned by his audience. If the audience didn’t care about James Bond then there would be no more Bond films. Over the years some films have been more successful than others with the continual reinvention of the character and his adventures, but I think it’s remarkable that they’re now getting ready to prep their 24th official film with the same character.
Who are the other art directors / production designers in the industry you look up to and learn from?
When I first started out, there were certainly specific designers whose work I enjoyed: Stuart Craig, Dennis Gassner, Bo Welch, Dante Ferretti, Norman Garwood – designers who had the opportunity to create some pretty fantastical worlds. Now I’m much more intrigued my the understated approach – design that backs up the story without shouting. Each of the aforementioned designers have done that type of work too – it’s just that it’s much less obvious.
What are your personal hopes for the next Bond film? Are you involved in Bond 24 too?
I don’t yet know whether I will be involved with Bond 24. I would guess they’re still maybe nine months away from starting an art department on full pre-production, and as much as anything it will depend on my availability at that point. The film industry is a completely freelance industry, so you can sometimes find yourself unavailable for great projects unfortunately. The main thing I hope is that they can keep building on what they achieved with Skyfall, to make a film that audiences really enjoy seeing.
Have you ever shot a film or been on location in Norway? Do you think a future Bond film should be shot in Norway?
I’ve never been to Norway. If there are extreme or unusual enough locations then I’m sure one day Bond will be there. If it was good enough for Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back…
Paul, thanks for taking time for this interview!
Interview © 2013 James Bond-magasinet / The Norwegian James Bond Magazine.