New production photos further reveal Nolan’s ‘Inception’ as a design spectacle

Posted by · 3:32 pm · April 11th, 2010

Production designer Guy Dyas has always associated himself with films that boast elaborate art direction.  Even during his early years as a concept artist, the films were design-heavy.  “Men in Black,” “Wild Wild West” and “Galaxy Quest” are examples.  Later: Tim Burton’s “Planet of the Apes” and elements of the Wachowski brothers’ “The Matrix Reloaded” benefited from his imagination.

Dyas has only completed six films at the head of the art department, but they all carry a stamp of scale in their design — most notably in “Superman Returns” — that seem to indicate a first Oscar nomination is likely on the horizon.  (He has four guild nods, mind you.)  And as I slowly (keyword) begin to saddle up to the new season’s offerings across various categories, I must say, I am and have been intrigued with the design opportunity presented in Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.”

Of course, most are looking forward to a mind-bending story with equally outrageous visual effects, but if we know anything about Nolan, it is that he is a monk when it comes to preserving practical filmmaking wizardry as much as possible.  So while “Inception” is sure to showcase innovative CGI, I imagine its set designs will be just as awe-inspiring — certainly if a recently released quartet of production stills and behind-the-scenes shots are any indication.

The photos accompanied Geoff Boucher’s big LA Times Calendar section interview with Nolan.  Boucher teased a little of the interview last week.  Talk about a guy who instills great envy in the geek beat.

Here are the two shots that stick out to me.  The first we kind of saw in a way via the teaser trailer, but the second reminds of the Tarantino mantra: “We love making movies.”  (Click for larger versions.)

Meanwhile, I was happy to see some talk of design elements in Boucher’s interview.  Here’s a taste:

Nolan put a premium on achieving the unreal on camera as opposed to in computer, which runs counter to Hollywood’s obsession with the pixel possibilities of green screen and 3-D. With cinematographer Wally Pfister (Nolan’s director of photography since “Memento”) and special effects guru Chris Corbould (the man who built the Batmobile and has worked on a dozen James Bond films), the director put a premium on an old-school approach to movie magic.

Corbould’s teams, for instance, built giant rotating hallways and a massive tilting nightclub set to film the startling “Inception” scenes when dream-sector physics take a sharp turn into chaos. One of the film’s stars, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, spent long, bruising weeks learning to fight in a corridor that spun like a giant hamster wheel.

“It was like some incredible torture device; we thrashed Joseph for weeks,” Nolan said. “But in the end we looked at the footage, and it looks unlike anything any of us has seen before. The rhythm of it is unique, and when you watch it, even if you know how it was done, it confuses your perceptions. It’s unsettling in a wonderful way…we want an extraordinary thing that happens in an ordinary way. That’s always been the goal.”

No mention of Dyas, but I can only imagine he had a hand in that stuff.

Anyway, while I’m very much excited to see “Inception,” I really hope Nolan’s films don’t continue to drum up the kind of rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth anticipation the last two have.  No artist can sustain (and, indeed, satisfy) that kind of consistent expectation forever.

Read the rest of the Boucher interview at the LA Times.  And here is his on-stage Q&A with Nolan and his producer/wife Emma Thomas from last weekend’s WonderCon convention in San Francisco.  It leads off with — imagine that — a query concerning “architecture,” plus more about that moving set (which, Nolan says, was largely inspired by his childhood love of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”):

(By the way, those plot specifics we posted exclusively in August?  The ones that amounted to little more than a standard plot description that the studio would have to put out there at SOME point if they wanted people to actually know what the film was about and, therefore, go see the movie?  The ones that left all the fanboys up in arms, a number of them claiming it was beneath us to post such a thing?  Yeah, Nolan is pretty much out there verifying all of it, three months in advance of release.)

→ 22 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

22 responses so far

  • 1 4-11-2010 at 4:07 pm

    Vito said...

    Hi Kris! Good to see you back. Awesome stuff here. I haven’t been this excited for a movie since, well, The Dark Knight.

  • 2 4-11-2010 at 4:09 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    im excited, but my expectations arent as crazy as I fear most peoples are

    nice to have you back kris

  • 3 4-11-2010 at 4:39 pm

    Andrew R. said...

    Yay Kris is back! We’ve missed you.

    I have to say this is about the only the second Inception post i’ve read anywhere, i’m simply just trying to stay in the dark. I’ve even limited myself to not watching the trailer more than twice if I can help it. I simply do not want to escalate my expectations to astronomic proportions. And its worked so far. But i’m definitely looking forward to the production design.

  • 4 4-11-2010 at 4:41 pm

    Evan said...

    Great stills. It’s looking better and better.

  • 5 4-11-2010 at 4:44 pm

    brian said...

    Didn’t they do that rotating stuff in that Fred Astaire movie that one time? Pssh. Nothing special.

  • 6 4-11-2010 at 5:01 pm

    Al said...

    If I had to predict as of now, dumb idea – i know, Id say Inception or Tree of Life for Picture.

  • 7 4-11-2010 at 6:10 pm

    JJ said...

    2 things:

    – Kris, it’s great to see you back.

    – And I get the feeling that ‘Inception’ is going to be a great movie. I’m not talking incredible. How would any of us know or want to know that just yet. But I’m thinkin’ it could be pretty great. Hope it is. I also am keeping myself unspoiled. Don’t know a thing about it, won’t read about it, either. Good times.

  • 8 4-11-2010 at 6:20 pm

    Red said...

    Great to see you back Kris!

    Also, a wonderful read. This movie has me really exicted.

  • 9 4-11-2010 at 9:02 pm

    Filmoholic said...

    I’m looking forward to the film, but I’m worried about the editing and action sequences.

    It’s obvious from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight that shooting moving bodies and editing action oriented sequences are Nolan’s weakness.

    He definitely improved upon the incoherently edited hand to hand fight scenes in Batman Begins with The Dark Knight, so I’m hoping this will also be a another step in the right direction.

  • 10 4-11-2010 at 9:27 pm

    Colin said...

    @brian: Yes, but in the Fred Astaire movie they were trying to disguise the fact that they used rotating room, trying as much as possible to keep the camera still. In Inception they actually want to make everything look haywire and tumbly.

  • 11 4-12-2010 at 6:33 am

    Joseph Giancarlo said...

    I dare to say that so far:
    “INCEPTION is the virtual front runner”!!

  • 12 4-12-2010 at 7:05 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    “By the way, those plot specifics we posted exclusively in August?”

    You mean the one I still haven’t read yet? Yeah, I remember, and I still can’t quite understand how one couldn’t just, oh I don’t know, NOT read it if they didn’t want to be spoiled.

  • 13 4-12-2010 at 7:11 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    ““INCEPTION is the virtual front runner”!!”

    Forgive me, but that’s premature ejaculation before your date even shows up at the door. Don’t you want to know what they look like first? ;)

  • 14 4-12-2010 at 8:28 am

    Pete said...

    I love the way Nolan edits his action. Don’t say that is his weakness when it is not. The fights are brutal and effective; that’s how it would be in a fight. You probably like your fights to look like a dance, don’t you grandpa?

  • 15 4-12-2010 at 9:57 am

    Joseph Giancarlo said...

    Guy, let me answer you with a rhetorical question: Wasnt “Jeff Bridges” the front runner before we even seen the trailer, just with a few stills and the poster, we all already knew the end? … even more Im just saying Inception is having it “momentum”…

    My respects,

  • 16 4-12-2010 at 10:11 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Marvelous point, Robert.

    Joseph: Jeff Bridges was the frontrunner the moment the film first screened (a screening I attended), which was virtually the day after it was announced for a 2009 release. So it’s a bit of a different situation. No one has seen Inception, and if I’m being honest, it could be an amazing piece of spectacle entertainment and still not be “enough” for the Academy to nominate it. So, yeah, EXTREME premature ejaculation.

    (Another note of difference: Jeff Bridges’s 5-decade Oscar-less career kind of outshines Nolan’s one decade of respectable output.)

  • 17 4-12-2010 at 11:49 am

    Charlie said...

    Great photos and videos.

    P.S. Welcome back, Kris.

  • 18 4-12-2010 at 4:28 pm

    DarkLayers said...

    I see one problem with getting wins in some of those visual techs. The movie looks impressive, but not pretty, and the academy often opts for bright and sweet pretty over dark and grimy designs when they choose winners in those categories.

    In the visual categories — cinematography, art direction, and costume Design — pretty beats daring. These are not branches whose members often make the ”less is more” argument. Period beats contemporary; elaborate and excessive beats simple and appropriate; inordinately beautiful beats intelligently grimy. Westerns, musicals, and epics can still score in the art direction and costume branches, where it’s always 1962. Cinematographers are more modern, but they’re still under a 50-year credibility penalty for not nominating The Godfather or The Godfather Part II. As for the complex issue of where art direction and cinematography end and CGI begins, don’t worry: Many voters don’t know either. If something looks good, they nominate it. ”,,20007870_20164475_20161177,00.html

  • 19 4-12-2010 at 7:01 pm

    ninja said...

    This is going to be inceptional. Best Picture. Sci fi`s time has come and this is it. Sorry Weir, Schnabel, Allen, Cohens, whatever TIFF favorite, not this time. Inception for the win!

  • 20 4-12-2010 at 8:03 pm

    Jake said...

    Haha nice ninja.

  • 21 4-12-2010 at 9:26 pm

    Danny King said...

    As much as I love Nolan, and as much as I’m looking forward to Inception, I have to agree with Kris when he says that this insane type of anticipation cannot continue regarding each one of his films. That being said, if he keeps delivering, I can’t see how it will stop. If Inception succeeds, I believe Batman 3 will be his next film, and I can only imagine how crazy that anticipation will become.