Production designer Dennis Gasser talks about blending real life locations with intricate sets, and taking MI6 underground in "Skyfall"...

Going Underground

8th December 2012

The Oscar-winning production designer Dennis Gassner returns for his second James Bond outing with "Skyfall". He has a career spanning 25 years, which started on the art department of Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now". He went on to work with some of the world's most respected filmmakers, including the Coen brothers, Tim Burton and Sam Mendes. He joined the Bond family when he designed the production of "Quantum of Solace"; his second consecutive Bond picture, "Skyfall", gave the designer, and director Sam Mendes, the opportunity to immerse themselves in the spirit of Britain. But, with oft-photographed London as a central location, the production team had to be sure that they were showing a new site of the British capital.

"The opportunity to shoot in London was like a red rag to a bull with Sam" - Daniel Craig

"We built thirty-one sets, but the unsung environments are the locations and London played a big role in this film," says Gassner. Not only does the story centre in and around London, but key landmarks come under threat, forcing M and her staff to take the Intelligence Service underground - quite literary.

"It's the kind of question every government has to think about - in an extreme emergency, where do you go?" The parallel to Churchill's Britain is unmistakable. "In London, during World War II, they went underground, under the city. That is what M decides to do, and this is where they go."

Gassner takes the production underground in more ways than one. Another key sequence is Bond's pursuit of Silva through the London Tube, and the construction and destruction of a massive catacomb into which a Tube train crashes was another Gassner masterpiece. The production in general, and this sequence in particular, seamlessly blends genuine London locations with intricate sets, built on set at Pinewood.

"We need the sound stage to control the major scenes and accommodate Roger Deakins' brilliant lighting. The Old Vic locations were a pleasure to work in and our recces of usually red taped underground London inspired the sets that we built back at Pinewood. This is the great fusion between locations and set build, one informs the other and they become a unit," the production designer explains.

Despite both Gassner and Mendes' excitement to set a film in the British metropolis, the designer is all too aware that his role inherently takes its cue from the plot. "I believe that story always comes first when planning to design any given set for any given character," he says. "Throughout the process of "Skyfall", I considered Bond's emotional journey and how each environment affects him and vice versa."

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