On Thursday, July 28th and Friday, July 29th 2005 I was lucky enough to be invited to a “Superman Returns” International Online Set Visit.
This 2 day event included a visit to various sound stages within Sydney’s Fox Studios, a close-up examination of the Superman costume, a private screening of the San Diego Comic Con preview video clip, set visit to watch filming within the Australian Museum (doubling as the Metropolis Museum) and interviews with cast and crew (9 in total).
I was one of around 20 reporters from around the world visiting on behalf of various entertainment websites. No photos or videos were allowed, just audio. I’ll do my best to describe everything I saw.
The Adventure Begins…
Day 1: Thursday July 28th
The Production Design Department
On Thursday afternoon we were taken by coach to Fox Studios, where we met with Guy Dyas (Production Designer). Guy showed us around the design studio, pointing out various posters, plans and prints displayed along the walls, explaining what each one showed and what they represented.
GUY DYAS: So this is what we call the workroom for Bryan and myself, and the writers. This is where we put a lot of concept art up on the walls, discuss ideas, and sometimes Bryan comes up, likes the stuff, sometimes he comes up and doesn’t like the stuff. These walls are changing all the time. They’re never the same. Every two weeks everything on the walls is new. So, I’ll run through everything and try and explain what there is here, that you’re looking at. So start over here – some of these computer drawings are really some of the early conceptuals that show what Superman’s pod looks like. Now, this is not… I can’t tell you the details of the story, obviously you guys all know the rules, and I’ll have my head chopped off or something, so I can’t tell you the story, but…
Q: It’s worth it.
Guy: (chuckles) I don’t know. Basically, the baby pod in the original film, which was this sort of very bizarre spikey structure… one of the broad-stroke things that I had to do was analyze the first film, go through it, see if we could modernize some of the ideas which were originally designed by John Barry. Modernize a lot of the ideas, but hold on to some of the really nice aspects of the original films. And as Bryan will tell you in his own words, this film can be seen for the first time by someone who hasn’t experienced one of the Christopher Reeve films, and enjoyed, but also hopefully looked at by people who’ve seen the first, and certainly the second film, and want to consider this to be the ideal third film in the series. He never really liked the third or fourth film. Yeah…
Q: Who Does?
Guy: Well, let’s just assume that this film hopefully deals with both of those aspects. So if you’re a fan like. . you grew up on the first film, as I did, then hopefully you can see this film and go “okay, this fits in.” And it will. So back to the story – this is the pod. Superman has to go on a journey at a certain point, so one of the things that we’ve done with the crystal technology in this film, which they couldn’t do back in 1976, is look at the crystal technology of his Fortress of Solitude and any vehicles he may have, as in this case a pod that he rides around in, and actually grow the crystals. The idea is that the crystals grow. It’s a bit like that expiriment you did at school, when you grew the little crystals. Only this time it’s a bit like stop-motion animation, so we’re developing methods of actually seeing the crystals grow at a very advanced speed. It’s quite an exciting thing, and I think it brings another dimension to the whole Kryptonian technology. So this is the interior, you’ll see the exterior over there when we go over there shortly. These are some…
Q: That one there?
Guy: Yeah, that’s actually an internal pod, this is a chamber that he sleeps in for a long journey. So, moving on – these are some concepts for the Kent Farm, and you can see, actually, this is the exterior of the ship. This is an enormous thing that we actually built up in Tamworth. I’ll show you some pictures of that. The idea of the crystals is when they enter the earth’s atmosphere on the return journey… because everything glows red hot, the crystals actually become crustated and burn, so they have this very strange organic appearance. Moving around, you’ll see some key images which show some of the action sequences that we have in the film. I will point out that this plummetting 777 jet bursting into flames here…there are no flames. Everybody survives, don’t worry. [Laughter] It’s not quite what it looks like, but these are some very early, very vigorous illustrations. Also you can see we’ve been very inspired by Alex Ross. He’s really the hero of this film in terms of the look. I think we all really enjoy the way he draws and and conceptualizes Superman and the way… yeah, go ahead…
Q: Is all this art computer generated?
Guy: No, no. A lot of it’s hand drawn. In the art department I certainly still love it when we draw by hand. I think it’s really important to do that. A lot of the images are photoshop generated, for example the sequence of three drawings there which show the 777 plummeting. They’re all actually done with Photoshop, which is scanned images that exist, and then painted over the top. So it brings another level of reality to it.
Q: What is it that appeals to you about Alex Ross’ paintings?
Guy: I think he just really, in my mind… there’s something very very nice about the way he draws. There’s something very realistic about the way he draws. I think the images and also the subject matters that he deals with with this particular character really appeal to Bryan and his team because they’re a little bit more set in reality, and there’s also a sense that he’s dealing with real issues.
Q: Has Alex been involved in any capacity?
Guy: No he hasn’t. I know Bryan’s spoken to him several times. I would love to speak to him, so if any of you know him, please….
Q: He’s really not very hard to get a hold of.
Q: I’ll put you in touch with him.
Guy: But it was a very close production. There wasn’t really a desire to get too many people from the outside involved. Bryan wanted to keep the production pretty tightly closed, and not too many people were involved outside of his core team.
Q: Is that his art that’s scanned into photoshop, though?
Guy: No. These are actually various illustrators and people we’ve had on the production in various stages, basically producing ideas.
Q: How many people do you have working in the department?
Guy: Everybody? About 450, I suppose. That includes everyone from props to set decoration, right in through conceptualizing, through the set building, the whole lot. So it’s been a very big production.
Q: How does that compare to something like X2?
Guy: The biggest difference between this and X2 is we were able to work in a facility where we were able to build all the sets. As a lot of you remember, we went on a tour and saw all of the sets pretty much all at the same time, and we could leave a lot of those sets standing. So, we could go and shoot things, and if there were things that were not quite right, we could just go back and reshoot them. On this particular production, and when I get around to showing you the photos you’ll see, there have been so many sets of such enormous scale that we haven’t been able… the studio’s not big enough for this film. For example, at one point we actually turned the woodwork shop into a stage because we just ran out of room. And a lot of the sets, as soon as they’re shot, they’re immediately struck. We wait for what we call the strike order, which means get rid of the set. It’s gone almost immediately, and another set is put up in it’s place. In some instances we’ve actually built between stages. In other words, we’ve put up scaffolding between stages to accommodate and create yet another space.
Q: Like the front of the Daily Planet…
Guy: Yeah, exactly. That’s out there. So let’s move around and look at some more of these images. This is basically a concept design for a new shuttle. And the idea is that as part of the film, we’re taken on a mission, and we see a shuttle being launched on the back of a 777. It’s a an advanced shuttle. As you know when shuttles take off, they normally take off with these enormous rockets which contain lots of fuel. The idea here is that the shuttle takes off off the back of the 777, directly into space. Sort of following along the lines of the the Virgin, Richard Branson-type idea. Bryan, of course, if friends with him, and they’ve had a lot of discussions. We got to meet with Richard, and discuss a lot of these designs. That was quite nice.
Q: Is that where he makes his cameo?
Guy: It may very well be. I can’t say. No. Uh, so, moving around to some of the artwork – one of the intriguing characters in the film, look at those orange images at the end there by Joe. Those are the first concepts for a mansion, which was a location here. The character at the mansion was a very wealthy elderly lady called Gertrude Vanderworth.
Q: Is that Noel Niell?
Guy: Yeah. She basically is about to pass away, and leaves a lot of money to a certain individual, who then is funded in order to do whatever he needs to do. Does that make any sense? Next to it you’ll see there are some comparison images – three in a row, top to bottom – which show how we’re taking locations here in Sydney. At the top you’ll see the art museum, which has those columns on the front. And if you look immediately below it you’ll see the photoshop illustration of how we’re going to take that image and in CG convert that into basically our Metropolis look. Metropolis in this film is not New York, it’s not Chicago, it’s not any of those cities. It’s a fictitious city, but obviously the look of it has to be very realistic. We don’t want to go the sci-fi route too much with this. It’s a modern day film, but rather like New York or Chicago, it does have a great sense of history. So, you’re going to see a lot of 1930’s art deco references in this film. We felt it was important, not only because of Superman roots, when he was created, and some of those very early comic books where you see the classic stacked skyscrapers that you see in New York, we thought it would be nice to have a feeling of that, and see all the water towers. But also, I think, when you’re trying to create a city, you’ve got to give it a sense of history, otherwise people just don’t believe it. If all the buildings are new, and covered in glass, that’s one thing, but you’ve gotta show that there are different zones in a city so that you believe it’s real.
Q: So was it easy for you to transform Sydney into this Metropolis that you were looking for?
Guy: No, not at all. Not at all. Sydney’s a lovely city, but my first reaction when I got off the plane was “Oh my god, all the brits moved to San Diego and built things.” It’s very beautiful, small-scale British architecture built in yellow sandstone. That’s all I can say. So it is NOT the Metropolis I had in mind nor Bryan had in mind. So obviously a lot of the locations we picked out here, there are several you’ll see if you just jump over a couple of images, you’ll see at the bottom, this image here, this is actually a location you may pass downtown and this is again a photoshop image of what we intend to turn that building into – the hospital. Again, what we’ve had to do is scout very heavily around Sydney and find the pieces of architecture that really fit into the world we wanted to create, without making it look like we came and shot in Sydney.
Q: What was the main reason for coming to Sydney to shoot?
Guy: As always – the price.
Q: And then, how do you do it? You shoot the building, and then it goes into the computer and it gets…
Guy: Well, take for example this. We would shoot – again I have some pictures of this which I’ll show you – we would dress this as to whatever the building was, and certainly for anything close we can shoot on the location. We don’t have to do any computer graphics work, so we get probably 90% of our scenes done on location. But for any establishing shots, or anything particularly wide, we start to show the Sydney Opera House in the background. You kind of have to get into matte paintings there, otherwise you run into trouble. That’s basically what this illustration shows. When you get any wider you start to show things like the Sydney rotating restaurant thing. You have to cover those things up.
Q: Covered by…
Guy: By imaginary buildings. By three dimensional buildings which we design and then basically import in computer and place in there.
Q: I noticed the number plates on the cars say “Metropolis: The First State” and I was wondering what the meaning of that is.
Guy: There really isn’t a meaning. It’s funny – when it comes to naming things now it’s becoming increasingly difficult to name things because there’s a lot of problems with litigation in films, and people suing for use of number plates and uses of names. Absolutely every name for every store, every box of cereal that people use… everything has to be redesigned. I mean, we have a graphic design team on this film of five people who basically designed everything, as I said, from cereal boxes to number plates, basically making subtle changes in order for us to get around litigation and being sued for using number plates and whatever it happens to be. Warner Brothers is obviously very careful about that sort of stuff.
Q: What about the look of the Donner movies, did you use that as influence?
Guy: Yeah, absolutely. I watched them just continuously for a long time, and John – John Barry was the designer on the first film, and there were certain things that I felt, personally, had such an iconic image to the general public, things people will remember. For example, the Fortress of Solitude – it’s very difficult to go in and say “Okay, I’m just gonna completely redesign the Fortress of Solitude and make it into something else,” because I think you’ll probably upset a lot of people, and you may also take them out of the story. Bryan’s story relies heavily on a lot of people already knowing what the Fortress of Solitude is, so it’s important from a storytelling point of view that some of the things in the designs have to stay the same. I had a lot of freedom, for example, on the Daily Planet. We started from scratch and designed the Daily Planet the way I think it should have been designed the first time. They perhaps didn’t have the time, didn’t have the money, perhaps they didn’t want to spend their money on that. I don’t know what the situation was with Richard’s film, but certainly this time around it was very important for the Daily Planet to be a complete entity unto itself with a history. We designed everything in the Daily Planet from Lois Lane’s business cards, we had an internal office telephone list, which everybody had. I mean everything. Bryan, who is a detail maniac…
Q: There was so much detail in the blog. In the originals it was a very sort of doudy kind of office. I was astounded by the detail, even the little things on the walls… the Bryan Singer award. How did he react to that?
Guy: Well, needless to say, it was the Bryan Singer Award… he loved it. It was a big challenge, again, talking about boring stuff like copyrights, you can imagine that. Everything from… we did have a lot of stuff from Gotham as well, being as it’s the DC world. For example, you may notice in a couple frames that… we’re using this new camera that’s phenomenol, it’s like looking with your own eyes. The detail you see. I had a lot of sleepless nights trying to worry about how some of the old scenic techniques wouldn’t work now with this new digital camera that Tom Sigel and Bryan are using. That really pushed the idea of the detail, and if you REALLY look in the background of some of the frames you’ll see all sorts of crazy details which allude to the DC world. We’ve got phone books from Gotham, and there’s a clock in Perry’s office that actually says the time in Gotham. We scratched our heads about where Gotham was compared to Metropolis. [Laughter] So it was nice, a nice little tip-of-the-hat to to the DC worlds. So, moving around – this was one of the things that… you know I’ve talked about there not being many sets to show you guys this time, but certainly this is one of the things I’ll be proud to show you, which is Gertrude’s Yacht. We talked about this elderly lady. She is the wife of of a huge shipping magnate who made his fortune in ship building, and all sorts of big, big stuff, and as a result he built her this absolutely extravagant yacht. You know, the biggest yacht. This is a 300 foot yacht called “The Gertrude.” You’re going to go and stand on the back of it on Stage 3. One of the most interesting things about “The Gertrude” is the fact that it actually has a glass bottom. When you actually go into the yacht, and go down to what I call the Marine Gallery, which is the lowest part of the yacht, you’re actually going to walk on glass, and underneath you would actually see the water… you would see the water, and sea fish, and things like that. It’s not just a design statement, it actually was a request from Bryan for a story point in the film. So we’ll go and look at that on set as well, and see what you think of that. This is actually a scale model of “The Gertrude,” so you get some idea of what we’ve been up to here.
Q: And how big is it in the real world?
Guy: It’s about 300 feet. It’s absolutely enormous. It has a jacuzzi, it’s own helicopter, all sorts of fun things. Bryan just gave me a wish list and it’s all in there. We essentially built portions of this. Obviously I didn’t get a very kind response from Warner Brothers when I went to them and said, “Look, I wanna built this 300 foot yacht. What do you think? Can we do that out here?” “No, you’re not gonna do that.” We ended up having to build portions of the yacht to tell the story, and in the art department we built a 3d model of this using Rhinoceros, a program, and that will be passed off to the various effects houses to render up. So, any wide shots you see of the yacht obviously will all be CG, but we have built some pretty large portions of this yacht. For example I’m going to take you on this rear deck, here. We built all of this on stage 3, and you’ll actually be able to look at our jacuzzi, and go in and see the gym that’s just underneath there. We’ve also built, obviously, the bridge, and various other compartments, huge corridors inside this yacht. There’s a huge sequence that occurs in this yacht, and…
Q: And the helicopter…
Guy: And the helicopter. We found a helicopter here that was completely destroyed and refurbished it, and you can see part of it still outside. So, that’s an interesting set…
Q: Can you talk about this? What have you done to the Harbour Bridge?
Guy: Yeah, I’d prefer not to talk about that actually. No, this was… as I said, a lot of these drawings you’re looking at, a lot of them are working drawings. Some of the projects are just ideas that we throw out there, some of them are actual things that we do. This project came and went, but it’s kind of an interesting idea. There was some talk about creating a bridge that we could actually utilize parts of Sydney Harbour Bridge as a location, in other words a corner of it here, and then pulling back and using something that perhaps married together parts of the Brooklyn Bridge to give it that sort of a New York feel. But anyway, we never ended up using this.
This is an interesting project. This is the train set. Bryan basically came to me one day and said – actually I think he called me really late at night – and said “Guy, you’ve gotta build me a huge train set. The biggest one you’ve ever seen!” So, we got in touch with a German company called Märklin who specialize in beautiful, detailed model train sets. We were able to get sponsorship from them, and then proceeded to build this absolutely enormous train set. I mean, it’s huge. The train set itself is probably about 60, 70 feet by about the same across. We had about three different scales to this train set, so as you looked at it from the front, all the trains in the front – which actually had little steam coming from them and little engine noises and things – they would all be much bigger, and obviously the further back you went the smaller they got. In this train set we had all sorts of little homages to Bryan’s films. We had a large lake with little boats floating on it, we had a drug bust going on at a dock, which is very “Usual Suspects.” We had a big dam in there, which was the dam… I just pulled out the plans from X-Men 2 and built a little X-Men 2 dam in there. We had someone sculpt up a mini Mount Rushmore as a tribute to Eva Marie Saint, so we put that in there. It’s just hundreds and hundreds… when you see the film you’ll pick them up. We had a little Smallville station, and a little Kent Farm, and all sorts of things going on in there. We also built Metropolis way back here with a little Daily Planet with a ball on top. It was great. But anyway, you’ll see pictures of the train set, and we’ll take you to what we’re calling the “aftermath of the train set,” which is… something happens to the train set and it gets destroyed. So you’ll get to see the aftermath of that.
Right behind you there, chaps, is the surface of Krypton. Superman goes back to look for his roots, and finds a planet’s surface. Now, the image at the top left-hand side there shows a pretty crisp sort of surface, and that’s how you’ll be introduced to the planet. You slowly reveal that actually what you’re on, it’s not a complete planet, but just a shell. Just a piece of the planet. So by the end of the sequence, this is what you’ll see. Obviously, needless to say, that deadly green stuff under there doesn’t make our hero feel too well. These images in the middle here, this is the exterior of that crystal space craft that I talked to you about over there, when you were looking at the interior. I think some of the unique features about this, as I say, it’s a ship that actually grows itself, it’s completely transparent, has a beautiful sort of glowing aura to it. So it’s sort of reminiscent of deep sea fish, the way they glow. You know, the angler fish, the way they actually have luminescence inside of them. I think that’s quite a unique thing for a space ship.
Q: And this is meant to recall the original ship?
Guy: Yeah, I guess it is. I tried to work with that design, but if any of you guys go back that’s the one thing in the first film that really looks hokey. If you go back and look at that baby pod, it just sucks. I’m sorry, forgive me all the people who worked on that back there in England. It just looked really bad. We tried to treat it, instead of just being a ball with spikes on it, as though it is actually a crystal that has grown. So this almost looks something like a snowflake, if you like. It actually has an organic structure to it. Oddly enough, it almost looks art deco to me, as well. It could almost be a chandelier, so it fits in with our world there, as well. Let’s move around to the other side of this board…
More images which show the Fortress of Solitude again. It’s the one area that was very, very difficult from a story point to deviate from. You see in the top right-hand corner there, some images of the Fortress of Solitude. Obviously these are very quick concept sketches. We’re going to go into a lot of detail in post-production as to how the Fortress looks. We’ll probably end up doing umpteen sections of the Fortress to explain how this crystal structure actually stands up because it’s a difficult thing to explain.
Q: Besides Alex Ross’ art, how much is being taken from actual comics? It sounds like a big jumping off point, like you said, is the previous movies. Are you guys using anything from the actual comics?
Guy: Yeah, absolutely. I think more in the story-telling parts of the film. Dan and Mike have definitely read a lot of the comics and taken snippets from them. You should talk to them about it. I think definitely in the story there are lots of little nuggets that are taken from the folklore of Superman. From a design standpoint, because the story was very specific, and I decided together with Bryan that we were going to go this contemporary with a very slightly retro feel, I think everything sort of took care of itself. We knew the yacht had to be absolutely modern. We knew that the Fortress of Solitude had to at least allude to the original design, and we knew that the city had to be something between Chicago and New York, but not. So that was really the outline. There’s not really… from a design standpoint, when it comes to looking at the comics, as somebody who draws myself, the thing about the way comics are drawn is they emphasize expressions on faces, and emotions and movements, but when it comes to the background, there’s really not that much detail there that I can pull off, especially the kind of detail I like to put on sets.
Q: I remember a yacht from a John Byrne series. Lex Luthor had a big giant yacht…
Guy: Oh, yeah.
Q: Which I guess now I’m stumbling on stuff you can’t talk about…
Guy: Maybe. [Laughter] Smart guy. Knows his stuff.
Q: At the end of Superman II, well in the extended version, not the theatrical release, the Fortress of Solitude actually got destroyed. Has that ever come into your thinking?
Guy: It did. There was a discussion that Bryan and I had about the destruction, and as he’ll explain to you, he’ll argue that the thing we can bring to the crystal technology that they never were able to in 78, is that, because of CG, we’ve enhanced the idea that the crystals actually grow. It’s a living organism, it’s actually a thinking organism, and the crystals that are used in the console in the Fortress of Solitude are more like seeds. They’re information crystals, but they’re also seeds. There are things that actually enable – chemically – these crystals to grow, and they’re engrained with a pattern, or an architectural plan for something, and it basically recreates itself. So that was talked about, although I don’t think it’s explained in the story. I think that the film is already so jam-packed with stuff, they just couldn’t squeeze it in. But it is a good point, you’re right, yeah. Alright, let’s jump over here…
I’ll just jump around the office to explain some of the things you’re looking at in here. Behind you there are some of the initial concept costumes, and they show, obviously, Brandon in his suit – the very controversial suit – and also some of the looks for Lex Luthor, and Kitty, his gangster’s mole… sidekick.
Q: Is that Lex’s pimp look? [Laughter]
Guy: I guess. I guess, yeah.
Q: What about the costume? What was the inspiration for the Superman costume?
Guy: Well the costume isn’t really my area. I would like to have had more input on that, but you should speak to Bryan and Louise [Mingenbach], the costume designer, about that.
Q: Is there an “S” on the cape?
Guy: …No. So, behind you…
Q: How ’bout the wig? Is that Lex’s…
Guy: The curly wig? Yeah. He never wears that curly wig. That was more of an homage to the original. I think there’s a line in the script that refers to a curly wig. Bryan was concerned that if we went too comical with Lex it would just take away all of the fear of his character, and obviously Kevin Spacey’s pretty scary. He comes in my office and says, “Hey, you got anything for me?” and I’m just, “Yeah, take whatever you want! Take whatever you want!” He plays the role so beautifully, it’s incredible. He’s chilling on screen. The idea that he was going to be sort of a clown dressed up in a curly wig and do the whole campy Gene Hackman thing… it didn’t work for Bryan at all, and I think it was a great decision. He’s a very scary individual.
Q: Is that the Shuster Building there? Are you going in order here…..
Guy: Hey! Let’s talk about whatever you like!
Q: Is that the Shuster building there?
Guy: Yeah! What you’re looking at here are actually a day and a night backing, these are obviously very small, and these are the backings that I created for the Daily Planet itself. When you have a set like that, obviously you have to make this huge trans-light that goes all the way around so when you look through the windows – you guys know all this, I know – you’re not looking out at a green screen. I was very much against the idea of just doing green screen everywhere. It’s important. The actors spend a lot of time at the Daily Planet, and I wanted to go a little bit old school and make them feel like they were really there, you know, 68 stories up in this beautiful old building. So we created these backings that were absolutely fantastic, and obviously – I’m always trying to do this – Shuster had to put it in there. Actually, we tried to get Siegel in there as well, and we couldn’t use the name.
Q: Why not?
Guy: Litigation. There was a big problem with it. There was a TV store in the film, and we absolutely wanted to use that name, and I just know that people love that stuff and appreciate it. If you’re going to call something something, you might as well call it something out of the folklore of the universe. But anyway, Shuster we could use, so there’s a big glowing sign on the roof of the Suster Building. We try to do a lot of that stuff. Let’s talk about some of the architecture. This is the first sketch I did for the Daily Planet, which to me just encapsulates everything that I’d seen in all the years of development, all the drawings, all the inspiration for what the Daily Planet should be – just that very classic monolithic building. Perry White’s office – this is an illustration of Perry’s office. That’s a 3D model of the front of the Daily Planet, that’s down here. We actualy built a rooftop, which was pretty spectacular, but the scale of the ball was absolutely huge. I couldn’t actually build the ball, it was just too big for the stage. I decided as part of the design to put the ball at the front entrance as well, so at least we had the physical ball there as part of the film.
Q: So will the ball be on top in a CG version?
Guy: Yeah, of course. And obviously when we’re shooting the rooftop, we put some interactive lighting up there with the moving letters. You’ll see all that stuff in the footage, so you won’t feel like you’ve been cheated. Behind me are an array of illustrations and drawings which show the various architectural details. There, actually, is part of the rooftop. Here’s a model for the entrance way which we built between stages 5 and 6 out there. This was a map, which, as you can see, is very similar to Manhattan. This was our idea of Metropolis based on some of the geographical things that have to take place.
Q: How detailed of a map did you have to draw of Metropolis?
Guy: [almost mischevious] I’ll show you how detailed. [Laughter] You always have to get pretty detailed with Bryan, and we made a street map of Metropolis with all the names. (unfolds the map) This was actually lying around in the Daily Planet, so I just knew Bryan at one point would have someone grab a map, and they did. So, I was right. So there you go.
Q: If you faked it, he would notice?
Guy: What do you mean faked it? What, if I used New York or something?
Q: Yeah, well…
Guy: Well, I wouldn’t be here today! [Laughter] That’s Bryan! So there you go. We basically created an entire map.
Q: How much fun did you have with the road names? I see there’s countless roads.
Guy: Yeah, well, again, it’s a clearance nightmare. The design of the map took about a week, but clearing the names took about 3 months.
Q: I see you’re a West Ham fan, did you get any of the West Ham players in there?
Guy: No, that’s just… that’s another world. This, actually, is a great drawing. This is the illustration that Bryan actually used to pitch Brandon to the studio as Superman. There was some concern, obviously as there always is, about a newcomer, and their abilities, and Bryan basically had us create an illustration of Brandon in his costume, and superimpose his head on. This was part of the big pitch for Brandon, so that’s kind of an important drawing for the film. As you move around, you’re going to see all sorts of various things. There’s an interesting drawing here which shows the various designs of the boot. I still think Nike should contact us and do a line of Superman boots. There were some interesting conversations about the kind of boots a guy of his power would need to actually launch himself at the speed he does, the support that he’d need in his heel. It was unbelievable the conversations we had about these things. That’s just a little interesting moment there from design development. As you move around there are more pictures of “The Gertrude” yacht, and on the right over there in the corner are just more pictures of the Fortress, of the set and the icy landscape. But what I’ll do right now, before I bore you all to death, is I’m going to show you some pictures of the sets, I’ve set up a little slide show.
[Showing Kent Farm Pictures] Basically it’s about… it’s a plane ride away, and then an hour by car, and it really is in the middle of nowhere. It was the flattest place I could find in Australia. Obviously if we’re trying to depict the midwest, you have to find some place that’s pretty flat, and that’s extremely difficult to find. So, these are some of the shots of the farm, and the crew there. As I said, this was all built from scratch. You’re going to see everything from telephone poles to water pumps. We built about 6 miles of road here, just to get out to this location. There’s Bryan himself standing there, eyeing up the goat. He got really attached to the goat, actually. The goat was called Igor, if anyone’s interested. This is looking from the Kent Farm over to the famous barn. Obviously my inspiration… look, as a Brit it was a great honor to do this classic mid-western stuff, and I looked an awful lot at Norman Rockwell and classic American artists and how they depicted farms, and obviously this has a beautiful period feel to it. There again is the Kent Farm. I went to great lengths to find this truck, and for those of you who remember the first film, you’ll see this is almost an exact match for the original family truck that they find him in when he lands on Earth. There’s another shot. I’ll spin through these. That’s an out of focus shot because I actually got this from the editors so it’s low-res, but you can see how the farm is laid out here, and how it all works. All these roads and all these crops as far as your eye can see were all grown for this film.
Q: They needed to be grown?
Guy: It was a desert. In fact… I don’t know if I can find a picture. If I show you a picture of this, you’ll freak out. This tree was brought in and planted here.
Q: How long did it take to build this structure?
Guy: This set took me, I would say, about three and a half months. I just finished “The Brothers Grimm” with Terry Gilliam when Bryan called me for this, so I have a lot of experience with building these sort of rural-type environments. In Prague we had a nice little rain. It was easy to build big long fields of grass. Out here there was nothing. We had to import so much water to grow all these crops.
Q: In the middle of a water crisis…
Guy: Yeah, that was tough, too! This is the kitchen. This was a big sell, but basically I wanted to encourage Tom and Bryan to not only shoot the exteriors of the farm, but also the interiors on location so that whenever you looked out the window you got all the benefit of the work that had been done there. This is the living room, just a classic, cute little farm house. That’s his bedroom. Again, some more shots of the farm… the barn.
Q: How closely did it match the Donner film?
Guy: It didn’t really. There’s one shot in the Donner film, which you’ll see, when he’s actually walking up the driveway with his father, and the father’s explaining “hey, you shouldn’t show off son” and all that stuff. There’s a silhouette of the farm where you have the farm house on the right hand side of the road, and the barn on the left. They’re just sort of there on the hill in silhouette. I stuck to that, in the sense that in the driveway, when you look up, the silhouette is the same from the road, from the mail box. I don’t know if they ever actually used a shot from there, but if you had a shot from there it would look exactly the same. Once you actually get inside, it’s very different. Here’s the inside of the barn, you can just get a sense of it. You can get a sense of what that looked like. Just say if you’re bored, guys. This is the only actual set from the farm that we built here on the stage. There is a hidden trap door in the barn which leads to a cellar, and I couldn’t dig that deep out there because I was going to knock the barn over. I built that as a separate set here, on the studio.
Q: It actually reminds me a little of the barn in “The Brothers Grimm”… in the beginning, when they’re fighting the…
Guy: Did any of you guys see that film?
Guy: What did you think?
Q: It was okay…
Guy: It was okay?
Q: The production design was great, though. [Laughter]
Guy: Well, anyway. Here’s the baby pod. This was my redesign of the baby pod, again playing on the idea that it’s an organic form. So, hidden in the bottom of the cellar is the original pod that he arrived as a baby in. There’s Brandon, looking proud of the farm.
Q: So he has flashbacks?
Guy: Yeah. This is actually a look at the farm from a long, long way away, and you can see this is when we started to grow these acres and acres of corn. This really bizarre thing is the exterior of the interior of that pod, of the main spaceship that he travels around in. This was a really interesting experiment. When you’re shooting a film and you want to create an atmosphere with light, you use a gobo, which is basically just something you hang up in front of the light to give you some sort of reflective, interesting shape. I decided to build the crystal ship entirely out of gobos, so this is actually like a giant puppet. There are actually thousands and thousands of ropes supporting single sheets of fiberglass here, and it’s all lit internally. It was an incredibly difficult thing to build. I talked about the spaceship returning back to Earth and crashing, and this is the set we built for that.
Q: So these Kryptonian ships don’t have landing wheels or anything?
Guy: Yeah. There it is.
Q: You’d think they’d have worked that out by now.
Q2: Well they were about to explode, leave them alone.
[Lots of “wow”s as Guy cycled through ship pics from the farm]
Guy: Yeah, it’s quite an interesting thing to do.
Q: You built that?
Q2: How big is it?
Guy: It was about 95 feet.
Q: Is it still existing?
Guy: No, it’s gone now. It’s really tough to build out there.
Q: How long and deep was that trench?
Guy: The trench was about 300 feet, something like that.
Q: Do you find it a bit hard to take all of these wonderful sets and creations down?
Guy: Yeah, it is a little bit. I think the Kent farm was really tough. We had animals there, and… it was really tough. Yeah, the Kent Farm was tough.
Q: The goat…
Guy: Well we had chickens, and geese, and all sorts of funny things. It’s just tough when, you know… and there are certain things about these sets that you’ll see if you’re there. The sun’s going down, and there’ll be moments where you go “man, why are we tearing this down?” But that’s the job, so what can I do? This is the reveal of the Daily Planet. I don’t know if you saw the scaffolding coming up. I’m trying to build another set using the same scaffolding, that’s the kind of money-saving guy I am. Basically, that scaffolding originally supported this set, which was the entrance to the Daily Planet. That’s the model, there. We talked about that.
Q: Was it based on any real newspaper?
Guy: This was really based on fantasy. I spent two weeks running around in New York with Bryan, when he first got the project, just looking at architecture. He was there with Dan and Mike writing the script in a hotel room, and every now and then he’d just pick me up and say “Let’s go around and look at some buildings.” So we would just go around, and he would pick out elements he really liked, and that’s what we worked on. That’s a memorial in the park.
Joe Everett: I know you’ve got another meeting coming up, so do you want to get to the stages?
Guy: Oh, yeah, we should. Alright, let me run through these really quick, then, seeing as I can’t really take you inside. We had to have rotating doors, you guys know that. This is the inside…
Q: That’s the foyer that carries over into the news room?
Guy: Well, this was a freebie. I kind of…(whispers) We shouldn’t really have built this, but we did (end whispering). This is the inside of those double doors.
Q: Now, that’s really open to the air out there?
Guy: Yeah, this is all open air with a big tent over the tent over the top. (whispers) Don’t tell Warner Brothers (end whisper). This is a big free set we built. This is the inside foyer. Basically I just couldn’t stand the idea of cutting from a stage to this outside set. I hate that stuff, so we had to get the camera following them through the double doors and getting them out onto the street. That was a great moment. It really paid off. There you see it again. All these Ferrises [referring to artist Hugh Ferris], which are sort of industrial artwork… There’s the upstairs foyer of the Daily Planet. Again, the idea here is that this building was created in the 20’s, and it was made to… some modernization was done. You can see the detail that was put into the set. It’s funny, we had, as part of the whole newspaper thing, we had a bunch of these one-sheets done, which we had in all the corridors. We had things like “Lex Luthor gets life,” and we’ve got Kevin Spacey in the photograph with his bald head. We actually recreated – I couldn’t find them anywhere in the archives – all the original newspaper covers that we saw in the first films, like “Look Ma, it Flies!” We recreated all of those, and put them all down the corridor. It has a great sense of history. We mixed them with real historical events, so it wasn’t just all about Superman. There’s real history, then the odd one about Superman. We really tried to tie it into the real world.
Q: Did you contact the Superman Museum in Metropolis, Illinois?
Guy: Oh yeah! Boy, did I. So, there’s the elevation, the corridors. This is the entrance into the Daily Planet. This is the other side of the door, there it is.
Q: Doesn’t that look like Frank Lloyd Wright?
Guy: Yep, it sure does. This is greatly inspired by the Johnson Wax building. So there it is, the Daily Planet. At least what I think it should look like. So, I’ll just zip through these, guys. I don’t want to bore you. So this just shows some of the detail. Again, the dressing… you have to be really careful when designing these kind of sets so that it doesn’t look too contrived. This is really what the newspaper offices look like, just piled up documents. What I like about this is that hopefully it’s attractive to look at, but it has a sense of practicality to it. Here’s the board room. There’s a very big scene that happens in there. That’s the entrance to Perry White’s office. For those of you that are architectural fans, you’ll notice these drawings on the left and the right, these charcoal drawings of the 20’s architecture…
Q: Hugh Ferris?
Guy: Yeah, exactly. Hugh Ferris. There’s Perry’s office, and you’ll notice the cabinet in the background, if you look really closely, it’s the Daily Planet. There’s a lot of scenes that happen in here. These are the windows. Okay, this is the inside of that 777. It was a very big gimbal. If you watch the blogs, you’ll see it’s on there. That’s the bar. That is a location downtown.
Q: Is it called Bibbo’s? Ace of Clubs?
Guy: Ace of Clubs, yeah. Okay this is a stitched photo, but it shows the train set. There you go. We had everything in here. We had a B-29 in the air with a little bomb hanging from it with a little “slim pickin’s” on the back. We had a big zepplin in here. There’s the Daily Planet building in there. There’s all sorts of detail. God, I hope you all see some of it in the film. It took a lot of time. This is the location which we changed into the Gertrude mansion, the Gertrude Vanderworth mansion.
Q: Are those real interiors?
Guy: No, no. All the sculptures are made, the bed is made, the furnishings are made. This is the yacht. This is actually the bridge of the yacht. Very rich wood tones in here.
Q: There’s even a Deco feel in this set.
Guy: Yeah, we tried. Here’s the outside. You’ll go and see this. This is the main gallery with the glass floor that I talked about. Everything in here was made from scratch.
Q: What kind of budget did you have? Was it huge?
Guy: You know what, surprisingly not. It was kind of “X2” size. That’s good, because I don’t have to tell you a number that way. You can go and figure that out. It’s a very big budget film, but because we have a character that flies around a lot, and does a lot of things which you really can’t do other than in CG, the computer graphics get a very, very large chunk of this budget. Because the sets are supposedly contemporary you just have to be really clever and inventive with how you spend your money. I hope there is a sense of richness that’s coming across to you guys, because that means we did well for the money we had.
Q: Was there anything you wanted to build that they said “no” to you about?
Guy: Yeah, when I wanted to build that big yacht out there! And when I said I wanted to build the Daily Planet. (jokingly) They said no, I don’t really understand why.
Q: In the X-Men films there was always the Danger Room, which you wanted to happen but just couldn’t do. Was there anything like that on this?
Guy: No, no, no. Bryan, Dan, and Mike had the story really done. They really had it done.
Q: There weren’t many drafts…
Guy: No, there really weren’t. They usually do this great thing where they have the draft, they pretty much stick to it, there’s usually a few scenes that come and go. We’ve got a couple of those right now, like the bank robbery we’re going to do.
Q: Does it help having them on set for that?
Guy: Yeah, it does. I mean, Bryan’s… he does everything. He’ll edit the script as he goes, and pages get rewritten, but there wasn’t really anything as important as the Danger Room in the X-Men that got cut. That was a shame. I wonder if they’ll do it in number 3.
Q: Please tell me you’re going to be releasing that picture of Superman in space as a poster…
Guy: Yeah, well, that was a hugely inspirational drawing for Bryan. It’s just this idea of how does… it’s kind of the same argument of “how does Father Christmas deliver toys to everyone in the world?” How does Superman save everybody in the world? How does he do his job. The idea is that there’s this listening post that’s way up there in the atmosphere. There are actually shots of this that have been done which are really spooky. You get shivers up your spine. It’s set to beautiful classical music. He’s just up there in the atmosphere, basically listening. You go into his ear, where you basically hear all the sounds around the world of people in trouble, and then he just “woosh” and off he goes. Bryan, again, nailed it. It’s exactly what Superman needs to do so that you don’t think, “What’s he doing? Save everyone in Metropolis and nobody else gets any help?” I think he’s really been able to deal with that.
Q: There’s the whole thing with Truth, Justice, and the American way. Is it more the global aspect, now?
Guy: Well, look… I’m sure… Superman is American. I know Bryan’s made efforts, he’s making efforts to make it a more international character. Everyone in the world knows who Superman is, but he is – and should be proud of it – he is one of the great American icons.
Q: I love the little thing in the blog, in Tokyo. [SuperTalk Concern] You lived in Tokyo….
Guy: Yeah, I did. That was weird. All I had to do was think about every time I turned on the TV. I’ve got a picture of that set… There’s the glass floor. So, anyway, that’s the main cabin. I think that’s pretty much it… yep. I hope that was some help.
The Fortress of Solitude II
From the design studio Guy walked us through 4 different sound stages on the Fox Studios’ grounds. Sadly many of the more grandiose sets had already been pulled down by this point in time, so the ones we were shown (while still magnificent) weren’t the best this movie has to offer. The Daily Planet sets have been preserved for any possible future sequels (as Guy states in the interview text), but many of the other sets (including the Kent Farm in Tamworth) had already been pulled down by July 2005.
The first sound stage we visited wasn’t explained to us (Guy Dyas purposely was cryptic in his approach on what he was showing us), I did manage to discover that what we were looking at was referred to as “The Fortress of Solitude II”.
The set was still under construction, but it can best be described as a dark grey Fortress of Solitude, with a fair-sized crater/indentation in the middle. Guy explains…
Guy: This is stage 7.
Q: Is this the Fortress of Solitude?
Guy: It’s not the Fortress of Solitude. It’s something else. I can’t tell you what it is. I just wanted to show you so you can all speculate. I’m not being funny, I just can’t tell you what it is. It’s interesting.. we’ll be here probably wednesday of next week. All I can tell you is that big crash in the ground is where Superman lands… and he’s very angry. That’s it. This is an interesting set, we have water rigged down the sides. There will be water pouring down the sides, and it’s going to look fantastic when it’s lit, but I can’t really tell you what it is. I just can’t. Alright, let’s move on.
Lex Luthor’s Train Set
One set which was destroyed, but for a story purpose, was Lex Luthor’s massive miniature train set. As Guy described (above), this train set was HUGE. While we didn’t get to see it in all its glory, we did get to see just how massive and detailed it had been (and hopefully that will come across on screen when we watch the movie). On the day we were there, the train set was in a state of destruction. Having been destroyed… by Kryptonian crystals!
Guy: This was the train set. Needless to say, something bad happens here. That’s all I can really say about it. This was, at one point, a really beautiful train set. The staircase behind you is what we use to marry into the location, which was Gertrude’s mansion. This is actually the basement. So the idea is that something really terrible happens here and the train set’s destroyed. We actually had duplicates of some of the train set pieces that were donated to us by Märklin. A lot of the buildings we made ourselves, and made duplicates so that we could burn them up and destroy them in this way. You’ll see the Kent Farm tucked under there. It really looked pretty good when it was together.
Q: This is still a hot set? This is still being used?
Guy: This is still being used. We’ve still got pieces to shoot here. I’d love to have shown you it with all the trains working and the zepplins running around, but at least you get a sense of it anyway. Let’s head back out towards Joe… thank you.
From the miniature train set we walked around to two different sound stages, each housing a different part of a huge 300ft yacht called “The Gertrude”. The first of these sets was the rear deck of the boat, where there was a nice-sized Jacuzzi, and a personal gymnasium.
Guy: This is the back portion of the “Gertrude.” I don’t know if you remember in the model, it actually has three tiers. In reality the stage wasn’t big enough, but there’s actually another tier above this, further along which is the helipad. Now, if you promise not to touch anything we can go up and have a look. Just don’t move any glasses or anything because they’ll kill me. Let’s just say a party or something’s been going on here, complete with towels with Gertrude’s emblem on them. This is the gym… They had to cover themselves so they’d not necessarily have to shoot into green screen all of the time. It’s for a pretty big scene in the film, and they needed this much of it built. To me it’s just the nuttiest thing in the world building the back end of a yacht on a stage. Anyway…
The next sound stage contained the “Main Gallery” of the boat. This magnificent set boasted an ornate spiral staircase, a grand piano, lounges, wall-to-wall bookshelves, sculptures, and, to top it all off, a glass-bottom floor for under-water viewing.
Needless to say I made sure to sit on a lounge, play a few keys on the piano, and climb a few stairs of the spiral staircase, so when I watch the movie I can say, “I touched that!” or “I stood there!”.
Guy: Pretty much everything in here was designed from scratch. Chairs, tables, even the fabric, in this case, was actually designed and made up. The lights were my design… everything except the piano, if I’m being completely honest. The piano I didn’t design. Anyway, it’s all here. This is the underbelly of the ship now. Those windows, there, mark… just below that is the water line on the ship, and everything, obviously, below here will be below sea level.
Q: Are you going to have green screen or real water?
Guy: There’s green screen, and then we’ve got convex mirrors and little pools, which we’ve made, little fish tank-like things. We can reflect light into those and get some nice dancing shadows on the top when they’re in more tropical waters. This ship goes on quite a voyage around the world, gets pretty beaten up.
Q: Was it fun getting to work on the ocean aspects of the film.
Guy: Yeah, it was. How often do you get asked to design…
Q: The most expensive yacht in the world?
Guy: No, no. The most expensive yacht in the world? No. I think the highlights are probably the yacht, the train set, and the farm, for me. Maybe the Daily Planet, too. There’s been some nice ones.
Q: Are there any homages in here to the DC Universe?
Guy: No, this was, at Bryan’s choice, was pretty clean of that stuff. That was all kept to very specific sets: The Kent Farm, the Daily Planet, things that are really rooted in the Superman world. Anything outside of that had to be fairly realistic and what you’d expect. The design in here is based on some research. I went on a very heavy research period where I looked at some of the world’s most expensive and luxurious yachts. All the wood finishes, and the design feel of this space are quite reminiscent of that. Obviously this is a little more designed. You don’t get extravagant roof structures like this, or these ball and socket lights. By the way, here’s an interesting thing – all these lights here on these rods, including the pool table lights at the other end, which if anyone hasn’t thought of it already, what the hell’s a pool table doing on a yacht? All of these are actually on one gimbal, so even though the actual set isn’t on a gimbal, all of the lights rock back and forth very gently. You actually start to feel very sea sick in here when all of this stuff starts going. There are certain props in here that are all timed to just sway very gently.
Q: Could the yacht actually exist?
Guy: Yeah, absolutely. Well, if you had enough money, yeah, you could build this. Absolutely. The gimbal is designed to make the ship feel like it’s moving. If you take the camera and start jogging it back and forth like this..
Q: Star Trek style…
Guy: Hopefully NOT like that. And when you start moving light fittings, it’s amazing. You look at that on camera and it looks exactly like it’s supposed to.
Q: Do the balls on the pool table actually roll?
Guy: They roll back and forth. While they’re trying to play pool. It’s pretty funny. [Laughter]
Q: I thought Lex was a genius?
Guy: Well, he didn’t build this, remember. He just got it. He just got it free.
Q: Was the glass bottom part your idea?
Guy: Well, there are boats for those who dive, and go out and snorkel and those sort of things, you can actually take boats out into reefs that do have glass bottoms. You can look down and see, and there are tours where you can go on boats with glass bottoms. So, it’s not an original idea, but certainly this extravagant and this size is pretty unique. It’s funny, when you work on something like X-Men and you have the plastic prison, and you’re used to walking on glass and things that don’t really look like they have any structure, you just sort of get used to it. I remember when we first brought the actors in here, they were sorta just, “okay…..” (mimics nervous walking). I hope it was conveyed in the photographs. I’m sorry the lighting crew is all off on location, and we can’t get the set lit properly. I hope you get a sense of it from looking at it. It looked pretty good. And needless to say, the spiral staircase takes you up to a corridor, which then takes you up to another corridor, then another corridor, then finally you’re up at the bridge. So it’s pretty huge.
Q: How thick is that glass? [the glass floor of the boat]
Guy: It’s about 2.5 to 2.75 inches. So it’s fine. We only had one piece of glass break. During construction, someone dropped a hammer. It just shattered, though. It’s safety glass, so it just shatters. It actually makes a beautiful pattern, which I’m going to use in my next project. It wasn’t right for this one.
Q: Do you have green screens under here?
Guy: Yep, we have green screens, which we can wheel in and out. We also have these fish tanks, which we can wheel in and out, and we also have these convex mirrors. So, the lights that are up on the walls outside the stage, they bounce light down, along underneath, and back up into the set. You basically use a series of mirrors to get the light back up into here. It’s pretty effective.
Q: Is there any particular inspiration for the mermaid? [windows behind the spiral staircase]
Guy: The mermaid, yeah. Now, look, the theme on this film is modern mixed with 30’s deco. I just wanted to have a beautiful glass wall with the sculpted mermaids on it. I thought it would be very beautiful, very stylish to see this ornate spiral staircase, and see the characters coming down them completely in silhouette in a really nice wide shot. Again, it’s supposed to be a really luxurious yacht. The set needed something more than just books and a few sparse pieces. We needed to give it just something that was a bit of an eye catcher.
Q: Are those based on your drawings?
Q: Could we walk on the glass?
Guy: Yeah, if you’d like.
Q: So the water comes up through here?
Guy: Yeah, exactly. If you imagine those mirrors I’m talking about, they reflect the light into these large transparent fish tanks. We agitate the water so it starts to move, and then you get that classic early 007 mystique.
Q: Did you build all of the furnishings?
Guy: Yeah, it’s all hand made. Even the fabric was made by hand.
Q: What about the ceiling?
Guy: This isn’t real wood.
Q: It wouldn’t keep as easily, would it?
Guy: It would, but it would be expensive. You just can’t use real materials. You’ll look at stuff, and you’ll touch it and go “Oh. It feels cheap.” And it kind of is cheap. It’s supposed to look the part.
Q: But you couldn’t lean against it. Like on the stairs, it felt like you could run up and down the stairs, you could lean against the railings…
Guy: Yeah, you’ve got to be able to do all of that stuff. For example, the top rail on the bannister right there, that’s actually just steel painted as wood. It would have cost too much to have someone whittle out this bannister. It’s not interesting in your field, but the price of that rail, having it made in steel and welded onto the rest of the stainless steel there, that saves me five or six thousand dollars, right there, just by making a decision like that. Does it really matter? Yeah, if you touch it you go “oh jeez, it’s really cold.” That’s because it’s metal that’s painted, but it’s ultimately the way to do it.
Q: When you say “touch it,” I’m going to go over there and touch it… (laughter)
Guy: Well, yeah. Most of the ship’s made out of MDF, a hardened sort of chip board.
Q: What’s the name of this room?
Guy: They call it “The Main Cabin,” but I call it “The Marine Gallery.” You take your pick. So that’s really it, guys. I don’t have anything else to show at this point.
– STEVE YOUNIS