Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our one hundred and thirty-fourth guest was the Production Designer of the prequel trilogy – Gavin Bocquet.
Lightsabre – Gavin, welcome to Lightsabre, pleasure to have you here.
Lightsabre – It was a long stretch between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace, and during that time you certainly kept yourself busy, primarily with your work on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Which of those shows gave you the most satisfaction?
GB – Return of the Jedi was my third film, and I was a Draughtsman, basically responsible for a lot of the technical dressing and prop design, display consoles and weapons among other things.
Between Jedi and Young Indy, I was basically making my way up through the art department, on films like Cry Freedom, Young Sherlock Holmes, Dangerous Liaisons, and Empire of the Sun to name a few.
It’s always hard to answer questions about favourite films and favourite experiences. Every project really is as exciting as all the other, if in many different ways. On Young Indy, you have to say that it was the overall challenge of shooting in 52 counties, with relatively small budgets, and trying to create a feature film scale, that was the most satisfying element of that work, not any particular episode.
Lightsabre – You came from being a draftsman and moved into the world of production design. What instigated that career change, or was it a natural progression?
GB – In a way it’s always a natural progression. But you are still dependant on that odd bit of luck, or being in the right place at the right time. It’s certainly always good to let people know what your ambitions are and then at least they might think about you when an opportunity does arrive.
My first Feature film as Production Designer, was Kafka, Steven Soderbergh’s second film. I was recommended for that by Norman Reynolds, who was working with Barry Levinson at the time, and they were producing the Soderbergh film. So Norman very kindly put my name forward. That is the synchronicity you sometimes need and can’t really plan for.
GB – I was always very interested in film throughout my school days. The two films that were very strong influences on me while I was first learning about film, were Jason and the Argonauts and 2001 A Space Odyssey.
However, at that time, there was no obvious career path that would lead me into the world of films. So being quite creative at school I went to Art School, and studied Product Design. Firstly at undergraduate level, and then at Postgraduate level at the Royal College of Art in London.
During my time at the Royal College of Art, the first Star Wars film came out, and that again started to bring forward my interest in the film world again.
During my last few weeks at the Royal College of Art, by complete chance, Stuart Craig, who has since gone onto become one of the worlds best Production Designers, (Harry Potter), was designing his first feature film, Saturn 3, and was looking for some designers to help on the prop making design side of things. So I made the call, and that was the start of my film career.
Lightsabre- How would you describe a production designer’s role in a production?
GB – The Production Designer’s role is to help the Director tell the story of the script in visual terms.
This can be achieved by creating certain moods and styles for all the environments the script requires, either individually or in total. The Production Designer can also help to define the characters themselves by the design of the environments we put those characters in.
To achieve goals, the Production Designer has many visual tools to work with, set design, set decorating, location choices, CGI and VSFX work, Props, and any other visual devises the script demands or requires.
GB – My two main mentors are Stuart Craig (Harry Potter, Dangerous Liaisons), and Norman Reynolds (Star Wars 4 & 5, Indiana Jones). These are the two Production Designers I worked with most times, as I was working my way up through the Art Dept.
Both are very creative, talented and professional Production Designers, and having worked with each of them maybe 4-5 times, most of my influences have come from them. However every other Production Designer I have worked with has taught me many things just by being around them and seeing how they work.
Lightsabre – What is it like to be a part of the Star Wars phenomenon?
GB – Only one word really; incredible. Working on Jedi was great, but I never thought that a few years later I would be the Production Designer on the prequels. Basically I heard about Young Indy, and heard that Rick McCallum was the Producer, and he lived in the next road to me in London (another example of synchronicity). So in the days before Emails, I just dropped a note through his post box, saying I would be interested in that job.
And that resulted in a couple of meetings and I was offered that job, and through Young Indy, it lead us onto Radioland Murders and then Star Wars.
If I had only done one Star Wars film I would have been happy enough, but to do three was absolutely brilliant.
Lightsabre – We often hear funny stories from the sets of the movies. You have been a part of so many hugely successful ones you must have a wealth of stories to tell.
GB – Probably a fair amount, and some not repeatable in public. I think one great moment, was when we re-created John Barry’s Homestead set in Tatooine (Tunisia). We researched everything, and built it in exactly the same spot on the Tunisian salt flats.
On the day of the shoot on Phantom, that was the first time George had been to the set, and he and Anthony Daniels were the only two people on the crew to have been involved in that very first film.
And you could see for a few moments that were quite taken aback to see the set again 25 years later, a complete match to what they had originally done. Quite a reflective moment for both of them I think.
GB – The most important thing that the Art Dept and I tried to achieve was to keep the visual spirit and identity of all the previous Star Wars films. We wanted the fans to really believe this was part of the same saga visually, and apart from pleasing George, that was our main aim.
Lightsabre – Seeing the results of your work come to life in the prequels must have been an immensely satisfying process. What is it like to oversee the progression from drawn designs to completed sets, and know they are immortalised forever on film?
GB – That is the enjoyment of the film business, whether on Star Wars or other projects. It’s a very quick process in some ways, in 10 months we can create, build and shoot an entire galaxy, and when that’s done you move onto your next project.
Lightsabre – Every project teaches you something new, but of all the projects you have worked on which one was the steepest learning curve?
GB – Probably two are equal. My first job as Production Designer on Steven Soderbergh’s Kafka, a sadly under viewed film (readers please note, it is worth a look!). You have not done the job before, and the first time you do it, you have to be learning on the job so to speak.
The second one would be The Phantom Menace simply because of the history and huge weight of responsibility there was to keep the series fresh and alive visually.
Lightsabre – A Star Wars episode is an investment of anything up to three years of your life, but what we see up on the screen is often just the tip of the iceberg. Are there any sets or locations that didn’t make the final cut that you wish had?
GB – To be honest, no. There were a few environments that did not make it into the final cut, but that was because they didn’t move the story or the characters along, so it was the right decision to leave them out. And if that is correct you never miss the ones that aren’t there, so it is actually hard for me to remember what was not there.
Lightsabre – If you were made to choose a favourite location of yours to bring to life – Star Wars or otherwise – which would it be?
GB – As I said it’s always hard to name favourites, as they are all favourites for different reasons.
I think Gunga City was always a fun environment, to create. From Doug Chiang’s early visuals, we created a whole number of back-stories for that civilisation and its architecture that gave us a design vocabulary for that environment.
Lightsabre – What do you foresee for yourself in the future? Is involvement in the television show a possibility?
GB – I am still in touch with Rick and the guys at Lucasfilm, but I think the TV series is not for me at this stage in my career. It needs someone younger and fresh, and in a way naive, as I was when I started Young Indy all those years ago.
GB – Brilliant, it’s great that the Star Wars world is kept alive and strong in this way.
Lightsabre – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest. Just one final question. Young Indy, young Obi-Wan and Terry Leather from The Bank Job are hired by Captain Shakespeare of Stardust to rob a Las Vegas casino. But which one of the three distracts the guards, which one breaks into the vault and which drives the getaway car, and why?
GB – Captain Shakespeare would distract the guards, because a cross-dressing pirate would distract anybody. Terry Leather would break into the vault, as he is a bank robber, and Young Indy would drive the getaway car, just because he would!
This interview was originally posted on lightsabre.co.uk on 8th February 2009.