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Production Designer Guy Hendrix Dyas on the Challenges of 'Inception'

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Designing Dreamscapes
Production Designer Guy Hendrix Dyas on the Challenges of 'Inception'

Clockwise from L: (1) Guy Hendrix Dyas and director Steven Spielberg on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; (2) Gordon-Levitt, Watanabe and DiCaprio in Inception; (3) Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age; (4) Routh in Superman Returns

1: © David James, Paramount Pictures; 2, 4: © Warner Bros Pictures; 3: © Universal Pictures.

The artist M. C. Escher may have envisioned impossible staircases, but nobody actually had to walk on them. Luckily, as Inception filmgoers already know all too well, if it can be dreamed, Guy Hendrix Dyas can bring it to life on film.

As one of Hollywood’s most highly sought-after production designers, the British-born Dyas has envisioned the production designs for everything from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, to X2: X-Men United, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Brothers Grimm, Superman Returns, and more. His most recent accomplishment was the production design for Christopher Nolan’s mindbending blockbuster film Inception, for which he received BAFTA, Art Directors Guild, Los Angeles Film Critics Association awards, and more -- as well as a 2011 Oscar nomination for Best Achievement in Art Direction, shared with Larry Dias and Douglas A. Mowat.

I exchanged e-mails with Dyas recently about his career, and the discussion ranged from the dreamworlds of Inception to the sumptuous challenges of Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and the fairytale nightmares of The Brothers Grimm.

Angela Mitchell: Congratulations to you and your team on your BAFTA and many other awards for Inception! How did it feel to be nominated for an Oscar for the first time?

Guy Hendrix Dyas: It was exciting for us -- it’s a rewarding experience, and it encourages everyone to keep producing the best work they can. It’s always nice to get a pat on the back from your peers. You have to learn to appreciate those moments.

Angela Mitchell: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about being a production designer?

Guy Hendrix Dyas: The biggest misconception is that it’s simply about creating sets -- production design is very abstract to those who don’t work in the film industry. In my experience, however, the designer is the director’s key ally when creating the look for a film, along with the director of photography. We’re asked to create much more than just sets, we create entire worlds and time periods. It’s very exciting.

Angela Mitchell: You started out doing industrial design, and then an incredible amount of work as an illustrator before concentrating on Production Design. Do you still ever use any of that industrial design foundation in your work today?

Guy Hendrix Dyas: I’m very grateful to have had solid training in industrial design before I even set foot in the film world. Not only did it allow me to develop a very practical design sense but it also made me strive for realism no matter the genre of film I’m working on -- fantasy, historical, contemporary. That training was also a great way to learn everything there is to know about manufacturing and construction.

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