Spectre: Production Design

Oscar-winning production designer Dennis Gassner returns for his third Bond film, and his fourth collaboration with Sam Mendes. “Working with Dennis is like a bit of magic; he’s got such a soul,” says Mendes. “You get more out of a drawing that Dennis would have done on the back of a napkin than out of 70 pages of technical drawings. And then his sense of colour and light, architecture and style and his taste, all these things are impeccable.”

From Hot to Cold

What the filmmakers dreamed up for SPECTRE, Gassner says, was guided by what they created in Skyfall. “That was a beginning and then SPECTRE is the continuation of that,” he says.  “In my initial discussions with Sam I said, ‘Where do you want to go with this film? What’s your direction?’ and he said, ‘Can you find me something hot and then something cold?’”

Mexico: Day of Dead Celebration

Shifting Bond through contrasting environments, from hot to cold, the film opens in Mexico amid a wild Day of the Dead celebration. “When the Day of The Dead came up I was extremely happy because it’s been something I have been watching for a long time, coming from California and therefore being very close to Mexican culture,” says Gassner.

“We started doing our research and when we reached the right tone and started designing it, it worked out really well. The Mexicans were absolutely wonderful to work with and are obviously passionate about displaying what their culture is invested in. Working on the Day of the Dead section of the film was one of the most exciting things I have done in my career, ever.”

The parade included 10 decorative skeleton maquettes and floats, the tallest of which towered 11 metres high. The carnival centrepiece was ‘La Calavera Catrina’ skeleton, inspired by an etching from Mexican illustrator and lithographer José Guadalupe Posada, which wore a hat that was 10 metres wide.

The Alps

When searching at a contrasting, colder environment, Gassner and Mendes settled on the Alps, which feature some key scenes, including Bond’s introduction to an important character at the Hoffler Klinik.

“The Klinik was really the beginning of the adventure for me,’ Gassner explains. “We went to the Alps in Switzerland and Austria and Italy. Luckily, I found Sölden in Austria, and a restaurant, the ICE-Q, at the top of this ski lift, which became the foundation for what we needed. The Klinik is a little bit of an ice jewel in the middle of the movie!”

Gassner says that the ICE-Q structure had the perfect clean and clinical Alpine aesthetic for the Hoffler Klinik, and its position atop the 3,000-metre Gaislachkogl Mountain made it especially attractive. With key scenes set inside the Klinik, however, the filmmakers built the interior at Pinewood Studios in England, the traditional home of the James Bond films.

Symmetrical Set Design and Composition

Knowing Sam Mendes’ penchant for the symmetrical, both in set design and composition, Gassner tried mirroring the existing architecture to form a ‘butterfly’ shape. As the idea developed the new footprint was mirrored again to form a final design that was made up of four cantilevered wings radiating around a central courtyard.

To balance the symmetry of the new building, a central concrete entrance tunnel was built, both on location in Austria and on the stage at Pinewood, allowing the actors to transition seamlessly between the exterior and interior sets.

Rome: Power and Scale

When looking for a key European city, the filmmakers selected Rome, impressed by the sense of power and scale, which fits so well with Bond in general, and SPECTRE in particular.

“All cities are challenging,” says Gassner, “and Rome was no different. But what we wanted to transfer to the screen was the sense of power you get from the architecture in that city.”

A key scene set in Rome, which was shot at Pinewood, is the SPECTRE meeting that introduces the film’s primary antagonist, Oberhauser. “Again, when designing that scene, it was all about power; that was what we were looking for,” says Gassner. “The original location that we modelled our interior on was the Palace of Caserta in Naples.”

“There was a sense of scale that was massive and we wanted to convey that during the SPECTRE meeting,” he adds. “We were able to do that on the sound stages that we had available. I think that we achieved what we needed and it is a great entrance for Oberhauser. That’s a key moment in the film.”

Another key location was Morocco, including the city of Tangier. “That was an exciting place to go,” says Gassner, “Tangier generally has a romantic image and that carried through to a number of very important scenes.”

London

In London, Gassner designed some very specific locations, including M’s office, Q’s lair and Bond’s apartment, to name but a few. “For M’s office we of course went back to the ‘red door’ room which is classic,” he says, referencing the archetypal, very traditional Whitehall environment that housed Bernard Lee’s M across the years, “and then we went from there to Q’s lab and his workshop.”

According to producer Michael G. Wilson, Q’s working environment in SPECTRE showcases his interest in inventing. “Q is back to having lots of mechanical devices and he’s fixing things but also there is some high tech behind it. It’s a bit like the mad professor’s lab!”

As well as giving Q a new environment, SPECTRE also reveals Bond’s London apartment. Producer Barbara Broccoli explains, “At the beginning of pre-production I said to Dennis that Bond’s apartment will be one of the most difficult sets to get right, and after we shot it he said, ‘You were right about that,’ because everyone has an idea in their minds about the kind of place where Bond would live.

“When you actually sit down and figure out what that should be,” she adds, “everyone has different expectations. We knew it would be tricky but Dennis did a great job. And Daniel was also very involved in that set design because it indicates a lot of about the character of Bond himself and what he calls home.”