Skyfall: Production Design

Oscar-winning production designer Dennis Gassner returns for his second Bond film, his third collaboration with Sam Mendes, and his seventh collaboration with director of photography Roger Deakins.

“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. We built thirty-one sets, but the unsung environments are the locations and London played a big role in this film.”

The opportunity to shoot in London was like a red rag to a bull with Sam,” says Daniel Craig.  “We wanted to see parts of London that we hadn’t seen before, to use the city in ways that would be impossible in most movies – but Bond’s name opens a few doors! London has a real character and that excites me because I love this city and I think it is so rarely represented well on film. We were aiming to capture the madness, the mystery, the danger, and the glamour of London. I think it’s a brave and wonderful thing to focus very tightly on the city.”

A sizable amount of the story also takes place below London’s street surface, an environment that is based on what was historically referred to as the Churchill bunker system.  During World War II, many government offices were relocated underground for protection; similarly, in Skyfall, after the headquarters at MI6 are attacked, M makes the decision to relocate.

 “It’s the kind of question every government has to think about – in an extreme emergency, where do you go?” says Gassner.  “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.”

In this way, even a plot device like moving headquarters beneath the city gives the film a distinctly British feel.  Craig says, “In conversations with Sam, we wanted to make Skyfall ingrained with core British values. Making this movie unmistakably British was a dream of ours.”

Gassner illustrates the juxtaposition between a location environment, such as the Old Vic Tunnels, and sets built on sound stages, including the underground MI6 bunker.  “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.”