In Time: Designing a New Kind of Future/Retro LA
Production Designer and 5D co-founder Alex McDowell (Man of Steel, Watchmen, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) had a welcome change of pace with the small-scale In Time: the dystopian vision of LA by director Andrew Niccol in which time divides class. But then design challenges come in all sizes, and McDowell relished the opportunity to work with the visually adept Niccol (Gattaca).
"Andrew Niccol is a fantastic visualist," McDowell suggests. "His references are very enticing and he has a great sense of style. He put together a visual bible, but the balance was marrying the vision and tone of the film with his interesting budgetary and time constraints. There was very little prep. But with a vision at the helm of someone who doesn't wish to be constrained aesthetically or intellectually is a challenge I like a lot.
"But how do you take the raw material, in this case, the city of Los Angeles, and transform it into something [unique]? It has the smallest sets and the smallest number of sets that I've ever worked on for a film. And probably not since music videos in the '80s have I designed so few sets. But we were altering large swaths of landscape. We went into an industrial neighborhood at the LA River and Sixth Street (underneath the Sixth Street Bridge), which is an area much filmed. In fact, we filmed the second Crow there.
"So we made some decisions about what the city of the future should look like, and one of those was this genetic mutation that's been imposed on the population -- the ticking clock notion -- which has effectively reduced the population over the years. So it's a very sparse landscape that we find ourselves in. And there's a lot of wasteland, decay and destroyed buildings. The idea of the urban sprawl of LA, I think. And we made our town center the opposite of urban: it's two-story, industrial. It's certainly in a city, but it's very far on the outskirts of the city as we would understand it. What we did was something that I think is effective in film, which is to strip away the density of everything. We went to areas of LA (south and east of downtown) that have never been filmed that are desolate, not romanticized, the areas in between."
They applied the notion of low, industrial-looking square buildings and mixed it with some '30s and '40s brick and then converted it completely into something that looked like a third world town, something that reflected extreme poverty, where the colors become more intense, and so that it's a very colorful and depressed area at the same time. That was for the time poor, who live in Dayton. The polar opposite of that, which is the time rich, live in New Greenwich, and they have spectacular architecture, extreme luxury and their color palette is very muted and cool. But they were playing with the metaphors of time: having too much time and too little. In fact, the map of the city is a clock face with each of the territories working in a circle around a center. Thus, the metaphor of time is everywhere.