Trevor Hogg chats to production designer Gavin Bocquet…
“I did my first degree at Newcastle University,” states British Production Designer Gavin Bocquet. “They recommended that I do the Post Graduate course in 3D Design at the Royal College of Art. I was fortunate enough to be accepted.” The renowned academic institution counts three-time Oscar-winner Stuart Craig (Gandhi) amongst its alumni. “Stuart wanted someone to design the props and control panels for Saturn 3 ; he thought that a Product Designer would be a good person to do that. Stuart advertised at the Royal College and I went for the job.” A long standing creative partnership was established between the two countrymen. “Stuart was one of my mentors and I worked with him five times; he taught me most things I know about being a Production Designer.”
Hired to work on the final installment of the original Star Wars trilogy, the young artist was also taught by a two-time Academy Award-winner. “On Return of the Jedi  I was a junior Draughtsman for Norman Reynolds designing props and controls as I did on Saturn 3.” Gavin Bocquet was able to follow in the footsteps of Reynolds and Craig when director Steven Soderbergh recruited him for his black and white project. “I hadn’t designed a ‘colour’ film when I designed Kafka ; it was my first production design job on a feature. You basically have one less ‘tool’ to play with, colour. You have to rely on some of the other tools a little more, such as texture, tone, and shape.” Bocquet took his artistic talent to the small screen and was rewarded with an Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Art Direction for a Miniseries or a Special. “On a TV show like Young Indy [ABC, 1992 to 1993], you are much more involved in finding locations, and the shooting schedule is much shorter than a feature. You have to be able to move fast, make decisions, and design things very quickly. We were often shooting and prepping in different countries and continents, so you had to be able to balance many balls in the air all at once.”
A screwball comedy brought Gavin Bocquet back to feature length film. “Radioland Murders  was a process for George [Lucas] to try and use new cheaper digital technology that could be applied to the new Star Wars films he was planning to make.” Reflecting on what led him to be chosen as the Production Designer for The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005), Bocquet remarks, “We were all being ‘interviewed’ for Star Wars on Young Indy.” The assignment was a welcomed one. “I was very excited to come back to Star Wars after working on Jedi many years before. It was a huge task and quite daunting, but you go in every day and do the best work you can. It is hard to separate the three films; they were all great experiences, and something I will never forget. We may have got a little more confident as the films came along, but you could never relax.” Questioned about what it was like to dealing with originator of the epic space opera, the native of London, England replies, “George was an absolute pleasure to work with. The creative freedom you have on any show is always about what the Director is trying to achieve.”
“There have been many changes in the profession since 1980, but maybe the biggest has been the technological advances we have seen over the last 15 to 20 years,” observes Gavin Bocquet. “But in the UK, there was also a huge acceptance during this time, that Film and TV Design was finally a serious and respected profession. Up to then it had been seen as a separate profession, outside of the normal ways of life.” Bocquet explains, “The Production Designer’s role is, in simple terms, to help tell the story visually with the location and set designs that surround and encompass the actors and characters. 2001  is the film that first inspired me to work in Film Design. I saw it when I was at school and I was in complete awe of how you could be transported to another world and another environment.” He adds, “The main difference between the role of Art Director and Production Designer is that the final responsibility for anything that comes out of the Art Department, is down to the Production Designer. The buck stops with you! You have to be happy to take on board that sort of responsibly, and enjoy the interaction you have to have with the Director you are working for at the time. I found that transition fairly straight forward as I had already been designing my own TV commercials, where the responsibility was down to me.”
“Great Production Design is about helping to tell a story as best you can with the creative tools you have at your disposal,” states Gavin Bocquet. “It can be the biggest and most visually extravagant type of script, or it can be just a story of three people talking for two hours in one room. They all require the same level of involvement and creativity.” The movie industry veteran advises, “Initially, you have to be creative, and enjoy all the creative fields, as they call come together in Film Design. You have to enjoy helping to tell a story. You have to enjoy interacting with people from all walks of life. You have to enjoy the fact the schedule and budget of a film are just as important as any creative talent you may have. It doesn’t matter how d creative you are, if you don’t know how to get it on the screen it is not worth anything.” There is not much difference between independent and studio projects. “Every film, big or small, is equally as hard and demands the same things from you. I would have to say that the three Star Wars films were probably the biggest challenge but only because what had gone before and what the fans were going to expect.” Bocquet carries on to say, “Low budget films, like The Bank Job , will usually involve finding more locations to shoot on, but it can be just as hard finding the right locations, as it is designing sets.”
“Each script has different demands visually, whether a location-based film or a stage based-film,” says Gavin Bocquet. “Usually it is a complete mix between the two, and it is about getting the balance right. I don’t see it as two different things they are all part of the same process.” In regards to handling historical events as suppose to fantasy tales, Bocquet remarks, “True life stories are no different really in the Design process, as you always presume that the story you are helping to tell is real and has that integrity in the Design.” Research is an essential tool. “Everything is based on reference, and the Director will demand the same input and commitment in whatever type of environment you are expected to create.” With Jack the Giant Killer (2013), Bocquet had to conceptualize a classic fairy tale. “It was great fun working with Bryan Singer, and there were huge challenges involving the giants in the storytelling.”
Technological advancements have had a major impact in the cinematic scope of movies. “The visual possibilities are now much wider, and the pallet you have much bigger. However, digital enhancements are not cheap so they have to be carefully and methodically considered. They are not the magic wand to solve problems.” Shot counts and the production schedule need to be kept under consideration. “The request is generally to ‘build’ as much as we can, and use digital enhancement only where necessary. But every set or environment requires its own discussion and answer. If you have a big ‘environment’ you are shooting of for days or even weeks, then it will be better to build as much as we can. If you are shooting on a big ‘environment’ for maybe one day or less, then it would be better to consider more CGI work if it was applicable.”
“I don’t think it’s changed the basic work process/methodology of a Production Designer,” remarks Gavin Boquet when contemplating the influence of CGI on his profession. “Even in days gone by, as say on Gone with the Wind , the Production Designer and Art Deptartment still had to envisage the concepts for the look of the film; they were broken down into separate elements such as matte paintings, models, perspective sets, and foreground miniatures to achieve these concepts. These days you are doing the same thing in principal, but the digital technology gives you many different ways to produce these concepts.” Bocquet is undaunted by the creative challenges involved with digital filmmaking. “We always strive to give the highest level of detail we can. Maybe the demands of HD and 3D put more pressure on us in those areas, but there is nothing wrong in being pushed!” He notes, “In a way, you have to enjoy the insecurity of this industry. However, that can be exciting as you never know what you will be doing in a year’s time. You have to have a confidence in your ability, but you also have to have some good luck along the way.”
Many thanks to Gavin Bocquet for taking the time out of his schedule for this interview.
Visit the official site for Jack the Giant Killer here.
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.