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Exclusive: Claude Paré Talks About Designing 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' and Working with Talented People

Claude Paré is a production designer on the move. He's worked on films as diverse as The Aviator (2004), Night at the Museum (2006), and The Day After Tomorrow (2004).

Recently, he worked as production designer on the block-buster film Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011).

Q: How did you approach the visual feel of the film Rise of the Planet of the Apes?
Over the course of time, I developed a personal process that can be resume in a few key words: references-illustrations-presentation/discussion-drafting-construction. References are the key to a solid statement. When short of ideas, I dive in the net and source out all kinds of visuals. It helps me funnel my vision and come up with an original idea. Brain storming with the director in the early stage of the preparation is crucial to understand his vision of his own movie. After all we are servicing a collective project.

Q: While this film is not in line with the original Planet of the Apes films, did you feel any pressure to imitate the work of the 1968 production designs?
Never. The subject matter, the time frame, the fact it is the prequel did not require any referencing to the original films other than wanted winks to the real fans. You can find them planted here and there if you pay attention.

Q: One of the final scenes is set on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in Vancouver. How much fun was it to create such a well-known landmark?
First, we went to scout in San Francisco and we figured out the geography and relationship of the bridge to the city. We then mapped out the whole bridge and the action on a model back at the office.

We built a portion of the bridge only and changed the graphics and street signs accordingly to where the action is meant to happen on the real bridge.

We did several test of color match. The orientation of the bridge was discussed to benefit the natural light and not having to deal too much with shadows moving around too much throughout the course of the day. It was walled in with giant green screens.

Fun? A copy is always a copy. I would rather design a new bridge if you ask me! But it is a strong and well-known landmark and hopefully, the audience will be on the real bridge when they watch the movie.

Q: What was the most surprising challenge of the film?
The most difficult set was the play atrium at the shelter for the apes. It is meant to have been built by municipal employees who put the craft at the service of a fake jungle in a sort of a Biodome.

It was difficult to stay away from making it look good. Every day, I was walking in and the sculptors and the painters were making it too nice. Despite having built a giant model and several illustrations, it was always too nice.

In the end it is believable but one of the most difficult set of the movie.

Also, the locking system of the cages in the shelter was crucial to the story and had I not been to a real sanctuary for research, I would have struggled more to come up with that locking system.

Q: What’s the first thing you do as a production designer?
First up, I want to read the script. I have been pretty lucky so far that I can turn down the violent bad stuff. I have read amazing scripts and did not necessarily have the job either.

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a production designer?
I did several drawing exhibitions years back and the film business gave me subjects and a new interest to illustrate different things, ideas. I did the job for a long time on smaller scale movies here in Montreal before stepping down and work as art director on larger movies. I always wanted to do big significant movies.

Q: Along with Elise De Blois, you won a Genie award for achievement in art direction for Barney's Version (2011). What did this award mean to you?
(Image: 31st Annual Genie Awards Gala, March 10, 2011 - Ottawa, Canada)
Elise was the set decorator and I wanted her to be nominated as well given her contribution to the sets of the film. No other nominee did that!

This is an important award in Canada and it was a great honor because it was based on a Canadian book written by Mordecai Richler. The script adaptation was one of the best scripts I have read so far.

The cast, the producer Robert Lantos and the art department were all fun to work with. Talented people are always fun to work with.

Q: What are your major influences? Who are the designers you admire most?
I have been working in the business for a while now and I have to say that I have my own star meter when it comes to ex-bosses! It is not really important anymore because you always learn something (good or bad) from every experience.

I started as a prop guy then moved on the set dec. (set decoration) then to art directing then design then down again to art director to trampoline back up to design on major movies. You have to know all aspects of this business to be a better designer and involve everybody together.

Tony Pratt and Nigel Phelps were a great source of inspiration. Attitude, respect and talent are a great combination! Dante Ferretti, Wolf Kroeger, were all good people to work with.

Q: What is your relationship like with concept and storyboard artists? Did you tend to be hands-on?
Very, very hands-on! I drive everybody crazy but in a fun way. Concept artists are extensions of my mind. I always come to the table with tons of references and a thumbnail sketch and we develop the idea farther together.

I have been spoiled to work with the same people over and over and we have a great work ethic and friendly relationship. I try to be as generous as I can.

Storyboard wise, there is so much pre-vis going on now that the movie is almost digitally made before we start shooting! We provide the entire visual environment for those early in the process.

Q: Would you say that you have developed a certain style?
I wish not. The beauty of this job is to deal with specialists in the different fields of the human activity. The learning curve is rocketing on each different movie!

You cannot get bored if you are involved.

Q: What's the next project you'll be working on?
I recently completed Underworld: Awakening 3-D. It was a fun experience and I really forward to that release. Kate Beckinsale is back and the franchise has a new twist which should launch another tome of the story.

To find out more, check out his IMDb and ADG page. Check out more of my interviews with talented artists here.

What do this of Claude Paré's work?

Main photo by Joe Lederer
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Write by: Arek - Friday, August 12, 2011

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