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Call it art direction, production design or whatever you prefer, it's the wonderful illusions that trick the eye and make the heart and mind believe in the reality of what appears on the screen.

 

During the studio era and beyond such individuals as William Cameron Menzies, Anton Grot, Van Nest Polgase, John Box, Henry Bumstead, Sir Kenneth Adam and many more translated their visions into magnificent cinematic life in such notable "big" movies as The Thief of Bagdad (1924), Top Hat (1935), The Sea Hawk (1940), Citizen Kane (1941), Vertigo (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), or Dr. Strangelove (1964) and in fascinating "miniatures" such as The Stranger on the Thirteenth Floor (1940), Upperworld (1934), Alice Adams (1935), Invaders from Mars (1953) or To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).

 

Do you have any effects or values acheived by art directors and their talented staffs that have had an impact on you during or long after viewing a film? Would you say that art direction has helped mediocre films in some instances and overwhelmed others?

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For me, it began with the miniatures and effects in 1956's FORBIDDEN PLANET, a film MGM's art department head, Cedric Gibbons, detested to such an extent that he ceded all oversight to the studio's special effects dept. chief A. Arnold Gillespie (though Gibbons still took screen credit) and his subordinates Arthur Lonergan, Irving Block (who co-wrote the film's story), and Mentor Huebner.

 

I wonder if Gibbons ever realized that, to those looking back from the perspective of fifty years' hindsight, he was just making a case for his own superfluousness.

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Is there a resource that tells who really worked on these classic films? For so many years the movies' credits only listed the department heads. Cinesage's example of Forbidden Planet is an example of this.

 

Can we assume that the department heads at least gave approval on the final designs? So that to a certain extent, the designs reflect the head Art Director's aesthetic? Or is it possible that they were sent directly to the director for approval and then the set builders went to work?

 

I'd be interested in seeing a book of credits wherein the list reads something akin to "Lyle R. Wheeler (credited); Joe Blow (actual designs)".

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Moira,

 

I grew up in the Southwest in a then-small city not known for placing value on its history.

 

The classic movies taught me to love art deco. I had no idea what Art Deco was but thanks to Cedric Gibbons and the art directors at MGM, I developed a hearty appetite for not only for art deco but also moderne.

 

I came of age in the early to mid-1970s, and looking back at the films of the 1950s, the production designers, set and art directors helped me cultivate my love of mid-century architecture.

 

The westerns of all era have helped me understand (and love) the Southwest I grew up in.

Surprisingly, if the builders of homes here in the Southwest had watched the movies we would have all lived in homes (like the territorial style) that had long beams that kept the sun from directly coming in the window.

 

Unfortunately for most homes in the Southwest, the architects and builders were from back East and imposed those sensibilities on the homes instead of adapting to the terrain and the sun.

 

Ah, the difference between living in the movies and living in the real world.

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Watching the Making of...documentary of THE BIRDS (on the "Collector's Edition" dvd) I learned so much about how inventive Hitchcock and his talented team were at putting together this film. I was amazed to discover certain backgrounds were matte-paintings, and not real. I used to think I was good at spotting the fake scenery but Hitch had me fooled this time. Amazing work---these were REAL artists.

 

Miss G

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I live in the Southwest too. Up at Santa Fe they have a lot of very old adobe homes, 200 years old or more. They sell for millions of dollars.

 

I was down in a place in Mexico once, out of Saltillo, and we visited a 300 year old hacienda. Haciendas were the forerunners of American ?ranch style? homes. A hacienda is large and square, actually built on an old Roman style, with a large patio in the center of it.

 

The outer walls are about 15 or more feet high, like a fortress. All the rooms are inside and around all the walls. We could enter most rooms only from the patio, but some rooms had doors in-between them. This place had been lived in for the past 300 years but was still in good shape.

 

These types of buildings are shown in old movies about Mexico and the Spanish days of California. There is usually only one big door leading to the outside. It?s like a garage door for carriages. There is a smaller people door built into one of the double garage type doors. If the Indians or bandits are causing trouble, the double doors are shut and everyone goes in and out through the small door.

 

The way the modern ranch houses are like the haciendas is that they are often L shaped with a patio in back. That?s two of the four walls of a hacienda. If two of these houses were put together, with a patio inside, that would be a hacienda.

 

Down in Southern New Mexico and Arizona, some ranch style houses are being built to look like adobe. They are regular wood-frame houses with a coating of brown stucco on the outside to look like a plaster outside covering on a real adobe house.

 

I was inside the house shown in ?Vertigo?, in the little old Spanish town south of San Francisco. The walls are adobe and are about 3 or more feet thick. This cools the house down in the summer, like a cave. Thick dirt or mud walls make the house cool inside in the day and easy to heat at night.

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Is there a resource that tells who really worked on these classic films? For so many years the movies' credits only listed the department heads. Cinesage's example of Forbidden Planet is an example of this.

 

Can we assume that the department heads at least gave approval on the final designs? So that to a certain extent, the designs reflect the head Art Director's aesthetic? Or is it possible that they were sent directly to the director for approval and then the set builders went to work?

 

I'd be interested in seeing a book of credits wherein the list reads something akin to "Lyle R. Wheeler (credited); Joe Blow (actual designs)".

 

IMDb contains extensive production credits, but the site's accuracy is often questionable. A far better resource for films released before 1971 (in fact, the most authoritative source) is the AFI Catalogue, which is available online; though it requires a subscription, you may be able to gain free access to it through your local public library's website (as is the case with one of our local libraries).

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