Production designer Rick Carter on the dream states of ‘Avatar’

For production designer Rick Carter, Avatar is the ultimate expression to date of one of the underlying themes of his work. Working primarily for Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, Carter has made films in which the characters—and the audience—go on journeys into different worlds. To bring these worlds to life, and make these journeys believable, has been the hallmark of Carter's work, in films including Artificial Intelligence: A.I.Forrest GumpMunich, and Cast Away. He has also been a pioneer in designing for 3-D; his first credit as production designer was for the short 3-D film Magic Journeys, one of the opening attractions at the EPCOT Center in 1982, and he designed Zemeckis's visually breathtaking 3-D adaptation of The Polar Express.

With its hybrid of digital and physical design, live action and animation techniques, and its groundbreaking use of 3-D to create an immersive experience, Avatar places Rick Carter at the forefront of cinema technology. Yet he also has close ties to the history of production design in classic Hollywood; he is the protégé of production designer Richard Sylbert (The Manchurian CandidateThe GraduateChinatown), himself a protégé of William Cameron Menzies, who was given the brand new credit of "production designer" for his work on Gone With the Wind.

In this interview, conducted by phone a few days after Avatar received nine Academy Award nominations (including Best Production Design), and after the film surpassed two billion dollars in worldwide box office, Carter talked thoughtfully about the underlying ideas behind his work, and the way that he has been able to express a deeply personal vision through his collaborations with Spielberg, Zemeckis, and now James Cameron.

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