Great production design, of course, is all about detail, and as they a made new discovery, they folded it in and then mixed it all together like a fine roux. For the Dead City lair of baddie Silva (Javier Bardem) in Macao, Gassner found inspiration in Hashima Island off Japan with its undisturbed concrete buildings. The back story of Silva needing a remote island to repurpose cheap technology into the building of a super computer worked beautifully. "We used [Hashima] to mine lots of visual ideas in building our set," Gassner continues. "We even pulled the effigy of the leader down in the town square."
But things didn't always go according to plan. The modernistic, blue neon-infused look of Shanghai, for instance, wound up being converted into an elaborate set at Pinewood filled with LED screens for the ingenious fight between Bond and Patrice (Ola Rapace) in silhouette. You just couldn't do it on location, so this way Gassner and Deakins constructed and controlled their own environment.
Likewise, there was no way they could pull everything together in one location for the finale in Scotland, when we literally go back in time to reveal Bond's heritage at his family home, the Skyfall Lodge. "The set we designed was a fusion of all the things we liked," Gassner adds. "It was a harsh place against the elements. What does Bond do to fight back? He goes home, back to his deepest instincts, where he's most comfortable. It's a privilege for us to see it."
Bond then buries the past forever and returns to MI6, ready for his next assignment ("With pleasure"). But he's no longer an orphan: he's found an extended family. Gassner, too, has found an extended family with Bond. Indeed, he's been asked by producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli to return a third time next year to begin work on "Bond 24," with or without Mendes.
"A film is like a great piece of music and I always use Beethoven's 'Fifth' as an example," Gassner explains. "You start out really strong -- bang! You wake up the audience. Then you nurture them and wind up in a quieter place for the finale.
"But not until this family, have I felt as comfortable as I did when starting out at Zoetrope on 'Apocalypse Now' with Francis [Ford Coppola] and [production designer] Dean Tavoularis. At the end of every Bond film, you come back full circle with M and the next assignment. And that for me is worth showing up for."
Gassner will receive The Cinematic Imagery Award from the Art Directors Guild on February 2, along with fellow Bond production designers Ken Adam, Peter Lamont, and Allan Cameron.
"Skyfall" production design videoblog: