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HomeAwardsAwards contender-Alex McDowell, Charlie & Choc

Awards contender-Alex McDowell, Charlie & Choc

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Production designer Alex McDowell is known for his skills in integrating digital technologies with traditional design. He had to draw on his entire arsenal of artistic techniques and high-tech tools in order to create the eye-popping and audaciously askew world that director Tim Burton wanted for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.One high point was the vertiginous descent of a pink spun-sugar galleon manned by scores of pint-sized Oompa Loompa oarsmen, carrying Johnny Depp as Willie Wonka and other main characters, down the rapids of a chocolate river.Charlie, said the production designer, “was probably the most difficult project I’ve ever worked on—and the chocolate river was the hardest part.”To pull it off, extensive time during the film’s preparation was spent doing pre-visualizations, or computerized storyboarding and camera set-ups. “We’re using advanced computer tools that are on a par with what designers in the airplane industry have available to them,” he said. Not for nothing is McDowell known as the Wiz of Previz.“From a design standpoint, there’s no difference between a physical and a virtual set and Charlie required a total design sensibility,” said McDowell.The look he came up with “allows space-age James Bond to meet Russian Constructivism through the lens of an Italian B movie in a timeless, placeless world.”It’s been a two-fer Tim Burton year for McDowell. On top of Charlie, he was also production designer on Burton’s Corpse Bride, done in stop-motion animation. “I love what Tim does visually, but I try not to just feed back the same sensibility,” he said. “It’s important to offer what I can come up with as a complement.”Though it was released this fall, McDowell worked on Corpse before doing Terminal for director Steven Spielberg, which earlier this year won the production designer multiple kudos for his super-realistic, full-sized airline departure and arrival facility.Other films whose productions he’s designed include The Crow, Fight Club, Minority Report and The Cat in the Hat. For a change of pace after finishing Charlie, McDowell did a realistic drama directed by Anthony Minghella. He’s now designing Bee Movie, an animated film for Dreamworks that’s written and voiced by Jerry Seinfeld.

Written by Jack Egan

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