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UK Production Designers: Stuart Craig


Unless they work exclusively with auteurs that move with a glacial slowness, not many production designers working in cinema get to spend years working on a single project. As production designer on all five Harry Potter films so far therefore (and signed up already for the final two) it’s fair to say that Stuart Craig has had a slightly atypical decade so far.”In many ways it’s reassuring,” he says. “It’s a freelance industry and I would always finish a film and quietly panic thinking that the phone would never ring again … until the phone did ring in fact.”Having won three Oscars—for Gandhi, Dangerous Liaisons and The English Patient—not to mention being awarded an OBE in 2002, Craig is one of the last people you would expect to have a silent phone. And in putting visual flesh on the written bones of J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard phenomenon, he’s ensured his place on speed dial for any number of producers when the series finally ends.Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix will be released July 13 and is directed by David Yates. He’s the fourth director to helm the series after Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón and Mike Newell. Each has been different, with Cuarón in particular evolving the look of the series dramatically into something a little more gothic and a lot more forbidding, and Craig has had to adapt each time.”David is perhaps, more than any of the others, very inclined to get straight into the scenes and straight into the performance of the actors,” he says. “If there is a visual statement to be made then it has to be made very quickly and succinctly. I’ve come to understand and respect the fact that he won’t dwell on the lingering wide shots, which all designers traditionally hope that directors will do to show off their sets.”Craig describes some of the breaks in continuity brought about by new directors or new elements in the books as “nightmarish.” Hagrid’s hut grew significant extensions between films two and three, Hogwarts itself has added several appendages over the years, and the main entrance has changed from the location of Christ Church College Oxford to a courtyard of a sound stage in a London suburb. “Fortunately nobody has minded,” he says. “It’s difficult to deal with sometimes, but I think as long as we’re true to the spirit of the script and every film is it’s own entity, then we’re okay.”While some of his team design digitally, Craig prefers still to draw and sketch his designs in pencil while keeping a necessary eye on the capabilities of digital processes (the series’ first ever digital set will feature in the new film). His personal highlight of the new production is the sprawling underground bureaucracy of the brand new Ministry of Magic set.His favorite work is more muggle-centric, with Richard Attenborough’s Shadowland topping the list just ahead of Notting Hill and The Mission. “Because the canvas was limited, somehow we were able to get close to what we dreamed of and compromise less than you do on bigger films.”Nevertheless, he’ll be reading the seventh Potter book as avidly as the rest of the world when it’s released, also in July. “On a practical level we need to know what sets we can strike and what sets we have to reclaim,” he says.

Written by Andy Stout

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