Production designer brings bold look to 'Inception'

“I’m a designer who likes to go a bit nuts,” says production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas, best known for his big, bold statements in films like “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” and “Superman Returns.”

Logic follows that this would make him perfectly suited to a film that takes place primarily in the world of dreams, on three different levels of the subconscious, right? Well, yes and no.

In Christopher Nolan’s brain-boggling “Inception,” the typically flamboyant approach to dream worlds and what Dyas calls an “architecture of the subconscious” in many movies has been eschewed in favor of something more stripped down.

“We had to walk a thin line with the designs,” he says, “because anything too fantastical would have defied the purpose of what Chris was trying to do: It would have let the dreamer know he was dreaming.”

Although Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Cobb travels to specific cities like Paris and Mombasa while plotting the “inception” that he and his team are going to orchestrate, the locations within the dreams are more “faceless,” says Dyas, inspired by conversations he and Nolan had about their own dreams. “What you have is an idea of the space as opposed to a vivid image.”

A generic, coffee-toned boutique hotel in one dream level is meant to lull Cillian Murphy’s Fischer into a trusting mindset, and in another level, streets that Angelenos will recognize as downtown L.A. lack a certain character. Dyas says that street signage and advertising were removed in post “so it seemed as though it was a CG environment … but this was a real location.”

Contrary to what audiences have come to expect from visual extravaganzas like “Inception,” only 5% of the scenes were greenscreen — most of them in the “limbo” level created by Cobb and his wife, Mal, an avenue of historic-looking architecture that eventually crumbles into the sea.

“(Nolan) wanted the audience to be completely immersed in the idea that they were in a real world,” Dyas says, “even though it was a subconscious world.”

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