Ken Adam sets standard for Bond films

Art Directors Guild Awards 2013

The world of James Bond was the connection to sophistication and glamour for this boy growing up in Missoula, Montana. It was the window to the wide world of excitement, which was very remote for a generation that grew up before air travel was accessible to everyone, when TV consisted of three channels and movie theaters had a single screen. To this day, when watching the latest Bond movie, one is transported to a visual world of believable fantasy and thrills.

From the start, Bond movies instilled the idea that architecture and environment could exude something more than the practical. They could possess emotion — whether the emotion inspired by a rich and elegant casino or that generated by the lair of the worst criminal. I think I’ve seen “Thunderball” at least a dozen times. The film’s menacing underwater machines and the adrenalin rush caused by the jet pack kept me wanting more. I even liked the white dinner jackets.

Ken Adam, production designer on many of the early Bond films, set a standard of expressive design that reached beyond what anyone thought was possible. He he learned that if he could imagine it, someone, somewhere in the world could make it. And he instilled a lesson in all of the designers who have followed him, even those of us applying our trade in other genres.

It now seems like every award or event show has a bit of the James Bond fantasy: columns taller, vistas broader, and machines whose functions followed form, or presented the ultimate fusion of the two. So whether it’s a humble apartment set with a secret door or a musical extravaganza, there’s always a bit of James Bond behind its inspiration, whether in the unexpected details or in the entire fantasy.

Shaffner is ADG Council chair; his credits include “The Big Bang Theory.”

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