The lush retro look of “Sky Captain” oozes the noir-ish glamour of an earlier era of sci-fi movies. Every detail, from costumes to backgrounds to the look of the robots and other inventions, stays on message in terms of design.
“We begged, borrowed and stole from everything we liked growing up as kids,” says art director Kevin Conran of collaborating with his director (and brother) Kerry on “Sky Captain.”
“Pulp magazines of the ’30s and ’40s and comicbooks, B science fiction films, ‘Citizen Kane,’ all of those influenced us, but they’d never really been smashed together in one form before,” Conran says.
The film’s striking adherence to an earlier era of Saturday afternoon serials and Buck Rodgers-science fiction is carried out in every detail of the production, including Stella McCartney’s costumes for Paltrow and Law.
Popular on Variety
The film was born about 10 years ago. “Initially, my brother was looking for a way to make a film on a budget of basically nothing,” Conran says. “He took existing off-the-shelf software and put things together …It started out as a black-and-white film that was very heavily driven by the film noir style.”
After producer Jon Avnet came on board and Paramount picked up the film, the stakes changed and a star cast was added. The budget, which the Conrans had initially pegged at $3 million, soared above $30 million.
“Maybe a quarter of the way into production, we were told it was going to be a color movie,” says Conran. “It was our intent for it to be black-and-white, that’s why there’s such a strong sense of graphic design to it. Adding color was really a matter of working with a limited palette and putting the color where we could have the most impact.”
The first thing he did on the film was to design the rampaging robot that opens up the film. “From there, it was just designing the world around it,” he says. “We did it with a team of about 100 computer artists. It was a combination of things: 3-D models, photography and matte-painted backgrounds.” All told, the whole film took about two years to make.
The unusual approach to filmmaking made for an interesting experience.
“It’s not traditional filmmaking,” he says. “But this is still a whole lot of movie for under $40 million. We were breaking new ground. Kerry and I weren’t the only people that were on our first movie. The vast majority of people on the team were newbies, and everyone leaned on each other.