Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to one of the members of the crew who worked on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Now I am sure that some of you may already be familiar with this person – as he has created an absolute storm on Instagram by sharing some fantastic behind the scenes pictures from the production of the film. I am of course, referencing Andy Nicholson – the Production Designer on Fallen Kingdom.
Andy was kind enough to lend me some of his time on a Friday night to talk about his work in the film industry, and his work on the set of FK. What follows will be some highlights from the conversation we had – offering some interesting insight into the movie making magic that goes into a Hollywood blockbuster like FK.
Now we started off talking a little bit about Social Media – which was cool. When talking about how Social Media and how our fan base influenced the production, Andy mentioned how: “Colin and JA are great at engaging with the fans and maintaining an online presence.”
Andy also discussed how the presence of fans, both on Social Media, and online, influenced the decision-making process for Fallen Kingdom. Small details were considered in great length as the production team knew fans would pick up on them: “When it came to the Ceratopsian Skull which takes centre stage in Lockwood Manor, we were quite conscious that it couldn’t be a Triceratops because it wouldn’t have been big enough to kill the Indoraptor. With that in mind, we created a new genus which was an amalgamation of 2 different Ceratopsians. In the film, all of the other skeletons in the Diorama have name plaques. We never showed one for our new-genus just to keep the online audiences guessing.”
Andy then touched on the piece of Set Design which took the internet by storm. Many of you may remember that when Main Street was first built Pua'ena Point in Hawaii, there was some discussion about the fact that the orange glass of the souvenir shop was still intact. Well, Andy touched on this during our discussion, saying that: “We had built the main street in Hawaii using the same construction team who had built main street in the first Jurassic World. I hadn’t arrived yet as I was still with the crew in the in the UK and they had built the souvenir tower intact as that was how they had left the set when it was filmed in 2015. The tower was never actually destroyed on set; it was destroyed in post-production. I remember getting an email from Colin letting me know that fans had noticed on this on some leaked photos! It was a while before we would be filming yet so we had plenty of time to fix it!
“The tower was never actually destroyed on set; it was destroyed in post-production. I remember getting an email from Colin letting me know that fans had noticed on this on some leaked photos!”
At this point we touched a little bit on the culture of people photographing while they were filming. Andy explained that while security was tight in the UK, the popular filming locations in Hawaii are easily accessible by the public and productions in Hawaii often have set photos leaked and shared on the internet. Drones especially can be real issue. Andy touched on the presence Jurassic had – particularly when shooting in Hawaii: “People knew we were coming months before we arrived. There are several, well-known & frequently used filming locations on Oahu, so people usually know when something is going on. Especially when you’re building something big - our Main Street was 115M/375ft long!”
We then discussed my visit to some film locations – mentioning an article I had shared with Andy a few weeks beforehand about my time visiting the FK locations in the UK. He shared some interesting insight into the filming at Pyestock, and how that area had to be transformed for filming: “We had quite an unusual problem at that location. If you look back in the film, all the Palm trees which feature in that sequence are quite short. In the UK, you can hire Palm trees, which is what we did with a lot of greenery and plants. You can’t, however, hire loads of big Palm trees. To get around this we would usually import long Palm fronds from Morocco or Spain. They get shipped in, and you dress the tops of fiberglass tree-trunks to create Palms. When we were, filming Fallen Kingdom, however, there was a ban on importing Palm Trees due to a disease that was going around. All we could get were different, much shorter fronds which weren’t ideal.
Things like that can often happen on shoots though – and we had to do a lot for this sequence because we were building part of Main Street which hadn’t heavily featured in Jurassic World while also showing parts you were familiar with. We also adapted that whole section and worked with vfx as it would be to extended in CG afterwards. We shot the whole things using both a real helicopter and a dummy helicopter ‘buck’ on a crane – allowing us to get some tracking shots of the real helicopter. Our Special Effects department used a massive 15 metre by 15 metre scaffold water-sprinkler rig suspended from a crane in that sequence to create the rain, a lot of rain – Film rain has to be much more prominent than real rain so that you can see it on camera.”
Andy then welcomed me to ask him a few of my nagging questions about his time as the Production Designer on the film. As someone who has a passionate interest in the film industry and the different ways people can get into the roles they find a love for, I wanted to first ask Andy a little bit about how he got into the film industry – particularly in the artistic roles he finds himself in today.
“I studied Architecture at Brighton, and couldn’t decide what I wanted to do. I started by working for a small boutique design company on fairly exclusive houses, then I went into the other end of the industry in Canada, working for a big much more commercial company, working on multi story buildings and large scale land development schemes. I did this for a couple of years but ultimately decided that it wasn’t for me. Large buildings can take years to design and build and that just wasn’t a speed that worked for me!
In the early nineties there was also a real turn down in the Architectural industry. I came back from Canada and decided that I’d take a look at a career that I’d always been Interested in. I had some friends from College who had gone on to take a 1 year Production Design course at Kingston Polytechnic and I went to see their end-of year show – I loved what I saw! I was aware at this point, however, that I didn’t want to go back to College for another year! I found out that a lot of the group had been doing voluntary work at the National Film & Television School in Beaconsfield. It’s one of the only film schools in the world where you can go and study specific areas of filmcraft. So, when you receive an interview, you’ll be interviewed based upon an area which you are interested in – which can be anything from editing, directing or production design.
I turned up and looked around, not wanting to go back to college – but it wasn’t like that. They were making a lot of films, so they were always looking for a crew members to support the projects. I decided to put my name down on one of the crew volunteer sheets, and about a week later I got a phone call saying, ‘One of our films is going up to Scotland for two months – are you free?’. I was! I tried out the camera at first but the Art Dept looked much more fun so I switched. It was an amazing introduction to the industry especially as we were staying on location on the Isle of Mull. For a Student film, we built a lot of sets (19th Century Crofts, props and even improvised salmon ladders and diverted streams). It was October and the weather was brutal and Production notorious (two Film school vans were written-off and our Salmon ladder was washed out to sea by a cloudburst, never to be seen again) but we survived – with the help of Whisky!...I was hooked.
I came back and basically slept on the school film floor for six months, often staying overnight, working on whatever project needed a crew. They were all small projects, but I was learning a lot about what an art department does and I got a lot of hands-on experience which was beneficial. Through some of the established film-industry ‘mentors’ (who were regularly involved in projects). I made good contacts in the industry and was able to get work on smaller-scale productions like commercials and music videos, getting more experience with each job. It was really a case of building a portfolio, gaining experience and making contacts. My Architectural degree had given me a decent training in Architectural drafting, which is a lot of what an Art Department produces & meant that when someone asked me to draw something in an art department I could just get on with it. I think the first thing I ever drew for a movie was a set of wooden gallows. Eventually, I phoned the right person at the right time and became part the Art Dept for the 1994 production ‘Restoration’. I just carried on working in film after that. Once you start working, it’s very much about your quality of work and being recognised by other individuals within the industry. I worked my way up through the Art dept on different productions and different films. On Sleepy Hollow, I got my first opportunity to work as an Art Director. From there I worked on other big US Studio films until I was asked by Director Alphonso Cuaron to work as the Production Designer on Gravity, which was my big break, I even got an Oscar Nomination for my work, which was amazing!
I’ve been designing since 2010, and I spent about fifteen years getting there. I was lucky – I got there fast, but there is no easy way of doing it. It’s really all about the contacts you make and making sure that the work you do is memorable. And, of course – there is an element of luck to it too! The key thing to note is there is no direct in – there are new people who come from all different backgrounds but can come into the industry. The industry is incredibly welcoming of new people – as long as you’re talented, enthusiastic, listen and take a hands on approach to learning.”
So, that’s a look at how Andy got to where he is today – and it provides a lot of interesting insight into how the film industry works and how Production Designers work their way up from the roles of Draughtsman all the way up to those more senior roles. Make sure you come back and join us for the second part of our chat with Andy – where we will take a deeper dive into the world of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.