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Costume / Production Design

* (Dec. 2011 / Jan. 2012)  Tribute: THEADORA VAN RUNKLE
* (July / Aug. 2011)  KEN ADAM 
* (May / June 2011)  EIKO ISHIOKA


by CEJ

     No one really remembers (or notices or cares for that matter about) a film’s production design - it’s sets, furniture in the room; paintings hanging on a wall and what have you.  Nor should they.  Like a movie’s score, cinematography, costumes, editing or sound, it should blend into the background and not draw attention to itself.  It should be subtle psychological underpinning leading the emotions and/or subconscious of the viewer this way or that.  If the set leaps from the screen and grab one’s attention, it’s more than likely not doing it’s job properly.  Of course, that is unless you’re Ken Adam. 

     Arguably the most famous production designer in cinema history, his sets are bonafied stars of the movies in which they appear, the average filmgoer raving about them on the way home from the theater every bit as much - if ot more so - than they do about the actors.

   Adam's "War Room" from DR. STRANGELOVE (1964),
   which Steven Spielberg calls, "The best ever set designed for a motion picture".

KEN ADAM filmography:

2001 Taking Sides
1999 The Out-of-Towners
1997 In & Out
1996 Bogus
1995 Boys on the Side
1994 Madness of King George
1993 Addams Family Values
1993 Undercover Blues
1991 Company Business
1991 The Doctor
1990 The Freshman
1989 Dead Bang
1988 The Deceivers
1986 Crimes of the Heart
1985 Agnes of God
1985 King David
1979 Moonraker
1977 The Spy Who Loved Me
1976 Seven-Per-Cent Solution

1976 Salon Kitty
1975 Barry Lyndon
1973 The Last of Sheila
1972 Sleuth
1971 Diamonds Are Forever
1969 Goodbye, Mr. Chips
1968 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
1967 You Only Live Twice
1966 Funeral in Berlin
1965 Thunderball
1965 The Ipcress File
1964 Goldfinger
1964 Woman of Straw
1964 Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to
Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

1963 In the Cool of the Day
1962 Dr. No
1962 The Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah
1960 The Trials of Oscar Wilde
1960 Let's Get Married
1960 Portrait of a Sinner
1959 The Angry Hills
1957 Curse of the Demon
1956 Around the World in Eighty Days (uncredited)
1956 Spin a Dark Web

CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (1968): "Romantic Functionality" 

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967): classic Japan meets 60s aerospace high tech.

Best known for his spectacular work on the James Bond epics of the 1960s and 70s (most notably THE SPY WHO LOVED ME’s submarine-swallowing supertanker) and the films of Stanley Kubrick (remember the cavernous “War Room” in DR. STRANGELOVE?) Adam’s fertile engineer’s imagination (for his sets would often have mechanically moving parts) also gave us the sleek submersibles of THUNDERBALL - 1965 along with that film’s convertible yacht/hydro-foil … an actual full sized working ocean going ship and NOT a special effect.

Site Search Index:

  play THE SPY WHO LOVED ME score - "Bond '77" (M. Hamlisch)



  Adam's Supertanker interior: THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977)


     Being 007's legendary designer would be enough for one career.  But Ken Adam is also responsible for the classic flying car of CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG - 1968,  Laurence Olivier’s sprawling “puzzle-box” mansion estate in SLEUTH - 1972,  the lush Victorian-era world of Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud in THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION - 1976,  the biblical palaces and battle fields of KING DAVID - 1985,  the underground supremacists’ lair invaded by authorities in John Frankenheimer’s police procedural cum political thriller DEAD BANG - 1989,  the digs of comedic mobster Marlon Brando in THE FRESHMAN - 1990,  the hilarious “living” mansion of ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES - 1993,  the 18th century grandeur of THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE - 1994 and numerous others.  Over the years his work would garner a plethora of awards including two BAFTAs (British Academy of Film & Television Awards), an Art Directors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award and two Oscars.  His personal bravery and dedication to the arts would even earn him a knighthood in 2003.

Volcano interior / rocket launch pad: YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967)
volcano interior art

     Born into a Jewish family as KLAUS HUGO ADAM in Berlin in 1921, he would at the age of 13 witness the burning of the Reichstag then see his father’s fashion retail business bankrupted by Brown Shirts during the Nazi’s rise to power.  After his family relocated to England, his school training would fortuitously lead him into architecture.  Fortuitous because this skill would keep him and his family out of internment as the young Adam designed bomb shelters.  

Ken Adam
      In 1940 he then joined the RAF as a pilot, one of only two Germans to do so.  Sir Roger Moore (yes, he was knighted too, for his international charity work) would occupy two of Adam’s most massive set creations during the filming of the Oscar nominated THE SPY WHO LOVED ME - 1977 and MOONRAKER in 1979.  Moore and Adam grew close, and in a 2000 interview the former 007 spoke of the production designer’s wartime heroism:

     “He was a real hero because (Ken), unlike his brother - who had become naturalized because he went into British Intelligence, never was naturalized.  He was serving in the Air Force but he was still a German.  So if he had been shot down and captured, he would have been executed as a traitor”.

Adam's visually macabre and simultaneously playful SLEUTH (1972) 

     After the war his architectural abilities lead him into the burgeoning film industry where in time his first official credit as Production Designer was on the 1956 English thriller SOHO INCIDENT.  

     He’d move to the United States and do back to back
uncredited work on epics like AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS and BEN-HUR till receiving his first solo American credit on Jacques Tourneur’s horror classic NIGHT OF THE DEMON - 1957.
     Having worked for producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli on THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE - 1960, and having met producer Harry Saltzman years earlier while on projects in Italy,  Adam became their first choice “go to” guy when the producing duo joined forces to film the first of the James Bond films DR. NO in Jamaica in 1962.


DR. NO (1962): an exercise in "larger than life minimalism"


     Chris Blackwell, who would go on to found Island Records and make a Reggae star of Bob Marley, was then the Location Manager on DR. NO.  He recalls how during the location filming it all appeared as not much more than the modestly budgeted potboiler film it actually was.  But how after the crew returned to England and Ken Adam’s ultra-modern sets 
“… that’s what brought it up from kind of being (a) low budgety okay film to being something really special”.

  One of THUNDERBALL (1965)'s fully functional submersibles


     Adam was unavailable for the next Bond film, 1963’s FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, as DR. NO had impressed director Stanley Kubrick enough to want him on DR. STRANGELOVE: OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB - 1964.  The designer would return to the 007 fold for the next three films, GOLDFINGER - 1964 (two of it’s biggest stars being Goldfinger’s “rumpus room”- where he gasses former gangster colleagues, and the massive interior set of Fort Knox), THUNDERBALL - 1965, and most spectacularly YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE - 1967 with it’s full sized volcano-interior aerospace launch pad huge enough to fly real helicopters in and out.  During this time Adam says he stumbled upon the epiphany of never allowing his imagination to pull back.  He’d designed the submersibles of THUNDERBALL at a time such underwater vessels didn’t exists in the real world.  But he’d found engineers and manufacturers who actually could make them exists and work under real life conditions. 

     He’d carry that belief throughout the rest of his career.  During this same time he also became a mentor to a new generation of artists, taking under his wing budding sibling designers Peter & Michael Lamont.  Peter would eventually take over Bond design duties on 1981’s FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, and he would also work with James Cameron on ALIENS - 1986,  TRUE LIES - 1994 and TITANIC - 1997, winning an Oscar for the later.  Before his death in 2007 Michael would be his brother’s Art Director on most of those films as well as on  THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK - 1980,  RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK - 1981,  HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE - 2001 and CASINO ROYALE - 2006.  Both owe their careers to the support and tutelage of Adam.


                                                                Adam's USS ENTERPRISE concept art                        
Titans Enterprise
     In the mid 1970s Paramount Pictures knew it wanted to revitalize it's STAR TREK franchise, but was undecided whether to proceed as a new television series or feature film.  In 1977 a feature script was written and tentatively titled "PLANET OF THE TITANS". 

     A psychologically dark and intense take on the TREK canon then had ever been considered before ... or since, it's co-writer and slated director, Phillip Kaufman (THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING) commissioned Adam to come up with a series of concept sketches in conjuction with STAR WARS designer Ralph McQuarrie.  The film was was scrapped, but Adam's production sketches became popular among fans of both science fiction and architectural design. 


                                                                                       ENTERPRISE shuttle bay concept art                                                    
     After 1974’s THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, the James Bond film partnership of “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman dissolved, leaving Broccoli as sole producer of the next film THE SPY WHO LOVED ME - 1977.  He knew the movie industry was changing. 

     Films like JAWS and SUPERMAN had set a new benchmark for blockbuster success, and STAR WARS (which would film the same time and be released the same summer as SPY) would up the ante even more.  The Bond films had always set a high water mark for spectacular visuals, and Broccoli wasn’t content to just keep up with the pack; he wanted to be at the front.  So with SPY, the producer - by all accounts a fabulous poker player - would go “all in”, sinking or swimming wholly at his own hand.  THE SPY WHO LOVED ME would either launch the franchise into a new stratosphere or kill it all together.  Ken Adam was an important part of the plan.

Adam's "Curves upon curves" realized in the design of the Atlantis oceanographic lab
(click image to enlarge)

         Broccoli set a budget for SPY at $14 million, twice that of GOLDEN GUN, and gave his favorite designer the opportunity to make history.  To this day Adam cites THE SPY WHO LOVED ME as his own personal favorite project.  Most of his earlier work had dealt with sharp angles, linear lines and that huge top-of-the-film-frame filled with negative space.  He would still play with his beloved space, but this time he wanted to experiment with more circular designs - “curves upon curves” he would call them, and play with their relationships to camera perspectives. 

     One of the more fanciful sci-fi-ish Bond films (vastly departing from Ian Fleming’s original novel) THE SPY WHO LOVED ME’s oceanographic industrialist Carl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) uses the Liparus - a seagoing mega-tanker, to swallow American and Soviet nuclear submarines, hoping the superpowers will blame one another and launchWW3. 
Upon destruction of civilization Stromberg will then build a new more pure race in a city beneath the sea.  As said, a fanciful yarn, but with narrative shades of the Nazi’s “Aryan ideal” which the displaced German-Jewish Adam would certainly remember.


     In fact in spite of Adam’s infusion of “curved shapes” the massive Liparus set, large enough to house three full-sized submarines, is in many ways reminiscent of the rigid visual formality of Leni Reifenstahl’s WW2 German propaganda films - especially in the regimented manner in which SPY’s climactic fighting forces swarm about it.  The set design itself therefore lends the Stromberg character of the film a real life subtext distinctly more chilling than his presentation on the script page which is a bit cartoony.

       As there was no studio soundstage huge enough to house such a set, Broccoli authorized Adam to build a new one from the ground up at a cost of $1,000,000.  This would become the legendary 007 Stage at Pinewood Studios, the largest soundstage in the world also containing a tank beneath it’s floor capable of storing 1,200,000 gallons of water. 

  Film crew on Adam's mammoth tanker interior set

     A $14,000,000 film budget, with one million of it going to a single set, may not seem like much by today’s standards.  But in the mid 1970s this made THE SPY WHO LOVED ME one of the most expensive films ever made, akin to the $200,000,000 budget of James Cameron’s TITANIC and the construction of it’s new studio / soundstage in 1996.

      The 007 Stage was officially christened on Sept. 5, 1976 in a ceremony featuring former Prime Minister Sir Harold Wilson.  But when the party was over and work resumed, problems arose as to how to light the football stadium-sized stage.  Claude Renoir (the grandson of French Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renior) was the cinematographer.  And while possessed of artistic painter’s eyes of his own (he was Bridget Bardot’s favorite cameraman with whom the actress always insisted upon working) those eyes were, unbeknownst to the SPY crew, slowing going blind.


     They were well enough for intimate close-quarter dramas and even larger scale action films like John Frankenheimer’s FRENCH CONNECTION II - 1975.  But his failing depth perception rendered him unable to see to the end of Adam’s sprawling supertanker interior.  Not only was the size of the set problematic, but so was it’s shiny silver surface, bouncing back light splashed directly onto it like a mirror. 

     Having worked twice with Stanley Kubrick on DR. STRANGELOVE and BARRY LYNDON (Adam was asked by the director to join him on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, but he declined)  the two remained close friends.  And when Adam faced lighting problems with the supertanker,  Kubrick secretly visited the Bond stage for a creative “pow wow”. 

  Adam's Oscar nominated THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977)

     The solution the duo struck upon was simple and elegant … though not commonplace in the cinematography of the era.  Instead of “flat” lighting the set, it would be illuminated primarily by “practicals” - rows of floodlights, tracked and recessed lighting supposedly built into the vessel at the time of construction by it’s fictitious designers.   It worked smashingly … and even made the enormous set appear larger on screen! 

     THE SPY WHO LOVE ME opened in July of 1977 and Broccoli’s gamble paid off in spades.  The film more than held it’s own against STAR WARS that summer, becoming one of year’s biggest worldwide grossers as well as one of the most popular Bond films ever made.  The 007 Stage more than paid for itself as well, becoming one of the busiest indoor studios in the world.  In early 1978 Adam’s work on the adventure epic earned him an Academy Award nomination.  


     As for other Oscars, even though he was officially uncredited at the time of the film’s release, he would receive a nomination for 1956’s AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (along with James Sullivan and Ross Dowd), then be nominated again for Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON - 1975,  ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES - 1993, and Nicholas Hytner’s THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE - 1994, winning gold statues for both LYNDON and GEORGE. 

  Adam's Oscar nominated ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES (1993): exterior miniature / full size interior

     In 1999 London’s Victoria and Albert Museum would hold the exhibition “Ken Adam - Designing the Cold War” - focusing on his work for the 1960s/70s Bond films and period thrillers like THE IPCRESS FILE - 1965 and FUNERAL IN BERLIN - 1966.  But his most prestigious
honor would come in 2003.  After finally becoming a naturalized British citizen, he was awarded Knight Bachelor for services to the film industry and Anglo-German relations by Queen Elizabeth II. 

     Good show, Sir Ken.  Jolly good show indeed.

                                                                                                                CEJ - July 2011 (revised 6/15/14)

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