Jim Bissell

Jim Bissell: Production Designer

Posted on:  March 4, 2009

Today I had the privilege of attending a lecture by renowned production designer and director Jim Bissell, whose credits include E.T. the Extraterrestrial, The Last Starfighter, The Boy who Could Fly, The Rocketeer, Goodnight & Good Luck, Leatherheads, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and most recently, 300.  He is currently the production designer on Brad Bird’s live-action account of the great earthquake of San Francisco called 1908.
He played us a montage of his best work and talked about what the role of a PD is:  Before the cinematographer can capture the best photography, the production designer has to create the best opportunities for good photography.  
Mr. Bissell is an old school artist who still has a passion for building models and miniatures. But he had to admit that using digital pre-visualization revolutionized the industry and that he had found a happy medium from which to use both traditional and CG to fit his needs.  The technical methods between designing The Rocketeer and 300 where vastly different, but his approach is the same:  Make things clear and entertaining.  
During the Q & A, someone asked him what was the most challenging about his work.  He responded by saying that each film brought it’s own baggage and its own challenges.  But in the end, it’s about whether he chose to “play it safe” or take a chance.  He obviously emphasized the need to push your ideas because the pay-off is so much bigger and so much more fulfilling:
“When it comes to design, you can keep playing it safe but at some point you’re going to have to go out on a limb and take a chance, to do something outside your boundaries…..”
….Spoken like a true artist.
Jim Bissell on IMDB.