DESIGN TALKS: 5 Things I Learned from ‘Star Wars’ Production Designer Rick Carter

Check out this talk with production designer extraordinaire Rick Carter as he discusses the craft of production design amongst his colleagues at the Art Directors Guild in Los Angeles. Rick Carter has designed such films as Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump, Death Becomes Her and the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

In Conversation with Rick Carter

I couldn’t believe it when I read my email saying there was going to be a talk at the Art Directors Guild offices by the legendary production designer, Rick Carter. He designed THE movies that had to be seen when I was growing up like Back to the Future 2 & 3, Jurassic Park, The Lost World, and above all else, the single movie that ignited my love of dark comedies (and my search for eternal youth) Death Becomes Her. Quite possible the best film ever made in my opinion.

As I grew older, I wanted the beautifully creepy house from What Lies Beneath, and imagined myself in the brilliant futuristic world of A.I..  I felt like I had visited Greenbow, Alabama when watching Forrest Gump, even though I had never left Africa when it came out.  These are the films I referenced when being creative in university. These are the films that filled the curious place in my creative disorganized mind.

So when I heard Mr. Carter was going to be at the Art Directors Guild giving a talk ahead of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens release… I was there and he did not disappoint. Below are my takeaways from his inspiring talk.


5 Things I Learned From Rick Carter


  1. Turn On, Tune In, Trip out

    Turn on: Heres the script boyo… Lets get started. Read, become familiar.

    Tune in: Become lost in the project. Absorbed into the world, into the new adventure we are about to embark on.

    Trip out: Have FUN! We, as entertainers tend to act like we are curing cancer… We are making a movie, or TV, or theatre.  Whatever… But we are there to create entertainment and joy.

  2. Get in the attitude of “how can we do this?” instead of being defensive

    Any of us who have had careers in film and TV know the feeling of providing a set. Going through the show and tell presentations, and doing the walk through. Only to have the director want something else on the morning when opening the set.  Most of us panic, feel we have messed up royally, and start saying “You didn’t tell me…” or “We never discussed”.  But instead of that, lets be in a mind state of “OK, what can we DO to get it done

  3. Surround yourself with knowledgeable people

    Rick told a brilliant story of how he chose a wallpaper for Back to the Future 2.  For Biff’s apartment.  He was perplexed because it wasn’t quite as he saw it in his head, when he made the order.  A scenic artist on set saw him looking at the wallpaper, and Rick admitted it wasn’t quite right.  The scenic got some chemicals, and sprayed the wallpaper down, dulling down the hue of the bright pattern.  Thus creating more of what Rick was imagining.  I have been in these situations, and so have many other designers I know.  You have a certain picture in your head, but when it is in place, its is not always perfect.  It’s part of the creative process. seeing what goes.  But what is most important is having people who know their craft, and who have been trained by skilled craftsmen to know what can be done when this situation arrives.  And a good scenic is ALWAYS worth their weight in gold!

  4. Question everything

    We spoke about varying points of view. And how a 5’4” persons view on the world is different from a 6’7” person.  (i.e. the taller one sees the top of the dusty fridge!)

    But this rings true for many different things in life.  Where you live, your place in society, your school, your job.  Everything you think is the norm is different to someone else.  One great thing that Rick and I both have in common is that we have traveled.  And when you get to see different parts of the world, you see how something that is considered the norm here… is by no means the norm there.

  5. Never could be any other way

    But this rings true for many different things in life.  Where you live, your place in society, your school, your job.  Everything you think is the norm is different to someone else.  One great thing that Rick and I both have in common is that we have traveled.  And when you get to see different parts of the world, you see how something that is considered the norm here… is by no means the norm there.


DESIGN TALK: Rick Carter at the ADG

Watch Rick Carter discuss his career and what he’s learned along the way.


What were your takeaways from Rick Carter’s production design talk at the Art Directors Guild? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Gary McMonnies | @garymcmonnies

Posted by Gary McMonnies

Gary McMonnies is an art department professional for film and television and is currently based in Los Angeles. His credits include 'Mindhunter', 'The Grinder', 'Battle Creek', 'Black Sails', and 'American Horror Story'. Gary has worked in England, South Africa, and the United States.

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