Oral Histories

Interview of Richard Carter

Production designer and art director. Received Academy Award for work on both Lincoln and Avatar. Other work includes A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Amistad, Forrest Gump, and Goonies.
The Crafts in Hollywood: Production Design
Film and Television
Biographical Note:
Production designer and art director. Received Academy Award for work on both Lincoln and Avatar. Other work includes A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Amistad, Forrest Gump, and Goonies.
Collings, Jane
Carter, Richard
Persons Present:
Carter and Collings.
Place Conducted:
Library Special Collections at the Young Research Library, UCLA.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Jane Collings, principal editor and interviewer, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; Ph.D., Critical Studies in Film and Television, UCLA.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Carter was then given an opportunity to review the transcript but made no corrections or additions.
5.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This series of interviews was undertaken in collaboration with the Art Directors Guild. Its aim is to document the lives and work of Guild members and staff who have made a significant contribution to film and television history. Interviews capture the work of title artists, set designers, art directors, production designers, and many other categories. The contribution of labor unions in shaping the conditions of the work is also addressed.
Early life in a semi-rural setting in the San Fernando Valley--An early interest in the structure of built environments--Perceives a visual duality due to having a near-sighted eye and a far-sighted eye--Relies on the right eye for artistic work and on the left eye for commercial work--“Minding the gap”; a duality of perception as a practice--Duality between interior and exterior world—Registers as a conscientious objector in the Vietnam War--Leaves college and travels to Europe and Asia--An eye surgery as a child--Finds inspiration in the “journey” motif for creative work--Early encounter with the culture of Hollywood through father’s career as an agent--Travels to Kenya and on to Nepal and Tibet--A spiritual experience in the Himalaya Mountains--Sees the theme of the journey as a continuous element within his film projects--Places a premium on intuition in the creative process, as well as on the strategic and pragmatic process of film making that underlines the presentation of embodied intuition--Has enjoyed the collaborative nature of work with Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis--Values a process of free-association for engendering ideas, but with a focus on the linkages within the thought process--The research process for Lincoln--The design process for Back to the Future--The process of translating an idea into a build-able and shoot-able set--The more recent necessity of working with location-based crews due to the incentive-based production process--The work now involves a great deal of location shooting and travel--Mentor, Richard Sylbert--Begins to practice as a fine arts painter in New York upon return from Asia--Finds the art scene to be too political and returns to L.A. to work with Richard Sylbert--Dichotomy in cinema between fantasy and documentary--Works with J. Michael Riva on Goonies, by Steven Spielberg--Works on Amazing Stories with Steven Spielberg--Learns from the multitude of directors and genres involved in Amazing Stories.
The origins of the AI film project--The structure of AI--The design for the Rouge City set--The presence of “guide” characters in films Carter has been involved with--The role of the fourth act in AI--Sense of current participation in a generational paradigm shift--The relevance of the film The Manchurian Candidate to the current political climate--The importance of the notion of home as a touchstone within the context of the journey motif--The concept of conscientious objection within the work of The Post, Lincoln, and other films--The interplay of opposing forces in the Star Wars: The Force Awakens and in BFG--Designs a visual depiction of the creative process in a sequence from BFG—The concept of home in Forrest Gump--The design for the dimensional travel machine in Contact--Intersperses black within the frames for a sequence in Contact--The War of the Worlds in relation to 9/11-- Artistic responses to the digital revolution in production design--The freedom to create within the collaboration with Spielberg--The question of who is watching which films in today’s marketplace--The exhibits for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences film museum--The interplay of Spielberg's and Kubrick’s visions in AI--Sense of belonging to a particular generation within the field--The importance of utilizing the industry budgeting and production processes as one kind of artistic tool--A practice of partnering with a digital artist--Digital realm production culture.
The ongoing work on exhibits for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences film museum--Use of exercises in visualization when designing The Force Awakens--The evolution of the role of the production designer brought about by digital technologies, with work on AI as an example of this--Working with physical spaces and sets for AI--The relationship between the individual and society increasingly experienced through digital technology--Pride in work that articulates a particular epoch in American cultural history--Finds the process of production design all consuming--Cinematic forms as representative of a generational perspective on reality--Themes in AI--The enmeshment of political concerns with the choices for building the museum exhibits--Synchronicity between the artistic visions of George Lucas, Bob Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg, and James Cameron and the interests and needs of the larger culture--The enormous amount of work and resources required for Avatar--The Post.