It was a cool day in Van Nuys, CA when I found a non-descript building in an industrial park that housed the Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow production offices (the symbol of the bad guy is on the outside, a skull with wings). We were ushered into a small room where we watched the 22 minute black and white presentation that was shown to movie studios in order to gain a distribution deal. It started with a dirigible called the Hindenburg III docking in New York, carrying a mysterious passenger. Then ace reporter Polly Perkins receives a mysterious invite to Radio City Music Hall. She meets Dr. Jennings, who we saw on the dirigible and who says the mysterious disappearance of scientist Jorge Vargas is not an isolated incident. In fact, members of a research team called Unit 11 are all disappearing… and he’s the only one left!
The next scene shows giant robots menacing New York. Sky Captain (real name: Joseph Sullivan and played by Jude Law) is called in. He flies in and uses special grappling equipment in his plane to topple the marauding robots. Other scenes include menacing “flying wings” which are flying robots that fly like birds chasing Sky Captain and Polly in his plane, Polly and Sky Captain trekking through the jungle (made up of just a few bushes in this example… the rest of the jungle will be put in later by CGI), landing on a flying airstrip run by Frank “Frankie” Cook (played by Angelina Jolie in an eyepatch). We also meet Sky Captain’s right hand man, Dex, played by Giovanni Ribisi.
After an interview with producer Jon Avnet, we recieved a tour of the offices. The highlight was the office of production designer Kevin Conran, which was covered with his drawings of monsters, planes, ray guns and costumes. Kevin was the lone production designer, designing everything with input from his brother the director. Kevin previously made his living as a freelance artist, mostly working in advertising. His designs are influenced by the Superman cartoons of the Fleisher brothers, artist Alex Raymond and industrial designs. Fortunately he likes the same things as his brother, although his brother takes more from movies while Kevin is more of a comic book guy. 8 years ago, Kevin drew his first drawing of Sky Captain. Sky Captain’s motto: Ille Caelum Fremitus (the heavens roar). They grew up in Flint, Michigan. Their father brought comics home, while their mother provided them with blank pads, which enabled them to enhance their imagination and drawing skills. No coloring books for these kids!
Also interesting was the modeling and sculpting departments. One animator was working on an elephant, making its movements and texture look real (we later saw how the elephant was used… its actually a miniature elephant in a crystal ball!). We also visited the compositing department, which layers color like an oil painting onto scenes and adds shadows and light.
Paramount’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow flies into theaters on June 25.