For those of us who don’t work in the film industry, what does a production designer do?
Let’s just say if the actors were to drop their props and walk out of the frame, everything left would be the production designer’s job. I am responsible for the look of the movie.
A still from the film RoboCop
How did you come up with the look of the vehicles in Robocop?
We’re in the future, so I had to do as best I could to reshape the vehicles to allude to the fact that they’re a different design. Yet we’re not very far into the future, so we didn’t want to have flying cars. With a limited budget, to redo a full body while keeping the frame, redo the whole shell of a body, draping glass, getting involved with glass and window posts and all the rest of it, is a big challenge.
Martin Whist (left) on the sets of RoboCop
So what did you do?
The vehicles that I focused on were the motorcycle, the police vehicles and the vehicles our main actors are in. They had family vehicles, one of which was a modified Toyota Venza. The undercover cop vehicle was the next, then I had a small pool of vehicles I needed to modify so we could have some extra vehicles in the foreground that did look different.
The Terradyne Gurkha military truck used in the film
It sounds like vehicles are pretty important to the look of this film.
Yes, because Robocop’s out in the world and because he travels on his motorcycle, we see other vehicles, so it had to be taken into consideration.
Are vehicles an easy way to show the audience you’re in the future and things are different?
Yes, absolutely. It’s vehicles and it’s technology. Those are the two things we focussed on. The telephones, the computers and the vehicles are the most important. In the interior of all our vehicles, the dashes had to be changed and made extremely digital and away from analog as much as we could.
How driveable are the cars? Could you drive them home, or were they just built to get around a movie set?
Most of them were completely driveable. There were a few Japanese cars which had a different look that the vehicles we sell in North America, which I used for the background. A lot of them were just place-them-in-the-background cars. For the most part, the cars that I modified were drivers you could move around quite easily. The only thing is, on a lot of them I shaved the door handles off in an effort to make them look cleaner, and it’s a little hard to open the car without a door handle.
Did you wreck any? Blow any of 'em up?
Yes yes! The police vehicles and the SWAT vehicles got damaged. The motorcycle — we had a number of different motorcycles for different stunt applications. There was definite damage done to the vehicles.
Do you know how many cars you destroyed in the making of this film?
I don’t, actually. This film wasn’t a huge destroyer of vehicles. We didn’t have huge sequences where cars were flipping and flying off of bridges. Not like a Terminator or Transformers where you’re flipping cars. The robots were the main source of action and fighting.
Do you ever feel bad when you’re filming and you destroy a car you really like?
No. Not at all. It is fun to destroy the cars.