Design Knowledge Intermediary
Patrick Janicke
(By Ali Can Dogramaci)

Who is Patrick Janicke in a few words?

I was born in December, 1966 in Berlin, Germany and I went to a regular elementary and high school. When I was still in high school I started to emphasize on English and Arts. Since I was a little kid, I was very much into comic books, especially Tin Tin, which is very popular in Europe and people here don’t know it very much, I also liked ZAK, which is a comic strip which had stories continued every week. So as a little kid, I was exposed to the world of astronauts, cowboys and race track drivers through these really good comic books. My interest in drawing began when I saw these beautiful racecars, space shuttles.

Did you support your interest with any classes back in high school?

Yes, in high school I was interested in design and architecture, especially in fantastic but not normal architecture. I used to dream about crazy stuff, like, an artist or a millionaire, how would his villa be? How would be the entrance to his home and the scooter way to his living room and stuff like that!

Like they have in the movie “Metropolis”?

No. More than that, like in James Bond, like Ken Adams designs, where you would have the wall opens up and there is a pool inside the living room, that kind of fantastic things.

So after you finished high school…

After I finished high school I tried to study architecture but I was not accepted in architecture school. I applied to a design school too besides the architecture school. Because of my grades and the big demand in architecture school, I did not get in. The design school I went was not based on the grades but based on an exam, kind of a test, which I passed so I got into that and I started studying product design which I find more rewarding because let’s say you are going to design a VCR, it is so much easier to oversea every aspect and it can be finished quicker where on the other hand you have a building and you have to think of every little detail, which from an aesthetic point of view not very interesting, it is like an engineering type of thing. As a kid I was never interested in engineering, I used to play with Lego and built interesting things, where other boys used to play with these mechanical things which would work or do something. I was like “Does it look cool?”!

How did you decide to come to the US?

I have relatives in San Francisco and I visited them with my parents when I was 7 years old back in 1974. It made a big impression on me. I always wanted to come back to California. I remembered the big cars, McDonalds, Harleys, all these things that hold the “Americana”. That was also one of the reasons for me to learn English at an early age. I always thought, someday I would move to America and be a designer there.
Also the beautiful weather of California, I love motorcycles, I drive my motorcycle every day here, not like In Berlin where it is cold and wet and half of the year is rainy.

What was your first approach to come here to California?

I tried to come here for an internship during the summer but it was very difficult, and I also realized that the industrial design companies were often very conservative than In Germany where I thought it would be the other way around. I thought that California’s design companies would go for short term design rather than the everlasting type of designs.
So I did not get an internship and I was not very impressed by the designs. A few companies in Silicon Valley like a German company Frog Design did some cool stuff there but that was all. So I decided to get my degree In Germany and come back after some time.
In one of my trips back in 1989, I was up north and one guy told me about Syd Mead, so I decided to go to Los Angeles and visit Syd Mead’s office and pick his brain. I called the office and people were very nice and told to go by and visit. I met the famous Syd Mead and showed him my portfolio which at the time was rather boring, which I had stuff like a chair, a VCR not so much futuristic stuff. Anyway, I hung out with him while his was working for about two hours, I asked him many questions about drawing and stuff like that.

Did you keep in touch with him?

Yes, that was the great thing, we stayed in touch actually. I was so influenced by him that I would now start doing advanced, very conceptual projects. I used to write to him, and he would write back to me with his sketches and corrections. He was in a way like mentor.

What was your first job in the US?

I came here to look for jobs after 6 months I graduated from school. My portfolio was half industrial designs and half futuristic conceptual designs. When I went to industrial design companies they said “ You are too fantastic with your designs, you will get bored here” and if I go to places like Industrial Light and Magic they would go like “You are not quite far enough”?!

So having an industrial design background and designing for cinema industry was the major struggle for you back then…

Yes, I realized that I had to make a decision between the two styles. So I decided to become a designer for the entertainment business. I start building my portfolio from scratch an built it up for two years, Then I got a call from Oliver Scholl was kind enough to give me a call and give me a chance to have an interview with Holger Gross who was the production designer of the movie “Stargate” and he actually gave me my first job, I could not believe it! It was like a dream come true! Because I had limited experience they gave a small job, where Oliver designed the first basic look of the hieroglyphics like he would say “OK, I designed A, B, C now you design it all the way down to Z”. So that was my first job, which was pretty much a graphic design job. One other thing I helped them is about laying the whole alphabet. The used to draw them and photocopy them and then cut and glue them to papers, and I said “Look, there is Macintosh for that, where the whole process would be more time effective!”

Do you notice some differences between designing for the real world and the cinema world?

The designs for the movies is very short-lived, it has to be amazingly cool looking, just for now, maybe just for this year, it does not have to be forever. In the real world, if you design a chair, the manufacturer would want to sell it for another couple of years, but in a movie they just want to sell the tickets in the next summer! That is one part; the other part is that the function of the product is very different. For instance many things that I design, they are fragile; it does not matter because they would handle it carefully, and they usually do not have to really work! Everything is made for the camera. They mostly have to look beautiful rather than their functionality. But also let’s take the gun that I designed in the movie “Batman & Robin” for Mr. Freeze, besides its look it also had to be able to be carried by the actor comfortably.

Do you think that computer generated graphics would break some limitations for the designers?

In a way yes, but in the case of Mr. Freeze’s gun, no, since it would be too hard to match with the movement of the character. But if we are talking for instance for vehicle designs, if you have advanced technology and if you want to make beautiful vehicles with computer generation you have so much more freedom because you do not have to if you can see the wheels or can you hide the wheels, all these kind of things.

What is your point of view to design and cinema?

The audiences never have to sit on the motorcycle I designed for the movie “Blade” for instance. I designed a very hard-edged thing which if you set on, you would probably scratch yourself! But as I said they do not have to sit on it, some stunt guy or the actor will sit on it for a few seconds he will probably have padding inside his pants, all the things that you never see. The function here is to entertain, it is not to create a safe vehicle.

What is expected from your designs? Does somebody limit your work?

That is a strange thing here in US or it maybe everywhere, I do not quite know since I have not worked anywhere else. If you are nice and open, there would be limitations in your designs and your salary too! But if you would be the other way, you know what I mean, if you want thousands of dollars suddenly you are respected, and you create that position for yourself. People would really respect your work. Even if I think it should be the other way around that is the situation!

What are the influences of your designs to your life and your life to your designs?

I keep track on the audiences’ feelings and needs and I also try to what the person who hires me like and also try to satisfy myself. There is a hierarchy actually, I try to do what the production designer wants, and he tries to please the director! Sometimes things get worse because of that and sometimes things get better! If you are that great designer and you work for a director who has less taste than you do, than your designs will be influenced negatively. That is actually the same for the real world too. For example you design a very cool car stereo and then the wife of the president of marketing says “Oh, I think it should have a red stripe!” and then he is going to ask for that red stripe! Since he has more power than you do as a designer, your radio will have a red stripe on it! These things are always a problem for the designers, hierarchies, other people’s tastes.
Most of the time, I try to pick up new trends and styles I see in magazines and other publications and try to incorporate them in my designs.

What is the role of the computer in your designs?

I do not really use computer in my design process. I use it to scan and enhance my images with a couple or retouches.
I usually start drawing with pen and paper. For technical drawings like motorcycles and stuff, I use an ink pen which has a straighter and clean stroke. The pencil has much more texture in it and I do not want that texture on an engine, but I may want it on a cave. After I finish my drawing with a pen or pencil, I photocopy it and then color it with markers and inks.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a foreigner in the heart of cinema industry?

I can not say that there are many disadvantages, people are very nice and open here and I can say that I have advantages being a foreigner here. It is interesting in someway for the people. I have to admit that I was surprised how I was welcomed in this country.
The only time I experienced trouble was when I worked I worked in Hawaii in the movie “Final Fantasy” where I am a tall white guy and Hawaii is a place where there is a lot of Asian people. That is actually the first time I experienced racism. It was like they said “Get out, you are not wanted here”. I was being left out, I was not welcome.
It was also a surprise for me that they could finish the movie. It took so long. I can not say that it was the best way to make a movie. For example when you design a scene where you see two walls and what is inside, you only design those elements, but almost everybody had a gaming background, they used to design and build everything, even the things that would never be shot. They were trying to do everything so detailed that I found very unnecessary. They would emphasize on a screw back at the very end of the wall and spend so much time on it.

In your opinion, what is the future of cinema and design?

There are so many similarities whether it is industrial design, graphic design or fashion design, even in electronic music you see the DJ combining different styles of music back from the ‘60s or ‘70s, a lot of designers are doing that too. A lot of people complain about that, they say that there are not really any more new things and new ideas. That is the situation now with the retro designs. It is a little bit of a sad state that we have come to, in our civilization actually. It has always been like that even in the 1800’s; they would look back to the medieval times and do castles that looked like the castles in 1200’s or 1300’s! It is an old thing, people looking past and bringing that back with new the new technology.

What are your future plans?

I have drawn so much that I really feel saturated and actually want to look into other forms of expressions such as photography. Because I can not be excited about design anymore as I used to be. At this point either I see something that I have done before or something other people have done before, it is just another tiny variation. It has been so long time since I have seen something new and completely mind blowing!

Despite that I love designing vehicles, I do no t think that I can do that, I am sure that in every company, in Mercedes, in Honda, in BMW, in all these giants, there are very creative and intelligent designers, but at the ending point, there is a comity that chooses the next line of cars. Take Syd Mead for example, back in 60’s he went to Ford, but it was so boring that he did not continue doing that! That is probably why a lot of designers end up in the entertainment industry, because you so much more freedom than you would have in companies like Ford and Honda.

As I was saying I being doing photography, and I have a new web page for that, it is http://www.schnuftigirl.com/.



The culture you appreciate;
The coffee house culture

The country you want to live in;
I love and live in California - but could someone please make it "the land of the free" again?!

The cuisine you enjoy;
Health food

The drink you prefer;

The painter who influences you;
Syd Mead, Rene Magritte

The author you like;
Charles Bukowski , Rainer Maria Rilke and Alexandre Dumas

The book genre you prefer;
Educational / tutorials

The movie you like;

The film director you like;
The one that notices that I am there ;-)

The music you listen;
Serge Gainsbourg, moon tribe / desert rave electronica

The design you like;
As we say in Germany : "Gefuehl und Haerte" - hard lines and emotion, my own :-)

The designer you respect;
Mead, Loewy, Colani, Starck, Newson, Rashid


This interview is made in March 2003. Designophy ©


- www.productionillustration.com

There is no related article.