Marvel's Ant-Man..Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) ..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..? Marvel 2014

Interview: ‘Ant-Man’ Production Designer Shepherd Frankel on Creating a New Part of the MCU

Left: Chris Salce, Right: Shepherd Frankel

Marvel and Disney held a press event for the in-home release of Marvel’s Ant-Man this past Tuesday (Dec.1) at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank CA. While the Blu-ray combo pack and DVD won’t be released until Dec.8, it is available on digital HD. During the press event, I had the privilege of interviewing both director Peyton Reed and production designer Shepherd Frankel. In this interview below, I spoke with Shepherd Frankel about creating a new part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Chris “the Scoop” Salce: You worked on ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and if that didn’t seem complexed enough, you go and work on a movie where you have to deal with different sizes of things and having to make it look real. What where some of the challenges in do that?

Shepherd Frankel: I love that. I did the additional photography on ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, so I kind of participated in it and helped recreate some of James Gunn’s work that they did in production. Anytime I work on a marvel film whether it’s a one-shot or additional photography, new sequences on ‘Thor 2’ or ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ or ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’, it’s super exciting. And ‘Ant-Man’, kind of doing ‘Ant-Man’ from beginning to end, it was super exciting to kind of define the design, define the world that the film takes place in and create that visual journey. Obviously, this film is very different than some of the other visual journeys on the other Marvel films, and what really spoke to me and I connected with was just like the idea that Scott Lang is an everyday guy trying to figure things out and make his life work and keep a relationship with his daughter, and it takes place in a prison, the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, to an older Victorian home to some mid-century laboratories to a high-tech laboratory. All those things in themselves are super exciting and a great visual journey and that’s just part of the film. The other visual arch of the film is the journey of Ant-Man and what he goes on in these macro worlds. Each of these environments had to have an affiliated or several affiliated macro environments. No one’s thinking ‘Oh I’m in a tenement housing in San Francisco when you’re going underneath the door but you want it to feel the kind of grit and influence of that environment in that specific macro world. The best part of this film was being able to kind of design a film within a film and make sure that these smaller scaled environments were cinematic and interesting.

Chris: How long did the research process take? You had to scope out San Francisco and deal with physics and laboratories.

Shepherd Frankel: That’s another great question, I feel the success of what I do is totally based on research. Meaning if I can’t get research, metabolize research, recreate it into my DNA, then it’s hard to kind of generate work. I will say that each project in itself, in theory, I do what I do because I’m walking through the world researching on a day to day basis, like kind of we all are. Those specific things that you’re talking about is the macro world, there was a lot of conversations about it. Everyone questioned each other and the ideas we were coming up with to make sure they held water and made sense. That helped us kind of shape some of the rules around these macro worlds. As far as doing some of the research for some of the rest of the film, some of it was intuition, some of it is research but every environment for me, is a character that is a representation of the actual scripted character in the film. These character environements need to play off of each other. Like you don’t really get a sense of where Scott is in life unless you compare the tenement house to where his daughter is living. You see that it’s kind of the perfect storybook world that he’s trying to kind of break back into to some degree. The violence and the confrontation of Yellowjacket and Ant-Man in that bedroom, was intentionally like put in that backdrop of like a very storybook kind of setting for this kid. Where have you seen a big fight like that take place in a storybook world like that? In a Marvel universe. The other story within the story is that Hank Pym has Pym technologies, which he created after he retired the Ant-Man suit, so it’s like this mid-century kind of influenced building and lobby and exterior but then this other part of the story is that Darren Cross his protege, has kind of taken over the company and kicked [Pym] off the board and is doing work within that world that Hank Pym doesn’t know about. So you need to see that it’s Hank Pym’s building but know his protege is taking over and has come up with new technology or evolving some of the work there that Pym’s not aware of, so you need to see a laboratory that’s in congruous visually with what we would expect that environment to be like from the outside ’cause it’s a clear departure from where Hank was.

Chris: Going into this film, obviously you have to go over everything with Marvel and Disney but did they kind of let you run with it or were there certain boundaries?

Shepherd Frankel: I love the system of the filmmaking culture at Marvel. I think the results are on the screen and the results are what we know the movies to be, which I’m really a huge fan of and it’s not so much about yeses and noes and rules, it’s more of here’s the script, getting people on, we have all these departments and the ideas on a weekly basis, we kind of show the work to date and how the movie is starting to kind of come together as a shape and that’s where we have conversations with the studio, director, producers and we are shaping the film as a group. We kind of tie threads throughout the whole thing. When we landed on Hank Pym exterior of Pym Technologies, we talked about how this building was kind of this departure from the swoopy kind of steal and glass and concrete of Tony Stark’s facility and that’s kind of cool because it’s appropriate for this character, it’s an opportunity on this film to take these characters and bring them to life true to themselves and there was also a thought of how it relates into the greater contexts of some of these other films. There’s not a rulebook at all. It’s really like just best idea for the film wins and that’s the really healthy kind of culture to make a film in.