Designing the Movies – A Profile of Sir Ken Adam

Posted filed underDesign, Documentaries, Film, Videos.

Ken Adam
“The 007 Set: A Profile of Ken Adam” tells the story of cinema’s best known production designer from his birth in Berlin, between the wars, to his escape to England after the rise of Hitler, his training as an architect, and his career as the Royal Air Force’s only German fighter pilot during World War 2. First broadcast in 1979, this is a fascinating portrait, with great archive and an excellent interview with Ken Adam, the man who designed the worlds of James Bond, the War Room in Stanley Kubrick’s Doctor Strangelove, the Addams Family house and many other classics.

A Profile of Ken Adam

Ken Adam was born in Berlin, Germany to a Jewish family, the son of a former Prussian cavalryman. In 1933, the Nazi Party rose to power. Adam watched the Reichstag fire from the Tiergarten. That same year the family’s shop was forced into bankruptcy by Brown Shirt harassment. So a part of the family relocated to England in 1934.

Adam first entered the film industry as a draughtsman for This Was a Woman (1948) He met his Italian wife Maria Letitzia while filming in Ischia, and they married on 16 August 1952. His first major screen credit was as production designer on the 1956 British thriller Soho Incident. In the mid-1950s he worked (uncredited) on the epics Around the World in 80 Days and Ben-Hur. His first major credit was the Jacques Tourneur cult horror film Night of the Demon, and he was the production designer on several films directed by Robert Aldrich. He was hired for the first James Bond film, Dr. No, in 1962. In 1964 he designed the famous war room set for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. He turned down the opportunity to work on Kubrick’s next project 2001: A Space Odyssey after he found out that Kubrick had been working with NASA for a year on space exploration, and that would put him at a disadvantage in developing his art.

This enabled Ken Adam to make his name with his innovative, semi-futuristic sets for the James Bond films such as Dr. No (1962), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967) and Diamonds Are Forever (1971). The supertanker set for The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) was the largest sound stage in the world at the time it was built. His last Bond film was Moonraker (1979).

Ken Adam

Ken Adam’s other notable credits include the Michael Caine cult spy thriller The Ipcress File (1965) and its sequel Funeral in Berlin (1966), the Peter O’Toole version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), Sleuth (1972), Salon Kitty (1976), Agnes of God (1985), Addams Family Values (1993) and The Madness of King George (1994). He was also a visual consultant on the acclaimed BBC-TV adaptation of Dennis Potter’s Pennies from Heaven (1981).

Ken Adam returned to work with Kubrick on Barry Lyndon, for which he won his first Oscar. He also designed the famous car for the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which was produced by the same team as the James Bond film series. During the late 1970s he worked on storyboards and concept art for Planet of the Titans, a Star Trek film then in pre-production.

- Book: Ken Adam Designs the Movies: James Bond and Beyond

Found at Dangerous Minds.

Images above: Concept artwork by Ken Adam for the laser table room in Goldfinger / Design for the volcano interior of Blofeld’s lair in “You Only Live Twice”, artwork by Ken Adam 1966. Image is featured in Ben Macintyre’s book “For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming & James Bond”