Alex McDowell is one of the most innovative and influential production designers working in narrative media. With the impact of his ideas extending far beyond his background in cinema, he advocates an immersive design process that acknowledges the key role of world building in storytelling.
In his 30+ years as a narrative designer, McDowell has worked with directors Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, David Fincher, Zack Snyder and Steven Spielberg, amongst many others.
From 1999-2001 Alex McDowell worked with Steven Spielberg to design and develop a world for the film Minority Report, prior to a completed script. The process that evolved changed the nature of film design from analogue to digital, and profoundly affected the nature of production, with a radical shift towards a non-linear workflow. Since this film, McDowell’s work has built on the dynamic relationship between creativity and emergent technologies.
McDowell is associate professor in Interactive Media, Production and Media Arts and Practice (iMAP) at the School of Cinematic Arts, USC, where he is director of the World Building Media Lab and the 5D Institute.
As visiting artist at MIT’s Media Lab from 2006-2011 he designed the robot opera Death and the Powers for composer Tod Machover. He is a Getty Research Institute scholar, and a member of the AMPAS SciTech Council. In 2006, he was awarded Royal Designer for Industry by the UK’s Royal Society of Arts.
Alex McDowell is co-founder and creative director at 5D | Organization, a cellular and interdisciplinary transmedia design practice. “When you design in a pre-visualization space or an immersive design space, you are no longer working in a linear film production process. It’s no longer pre-production, production and post-production. Those are really anachronistic terms now. We’re working in a non-linear workflow where we’re equally working on post-production as we’re working on production and shooting. At the same time, when we build a set now, when I design a set, I build it in 3D space. I’m sculpting space with software and you’re immersed in 3D space. It allows for an immersive collaboration.”
McDowell recommends that universities rethink the way film or set design is taught. “I don’t think you can teach film design as it is traditionally taught without fundamentally understanding how animation works, how gaming works, how environmental design works. ”
Check out the upcoming 5D event this April at USC: http://5dinstitute.org/events/science-of-fiction