Sir Ken AdamNow pay attention, 007. The artistic work of production designer Sir Ken Adam, famous for his iconic designs for the James Bond movies in the 1960s and 1970s and for numerous other non-Bond films, is to be celebrated in a special exhibition in Berlin, Germany, opening in December this year.

The special exhibition, entitled BIGGER THAN LIFE – KEN ADAM’S FILM DESIGN, will be held at the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin during the period December, 2014 to May, 2015.

The exciting exhibition will explore the artistic and production designs of Sir Ken over the whole of his career, and will be based on the veteran designer’s own unique personal collection of material, accumulated over long years of working in the movies.

In 2012, Sir Ken donated his entire artistic and design output to the Deutsche Kinemathek, a collection which includes over 4,000 drawings, various storyboards, many photographs from movie sets, numerous personal documents, and a large number of design sketches, including his designs for all the work he carried out on his James Bond movies, up to and including Moonraker (1979).

The Deutsche Kinemathek plans to make the Ken Adam collection available via an online inventory in the Summer of 2015, and the new exhibition will give the public a foretaste of the wide range of material contained in the collection, which will become an invaluable resource for both film historians and design scholars.

A full catalogue to accompany the exhibition will be on sale to the public, and will contain some specially-commissioned essays by a range of expert authors, each one examining aspects of Sir Ken’s career.

Once dubbed the ‘Man with the Midas Touch’ by one UK newspaper, Sir Ken has become something of a legend among Bond film aficionados across the globe and, for many years, was arguably one of the British film industry’s pre-eminent production designers.

Plenty of other production and set designers have regularly pointed to Sir Ken’s exemplary work as inspiring their own designs over the years, while the veteran designer also has a significant fan-base among both mainstream and modernist architects.

In 2013, for example, in a special BBC Radio-3 documentary profile of Ken Adam, it was revealed that the award-winning top architect Norman Foster was a big fan of Sir Ken’s work. At one point in the documentary, the former 007 designer was especially stunned to discover that Foster’s design for the new German parliament building was influenced by the Adam design ‘look’.

Designer Royale

German-born Ken Adam was a refugee from Nazi Germany and served as a pilot in the British RAF in World War Two. He originally trained to be an architect. But the world of film offered numerous possibilities, and Adam has commented that movie set work, while often enormously challenging, can be deeply satisfying when it goes well.

And, clearly, it has gone extremely well for Adam over the decades. He has been nominated for many awards over the years, including for his set designs on the James Bond movies, and also picked up BAFTA Awards for Dr. Strangelove (1964) and The Ipcress File (1965). He also holds two Academy Awards: for Barry Lyndon (1975) and The Madness of King George (1994).

In 2011, in celebration of his 90th birthday (he turned 90 in February, 2011), Sir Ken was given a special BAFTA Tribute for his services to film.

Sir Ken Adam has given many interviews about his work over the years, and many of these have highlighted his ground-breaking design work on the 007 franchise and on other movies. But Sir Ken has always remained very modest about his own contribution to the movie world.

When interviewed by The Times in 2011, for example, the newspaper suggested to him that his lush and extravagant sets, such as the volcano rocket base in You Only Live Twice (1967) and the submarine-swallowing supertanker in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), really defined the mood of the entire 007 series. Sir Ken responded: ‘No, no! It was nice working on the Bonds. They needed someone to come up with bigger and bigger visual designs and backgrounds. And that’s what I did!’ 

However, as the new Deutsche Kinemathek exhibition will undoubtedly show, Sir Ken Adam not only created ever-bigger set designs, but also played an instrumental role in many other aspects of the highly memorable ‘look’ of the 007 franchise, contributing heavily to the smash-hit success of the Bond movies for two decades and, in the process, encouraging a whole new generation of designers to translate their ideas into visual form.

Did You Know?

Sir Ken Adam, once asked in an interview about the now-famous volcano set for You Only Live Twice, explained: ‘I came up with this design for the base… and I knew it was right. The producers agreed, but they knew it was going to cost a lot of money. Cubby Broccoli said, “Can you do it for a million dollars?” I said yes. And I did. But every time after that Cubby used to say: “Whenever Ken puts pen to paper I have a heart attack!”…’.