On the Stage, Behind the Scenes and In the Audience
Robert U. Taylor
Hewes Design Awards - 1972
ROBERT U. TAYLOR (Scenic Designer, Production Designer, VFX Art Director, CGI Art Director) began his career studying classical styles of painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the University of Pennsylvania. He went on to Yale University to study Scenic Design under Donald Oenslager. Since then he has created designs for over one hundred productions in Repertory and Regional Theaters throughout the United States.
He has also designed many Off Broadway and Broadway productions in New York City (where he has had three shows running on Broadway at the same time). He won two Drama Desk Awards, the Maharam Award, and an Obie Award; Raisin, which he designed, won four Tonys. Clive Barnes said of his set for Beggar’s Opera, “…it is the best setting I have seen in the New York Theatre all this season.” Newsweek said of his work, “Taylor’s’ set… is perfect. This is one of those rare productions that advances the whole notion of theatre.”
Taylor co-founded and designed all the sets for both the Colonnades Theatre Lab in 1976 (across from Joe Papp’s Public Theatre on Lafayette St) which ran for several seasons in repertory, and the Greek Theatre of New York, which presented plays for three seasons by classical and modern Greek authors, in NYC.
He has had ten one man shows of his paintings, watercolor and oil, on the east coast and Texas. He has been on the faculty of St Cloud College, at Princeton University, Hunter College in New York, and taught graduate classes in CGI film VFX Design at the Rhode Island School of Design. He also has been a Lecturer on CGI film at Yale University. Several of his designs and models can be seen in various books on set design over the past 20 years, and have been on exhibition at the Smithsonian, the International Theater Institute, and at the San Antonio McNay museum’s permanent collection of scenic art.
He has worked extensively in film and television, and has designed over seven hundred commercials, many of which have won Clios. His sets for these commercials included onstage Jungles, Forests, the North Pole with glacial ice, full scale rockets, Shakespearean heaths and moors, entire cities in model scale, distant planetary terrain, along with an enormous collection of house interiors of varying styles.
In 1989, Taylor was called by Doug Trumbull to design the production of the “Back to the Future” ride for Universal Studios’ Florida and Hollywood theme parks. Using advanced motion control photographic techniques and detailed miniature sets, the simulated chase through time for the ride was filmed in the 180 IMAX Dome format. Acclaimed by critics and the ticket-buying public alike as the most exciting movie ride in the world, Back to the Future has been described by Premiere as “the attraction that even Disney folk regard with awe,” and by the Los Angeles Times as “unlike any other motion picture format . . . the effect is unbelievably intense.”
He then was Production Designer on another technologically advanced film and environment project for Steven Spielberg; “Cliffhanger”. He designed a video simulator film for Sega, and a number of film projects using advanced projection systems for Doug Trumbull (one using the Biosphere Project in Arizona, remarkably similar to Trumbull’s ground-breaking film – “Silent Running”).
In 1992, Taylor began production and environment design on three large-scale attractions, directed by Douglas Trumbull for Luxor Las Vegas, a $350 million casino resort built by Circus Circus Enterprises, Inc. The technologically cutting edge production of three films designed by Taylor, involved the process of integrating computer previsualization, live action and motion control miniature photography, computer graphic imagery, and digital image compositing in a manner never before attempted.
The resulting trilogy, entitled “Secrets of the Luxor Pyramid”, opened in November 1993 and broke further ground in its innovative use of immersive technologies, receiving the annual Digital Hollywood Award for best virtual reality experience in the world. Variety noted that the attractions “… Set new standards for the film industry… has taken participatory films to a new level; The New York Times observed “… it’s like being inside, not just at, the movies,” and Hugh Downs of ABC News 20/20 told his television audience “you’ve never seen a movie like this one before… The seats are part of the action, giving new meaning to the term motion pictures!”
Mr. Taylor then was Visual Effects Art Director with Mass.Illusion for the feature film “Judge Dredd”, designing a vast city of model and computer built futuristic architecture and graphics. Also for Mass.Illusion, he was VFX Art Director for a number of feature films: “Eraser” with Arnold Schwarzenegger; “Event Horizon”, and effects for “Shadow Conspiracy”, and the “painted” location effects for “What Dreams May Come” with Robin Williams. He designed “Starship Troopers”, and shot planning and visualization for “Evita”, “First Wife’s Club” and the effects in “The Matrix”, for John Gaeta, which V FX won an Oscar in 2000.
He then returned to work as VFX Art Director and Production Designer for Doug Trumbull, designing for Entertainment Design Workshop an unfinished CG project based on the book “Dinotopia”.
His next project, which was “The Book of Pooh”, was directed and produced by Mitchell Kriegman for Disney Productions. He designed and for the first and second season of BOP, for a total of 120 programs, on the Disney channel.
He subsequently designed several short 3D films and ridefilms for Powderkeg Productions (one of which won Best New Production at the IAPPA convention in Orlando, FL. 2002). He designed a Santa Claus theme park building for “Santa Claus Village” in Vermont – a themed 200′ long Santa Claus Workshop several stories high, with accompanying interior themed entertainment; and several other US Theme Park 3D film projects.
In 2008/09, he designed for Adirondack Scenic an amusement park ride for Universal Studios Dubailand in Dubai. In 2010-11 he acted again as Production Designer for Doug Trumbull, designing several space station sets for a projected motion picture from the book “Ender’s Game”, and a Burger King commercial based on Doug’s VFX for the film “Tree of Life”. He recently completed a group of 34 paintings for a one-man show at the Welles Gallery, Lenox, MA in June 2010. He is engaged in providing detailed Concept Boards for various Independent film makers, and local architects. He completed a large interior design project for the Make A Wish Foundation: the 20,000 sq.ft. Wishing Castle in Monroe, NJ; a Sesame Street Darkride project for Resorts World, Universal Studios, Singapore, and three extensive show environment designs for Wuhan Movie Themepark in Wuhan, China.