I was invited by production designer Alex McDowell to attend a 5-D design conference. Before I understood that it was about bringing together all the tribes of people who are involved in film technologies and aesthetics, I thought when Alex said “5-D,” he meant “the 5th dimension”: beyond width and length and depth and time. A place that was undetermined, and which perhaps designers could define so people knew where and what it was.
I also believe, as Alex has stated, that “design is the imagination actualized into reality.” So a conference on the 5th dimension seemed appropriate.
Regardless of what the conference was meant to address, as a member of the panel I wanted to address the 5th dimension as I knew it.
What is the 5th Dimension? It’s a place inside my head where I can start to see something coming—moving like a train coming towards me—an idea that’s not yet there but is partially realized.
What does it look like? Nothing, nothing at all. I call it a “whiteout.” I picked that up from Bob Zemeckis who talks about a “whiteout” as a blank space where he sees in his mind’s eye an entire movie he wants to direct.
I’ve faced so many blank canvases in my time that I see the 5th dimension as a blank canvas. A personal space. One in which I don’t know anything about anything. Where I’m just free to “receive” the muse.
Where is the first whiteout that I ever saw? I’m referring to one that was presented to me by others, not the kind that occurred in the center of my brain. It was in the Disney animated film Pinocchio!
Here’s the story: Geppetto makes a wish before he goes to bed. He wishes that Pinocchio, the puppet he created from wood, be turned into a real boy. He looks out the window by his bed and expresses that wish with all his might. He’s gone as far as his conscious mine could take him.
Then Geppetto goes to bed and falls asleep. Even as he snores, his brain is going click click click like the clocks that surround him. Jiminy Cricket can’t take the noise and says in his all-knowing way, “Enough is enough.” And time stops. From that point on—the point at which there is no time—it is the 5th dimension. The whole scene becomes a “whiteout.”
In such a state, a star comes forward, fills the frame of the window with white light, and then the Blue Fairy steps into the room. And because Geppetto had taken the process as far as he did, his intent is going to be realized—with the touch of the Blue Fairy’s wand, Pinocchio becomes real.
That’s the challenge for all artists: how to actualize something and make it real. As the great production designer Richard Sylbert once said to me, “We’re results freaks.”
And the secret for making this level of creativity possible is to go into the 5th dimension and let the Blue Fairy come into your room, wand in hand.