February 23, 2009


You Only Live Twice (1967) Production Design by Ken Adam. Said to be the largest set ever constructed at the time in the UK, Blofeld’s lair built inside a Japanese volcano is so sensational and fantastic a concept that it has gone on to epitomize what every evil megalomaniac should aspire to. For the pilot flying overhead it looks like an innocent lake within the basin of an extinct volcano. But the water is an illusion! At the pull of a lever, the surface retracts into the mountain to reveal a secret rocket base, heliport, a network of monorails, and an ultra-modern office lair with a piranha pool (!) on one side and a lordly lounge setting on the other. Adams created a kind of Dr. No antechamber on a massive scale for this film, establishing that SPECTRE is a force to be reckoned with. These baddies have resources, and they are living like ants right under our noses. The secret volcano base is perhaps the most ostentatious example of Cold War paranoia in the Bond films, and a reference point for many future villains (including Mike Meyer's cartoony parody in Austin Powers). Though not my fave 007, the sets, gadgetry, and Japanese location all add up to a great Spy Vibe! Click images for larger view.

Additional points go to Adam's many additional designs for the film, including Osato's office (with ceiling machine guns and x-ray/TV monitors), a 2001-like plastic surgery lab, a Toyota GT200 with 2-way video communications, and Tanaka's office with trap-door chute and globe monitors. In "The Art of Bond" Adam writes, "I have to confess that one of my favourite sets ever was Tanaka's office. At the time, I was getting more minimalist, and I got the idea of a stainless-steel chute, with Bond sliding through it and landing on a very comfortable chair. I also decided not to have normal television screens but to have spherical monitors in copper instead." The Bond series began to take less from Fleming and more from this kind of larger-than-life, imaginative thinking. One can't deny that the scope and cool-factor of Adam's vision makes for a fun film experience- especially when attention to character and story is maintained.

A couple of cool, round TVs were released In Britain and Japan from 1969 into the early 1970s, including the "Orbitel" from Panasonic below. Master Design Agent Tony Sison from Design Within Reach spied the Oxford Chair in Tanaka's Office by Danish architect and designer, Arne Jacobsen, and the desk and cabinet by Danish designer Bodil Kjaer.

Each set piece illustrates Adam's signature contrast of sloping ceilings, triangles, circles, sleek modern furniture, and fun spy gadgetry. SPECTRE's aim to sabotage the space programs of the US and USSR allowed the team to highlight the white and silver, futuristic look that became iconic in design and fashion with the coverage of NASA and the Space Race. For all its spectacle, the film holds the designs fairly well within its story-telling. You Only Live Twice premiered in June 1967 and remains the template of Spy Vibe production design and spy-genre conventions.


Check out Spy Vibe's production set series, an event that gathered together many writers to celebrate the best spy sets from cold war-era film & TV. Guest Set Lists: Lee Pfeiffer, Jeremy Duns, Armstrong Sabian, Steve Bissette, Roger Langley, Matthew Bradford, Wesley Britton, David Foster, Matt Kindt. Spy Vibe's Set For Adventure here, Set Countdown #10, #9, #8 ,#7, #6, #5, #4, #3, #2, #1.


  1. absolutely love your blog! thanks for posting all of these amazing set photos!

  2. Thanks, Kevin! I try to create my own screenshots as much as possible, so it's great to hear that it's time well spent.

  3. I wish I could get my hands on the some of these set pieces like the TV. As an artist i really appreciate the Concept illustrations of the set. These classic movies are inspiring.