From Statesboro to Hollywood
Alumnus Turns Dreams into Show Business Career
Picture billionaire industrialist Tony Stark’s garage/workshop, or Air Force One in the movie “Iron Man 3,” starring Robert Downey Jr. Those sets were designed by Georgia Southern alumnus Timothy Martin Earls (’92), who has amassed an impressive list of film and television set design credits that include 38 episodes of the television series “Glee,” and movies such as “Mission: Impossible III” starring Tom Cruise, “Flightplan” with Jodie Foster and “Valentine’s Day,” which featured an ensemble cast of Hollywood superstars. As the set designer, Earls is responsible for “creating the working drawings used by the construction or effects crew to build both physical and virtual sets.” He adds, “I enjoy creating environments that literally pull a viewer into the picture if just on a subconscious level. It enhances the audience’s experience and helps further the writer’s or director’s vision to sell the story being told.”
How did this alumnus born in Coventry, England, find success in Hollywood in the two decades since he left Georgia Southern? Earls began his career training to become an architect and spent several years working at the James W. Buckley and Associates architectural firm in Swainsboro, Ga., where his family relocated just before his senior year in high school. At heart though, Earls always wanted to design for film and television, but he says, “Living in Swainsboro, nobody knew how to get into the film industry.” He credits the owner of the firm for encouraging him to return to school, and he explains, “I had a unique experience because I was working full time while I was going to school full time, and I still managed to have a social life. I had a really good time at Georgia Southern.”
Armed with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, the Georgia Southern graduate headed to California to take a job as art director for a gaming company owned by hometown friends. He was soon looking for work when the company ran into financial trouble. “I sent out blanket emails to anybody that I thought worked in the movie business,” he remembers. “Within weeks I got an email from someone saying they needed an art director on a short film.” That two-day shoot led to the television series “Babylon 5” for which he earned his first screen credit as a concept designer for illustrations he developed for the show. When that job ended two-and-a-half years later, Earls found a position on the series “Star Trek: Voyager,” and worked there for a couple of years.
He managed to break into feature films with 2003’s “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.” Since then he has designed sets for more than a dozen films and most recently served as the senior lead set designer for “The Lone Ranger.” Currently, he is working on the seventh installment of the “Fast and Furious” franchise. Earls can’t reveal his specific designs in that film but acknowledges his work has a definite design style. “I try to create objects, devices and sets which heighten the illusion or reality or workability. Due to my interest in engineering and architecture I tend to design things the audience would believe could be real regardless of whether they’re actually possible or not.”
The one project he regrets turning down: “Avatar,” the 2009 science fiction action film that set new box office records. “I was working on ‘Walk Hard’ and received a request to design ships for ‘Avatar,’ but declined because I felt a little loyal to the production designer I was working for, not knowing I would be let go the next day anyway,” he says. Still, Earls admits his show business career has exceeded his expectations. “For me to move to California and get into the union within three months, I was very lucky,” he says. “I count myself very fortunate, more fortunate than I ever expected to be.”
Although show business may be his first love, his passion for British sports cars is not far behind. He bought his first before attending Georgia Southern, has restored several since then, and currently drives a Jaguar. “It was my father’s time at the Triumph factory in Coventry that sparked my interest in British roadsters,” Earls says. – Sandra Bennett
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