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Local art director David Crank wants to make an impression - but not too big an impression - with his work in "Hannibal."

Designing a Nightmare

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Blame David Crank. It's his fault you can't park in Bottom's Up Pizza's normal lot. Well, at least partly his fault. But he has a good excuse: Hannibal the Cannibal.

It's for "Hannibal" that the lot on Cary Street is being turned into a fish market for the next two weeks. Crank, the art director of the long-awaited sequel to "The Silence of the Lambs," says this location was perfect because the filmmakers wanted something grungy. Chances are, you won't even recognize it when the first eight minutes of the film open with FBI agent Clarice Starling making a drug bust here.

One day it's got rows of cars. The next, jungle gyms of steel climb up the concrete I-95 pillars. A few more days, and you'll see vegetable stands, refrigerators full of fish and a creepy house in the corner.

But despite all the attention to detail, Crank doesn't even want you to notice it. At least, not when it's on the big screen. "[There are] certain films where the set is the point of the scene, but usually you like it when no one notices what you've done," the soft-spoken art director explains. "They should never even realize that we built it."

Crank, who grew up in the Bon Air area of Richmond, got the "Hannibal" job back in December, when a location scout made his initial visit and was looking for an art director. Crank, who has been designing sets for theater and movies for about 15 years, was thrilled to comply. "It was just kind of a fluke," he says of how he ended up with the job. A fluke in his favor.

In 1982, Crank graduated with a degree in studio art from William and Mary, then went on to earn his masters in fine arts in theater design from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. After returning to Richmond, Crank started working with TheatreVirginia, then began as a painter in some movies. The job as a painter was a good way to get his foot in the door, and four years later, Crank was the art director for the 1991 feature film "Mississippi Masala." Though he left Richmond for New York for a short period of time — during which he worked with a Broadway production and on some feature films — Crank longed for the city he had called home all his life. He returned to Richmond in 1994. He's been keeping busy ever since.

As art director, Crank works under the production designer, who works closely with the director, in this case, Ridley Scott, the acclaimed director whose work includes "Gladiator," "Thelma & Louise," "Blade Runner" and "Alien." Crank describes Scott as a particularly visual director, the "moving force" behind the art direction. "He's very much aware of visually setting things up ... more so than a lot of directors."

Sometimes, Crank says, the finished product isn't exactly as he imagined it would be. "It used to bother me, but it doesn't any more," he says. "It's usually something with a valid reason." Sometimes, he's thrilled that the cameraman interpreted the set his own way. "I've been saved many times. I thought, 'this is not going to be good,' and then you see the film and think, 'whew.'" But usually, it's been about six months and in the meantime, Crank has moved on and is no longer emotionally connected with the film.

That nomadic work suits Crank. He says he loves that he never spends more than a few months on a job. "I work with people for four months and never have to work with them again," he says with a grin. At seven months and counting, "Hannibal" has been his longest project yet, but Crank's not complaining. "I don't mind; it's very lucrative." And, he adds, "they feed us a lot."

But the thing most people would consider the biggest perk of working in movies isn't such a perk for guys like Crank. He and his crew are typically on the set days before the film crew arrives, so brushes with fame are minimal. "We're usually a day ahead, go back and forth while they're filming," he says. "When they're done, we go back in and strike." The sum total of his movie-star interaction thus far? "Julianne Moore smiled at me

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