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Thomas E. Sanders Dies: ‘Saving Private Ryan’ Production Designer Was 63

Deadline logo Deadline 7/14/2017 Anita Busch
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Thomas E. Sanders, the production designer and art director who worked for some of the top names in Hollywood on such pictures as Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, and Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula has died. The father of five, whose youngest (Lucas) is only four years old, succumbed to cancer on July 6. He was 63.

Sanders was twice Oscar nominated for art direction (Saving Private Ryan, Dracula). He last worked on Justin Lin’s Star Trek Beyond, and also worked as production designer on another Paramount franchise, the John Woo-directed Mission: Impossible II.

He was production designer on Gibson’s Apocalypto. “The film world has lost an extraordinary artist,” Gibson told Deadline. “He was my friend, my collaborator and I will miss him.”

Sanders worked twice for filmmaker Randall Wallace, on the Mel Gibson-starring We Were Soldiers and on Secretariat. Sanders started his career in film in 1990.

“Tom was an absolute joy to work with and inspired such confidence in those around him. He was organic and instinctive and natural. And, in a business where we like to control things, his casual confidence, his honesty about his process could scare you but he always came through with something that was alive and real,” said Wallace.

“On Secretariat, we were working tight budget. Tom said to me, ‘Let me know how much you have, and I will make something beautiful.’ I loved going into his workshop because it made me feel confidant and positive,” said Wallace. “And when I walked in one day, Tom had — in his free time — sculpted a horse. It was beautiful and inspirational. For all he gave, he always had more to give. And I will always love him and remember him that way.”

Born in San Pedro, CA, Sanders started out as a furniture designer and builder before being introduced to the film industry via a job at a set construction company. A year later, he opened his own company and soon sold it to director Tony Scott’s art director from Days of Thunder and Revenge. While working as the Supervising Art Director on Spielberg’s Hook, he was noticed by Francis Ford Coppola for his expertise of detail. Coppola hired him for Dracula, which led to his first Oscar nom for Best Art/Set decoration, which he shared with Garrett Lewis.

One of his proudest achievements was on Guillermo Del Toro’s period horror-thriller Crimson Peak, whose gothic, creepy and dark set design created the appropriate tone of the film. That production design won him the 2016 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Saturn Award.

Sanders is survived by wife Mariana and five children, one sister and seven grandchildren. There will be a celebration of life memorial on Saturday, July 22 at the Paso Robles Inn on 1103 Spring Street from 10:30 AM to 2 PM.

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