Creating the cockpit for ‘First Man’ tricky opportunity for Decatur set designer

How did a former ballet teacher and professional classic ballet dancer now living in Decatur have a hand in the opening scene of “First Man,” the story of Neil Armstrong’s journey to the moon? Raniero Daza’s path to the set is an interesting one, indeed.

IMG_1235When he came to the United States from his native Chile 33 years ago, Raniero Daza knew he wanted to be part of the theater and film world. He settled in Florida with a plan to be a teacher, and graduated from college with a degree in education.  He then decided to follow up on opportunities to work in set construction for Univision commercials and local theatrical productions.

But he couldn’t make ends meet running his own business. “I was earning less than my own carpenters after I paid all the expenses,” says Raniero. “Besides, the film economy was slowing down in Florida. That’s when a friend told me about the growing industry in Georgia. So I moved up and quickly found work here.”

He arrived in 2013 and was given an assignment on “Furious 7,” which was in production all around the world –– from Abu Dhabi to Clayton County, Norcross, Atlanta and Gwinnett County.  “I started at the bottom as a carpenter, but soon they gave me four or five people to work with when they realized I could manage a crew,” Raniero says. “I’ve been busy ever since.”

IMG_1233His credits on the production side of Georgia’s film industry include “Insurgent,” starring Kate Winslett and filmed all over the state, including at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, and the smash hit “Black Panther,” filmed in various locations around Fayetteville and Atlanta.

Last year Raniero was recruited to help build a replica of the X-15 jet that Neil Armstrong flies as a test pilot in the opening scene of “First Man,” eight years before his 1969 moon landing.

Raniero’s job was to build the cockpit where all the scenes of Ryan Gosling would be filmed. “It was really tricky,” Raniero says. “First we had to find photographs and specs of the original. We needed help from a NASA engineer to make the design.”

From there the project got more difficult. “We had to build this cockpit in six parts so when the director needed a shot from the nose or any other angle, we could remove the appropriate piece to get the shot from that side,” he says, adding that the construction had to be sturdy because it would be constantly taken apart and reassembled.

What’s the primary skill in set production? “Patience,” Raniero replies instantly. “You have lots of people giving advice and orders, so you build something only to have someone ask you to rebuild it a different way. You build it, they change it, you rebuild it. But you have to respect all the people who are making the job more difficult, because in the end they make it all come together.”

In his six years working in Georgia, Raniero has watched the tremendous influx of people coming from around the country to find work in film. “It’s exciting to see thousands of people take advantage of all the opportunities here. I feel proud for what I have done to help them.”