William Creber is a second generation film studio man, his father also involved in motion picture art direction before him. He was born in Los Angeles, went through one and a half years of college, before entering the Navy for four years. About 1954, he became an apprentice set designer, and in 1958 had his first assignment as assistant art director on George Steven's The Greatest Story Ever Told. Through some quirk of fate, he eventually became the head art director on the film, ending up with an Oscar nomination for his work. At 20th Century Fox, he worked for Irwin Allen on television shows, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost In Space, and Time Tunnel. Other theatrical feature work includes Caprice, The Detective, Rio Conchos, Justine, and the first three Planet of the Apes films.
Among Creber's first tasks as art director in preparation for Planet of the Apes was to design the city in which the intelligent apes lived. In the initial stage of production, during Rod Serling's screenplays, the city had been envisaged as the modern metropolis depicted in the source novel. After this concept had been rejected as too costly for a movie set, the setting was altered to reflect a primitive, perhaps medieval society. The problem then presented was just what kind of city a primitive race of apes would live in. Michael Wilson, Serling's successor as screenwriter, suggested taking some inspiration from Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi. A second consideration was that the twist ending from Serling's screenplays - that the planet was in fact Earth - required the audience not to recognise the planet as their own: "Our objective was to find something really original and different, in line with and opposed to Pierre Boulle's concept, which took place in a contemporary environment. But when the idea came up for the Statue of Liberty shot, it became apparent that we needed to provide a concept that wouldn't give away that they might be on Earth, in order to reinforce its dramatic impact. We explored all ideas, even of shooting in Brasilia, and use a strange, modern aspect. Arthur Jacobs didn't buy that at all, although he liked the sketches. We looked at some of the work of Gaudi (a European architect), and a Turkish city of cave dwellers called Goreme Valley, and these concepts came through a little, but we really had no structural idea in mind. The studio at the time had been experimenting with a substance called polyurethane foam, and one day, some fellows had attempted to build something with this foam by spraying it on cardboard, and it had the exact look we were after. So we sculptured the buildings, using 1/4 inch models, with welded rod, covered with cardboard and they’d spray them with foam. Towards the end, we didn't have enough equipment, and we weren't making good time, so we had to go into plaster and cement construction, plus the foam. It worked pretty satisfactorily though. There was a great deal of cooperation on that first one between all the departments. We had fun exchanging ideas, and working them out." Another, related, problem for the production team was to find a location that would look similarly 'unearthly': "I had done some work in Utah when I was up there on 'The Greatest Story Ever Told', and I always felt that would be a great place to make a science fiction film. I had no idea that it ever would be applied, in fact it wasn't even my suggestion! It was Jack Martin Smith's idea, the head of the Art Department."
On the second Apes movie, the art team were asked to present the rest of the city of New York, hinted at by the Statue of Liberty in the closing scene of the first: "For the New York ruins in 'Beneath', we used actual photographs of the places, cut them with razor blades, and the special effects department matted them in. The church in 'Beneath' was purposely asymmetrical and off balance. That was a tough set, and I had a lot of help from many people on it. We used a standing set, the Harmonia Gardens from 'Hello, Dolly!', and revamped it, spraying all over it with foam. The Grand Central Station set from 'Dolly' was used too, for the tribunal scene."
Creber's third and final Apes movie demanded much less in terms of science-fiction settings, with only three apes and using modern locations, and proved to be his favorite: "As much as I enjoyed the first film, my favorite project was the third one, and I think it was by far a better picture than the second one. What the second one lacked was the real relationship between the apes and the humans, and this is what 'Escape' had."