Thursday, March 10, 2016


On February 27, 2016, A full house attended 11th annual Art of Production Design panel discussion with the Oscar nominees at the Egyptian, moderated by Tom Walsh, ADG and set decorator Jane Pascal, co-founder of the Set Decorators Society of America (SDSA). The films and panelists were:
  • Bridge of Spies – production designer Adam Stackhausen, set decorators Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich
  • The Danish Girl – production designer Eve Stewart, set decorator Michael Standish
  • Mad Max – production designer Colin Gibson, set decorator Lisa Thompson
  • The Martian – production designer Arthur Max, set decorator Celia Borak
  • The Revenant – production designer Jack Fisk, set decorator Hamish Purdy
The production designers. Photo courtesy ADG
The event was sponsored by the Art Directors Guild (ADG), Set Decorators Society of America, the American Cinematheque, and Kohler. A short clip was shown for each film, each followed by a one on one discussion with each film's production designer and set decorator.

Bridge of Spies
The team shared that due the time period (1960s Cold War), there were two color palettes. The palettes were different by location, Berlin being cooler colors and New York warmer wood tones. Adam Stackhausen, DP, said that he has had a good relationship with Spielberg, having worked with him on two movies. Rena DeAngelo said that she had worked on projects in this time period, including Mad Men, and couldn’t stop shopping for Abel’s apartment. Sets were researched using old pictures and they were lucky that the USSR did not want to rebuild the east after the WWII, providing them with locations in Poland that still had the remains of WWII. DeAngelo said that she usually does not reuse articles, even if it is the same period, she wants each set a different look and characters have different tastes.

The Danish Girl – Eve Stewart, PD, started in theatre, so she was used to working with a small budget. Michael Standish, SD, had a strong knowledge of antiques and started his career in props. He worked as a buyer for 10-15 years and then went into set decoration. The color palette was different between Denmark (cool, lonesome, gray) and France (rich tones). The movie included 50 sets all over Europe with an overall budget of $15 million, despite the small-scale and intimate subject matter.

Mad Max – Colin Gibson, PD, said that he started as a pushy Australian actor, while Lisa Thompson, SD, started as a window dresser and photo stylist. According to Gibson, it took 15 years to make the film and that it was passion that kept the team going forward over time. There were over 3,500 storyboards and very little dialogue. They describe it as the world of the future past, with a biblical tone. They worked out the look with no script, only storyboards. They named tribes, gave them gods, and a separate look for tribes, weapons and vehicles. Gibson said that he is a good salvage artist with the a re-purposing goal of making new from old, but retaining recognizable items. Most of the film was live action with digital effects added after shooting to enhance the action.

The Martian – Early in his career, PD Arthur Max worked on stage designs, starting with Woodstock and doing lighting and mixing for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon tour. He started working on commercials with Ridley and Tony Scott and has worked for both of them over the past 30 years. Celia Borak, SD, is originally from South Africa and started working for the BBC, working with Tim Harvey for 10 years on Fortunes of War and Henry V with Kenneth Branagh. Max said that Ridley does his own storyboards that provide clear direction and angles. They worked closely with NASA (requiring their approval for the use of the NASA logo), and visited the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena and the Johnson Space Center. NASA considered their models boring and wanted their help adding style and inspiration, drawing from a color palette of white, orange, silver, and black. In just 13 weeks, Max's team prepped impressive large sets including a gravity wheel based on Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. They engineered 180 degree sets that they made look continuous through splicing.

The Revenant Jack Fisk, PD, started as an artist working for $100 a week and went on to work with Terrence Malick on Badlands in 1973 – a creative relationship that continues to this day. Hamish Purdy, SD, received an English literature degree and started working on music videos in Vancouver. The color palette on The Revenant was “mud and blood.” The film was shot using only natural light, so sets needed to be west-facing in the morning and east-facing for later in the day. The locations were tough and the props were mostly axes and knives. The time period was the early 1800’s, and with the help of historical consultants, they built boats, a Mandan village, and a fort using wood provided by First Nations. It took 16 months to find locations, and snow crews were brought in to haul snow due to a February thaw.

Though Mad Max emerged the ultimate Oscar victor, the work of all these artisans shone bright on the screen.