At Aquí, we take our cuppa Joe very seriously. Rest assured, because the same applies when it comes to design. As avid coffee drinkers, we often ask, “How do you like your coffee?” And as a creative boutique, we like to ask, “How do you like your design?” Joe is a blog segment where we - #TeamAquí - share our design inspirations.
(Update from the Team: Before you dive into this post, we wanted to let you know that Joe has undergone a change in format for more focus! Our bi-weekly blog posts will now be thematic in order for them to have a clearer and more meaningful narrative. We appreciate all of our readers and we hope you enjoy your read!)
Production design is one of the main elements of filmmaking that set the tone of the storytelling and creates a memorable visual experience for the audience. Each aspect in the production - ranging from graphic design to set decoration - usually goes unnoticed yet plays a big part in shaping the movie and giving it its edge. In this post, we each explore our favourite movie set designs and introduce you to some of the most detail-oriented production designers.
It would be a great blow for many if there wasn’t a mention of at least one of Wes Anderson’s films in this blog post. The visionary director is known for his unique visual language that often proves the high production value in his films. Sitting at the top of Maria’s ‘List of favourite Wes Anderson movie productions’ was The Grand Budapest Hotel, which we all agreed had one of the most stunning sets we have ever seen.
“Bringing Wes Anderson’s vision for The Grand Budapest Hotel to life seems to have been a labour of love for all involved,” John-Michael O’Sullivan wrote in his article ‘From fake maps to golden tickets: the film props of artist Annie Atkins’ (2020).
There is a reason why the film was able to give us a sense of surreality like no other. It was real - most of what we saw in the film was made by hand. It is no wonder that Anderson holds “old-fashioned” methods in high regards when it comes to building a set. Though time-consuming and labour intensive, the captivating charm is not something that CGI can easily recreate.
Production designer Adam Stockhausen, who has worked with Anderson on a number of notable films, was the one behind the miniature model of the imaginary pink hotel. Along with his crew, Stockhausen transformed the Görlitzer Warenhaus department store into the unforgettable film sets, inspired by Karlovy Vary’s Grandhotel Pupp.
"The way you perceive a story is really influenced by the setting in which you see it told." — Stockhausen for Vice
In Anderson’s fictional world, how would the passport of a resident look like? What would the headline news be for the local newspaper? Annie Atkins was in search of the answers to these questions. As the film’s graphic designer, she was the brain behind the vintage-looking props which by the way, were mostly handcrafted with rigour.
“It’s impossible to imagine graphics like these. You have to do your research and you’ll find treasures that you couldn’t even have begun to sit down and draw until you saw them in front of your eyes.” — Annie Atkins for Quartz
We found out from Maria that she once dressed as Agatha for a Halloween party that she had been to. Honestly, at the end of the movie, there is a part of you that wants to believe in the existence of Zubrowska…
This Sci-Fi miniseries by Netflix created by Patrick Somerville is, according to Nella, “So. Good.” When you hear the words ‘pharmaceutical’ and ‘lab’, a familiar aesthetic comes to mind - something clinical, futuristic, and maybe slightly dystopian. But when Nella showed us a few still frames from Maniac, it was far from that.
The set designs for the fictional Neberdine Labs look like something that came out of the early-80s. We saw boxy TV screens and toggle switches (that are literally, lit) that resembles the interior of an aircraft in movies like Star Trek. What is different in Maniac is the level of detail in the depiction of technological and scientific mediums that production designer Alex Digerlando focused on with his team. You can see it in branding of Neberdine Labs - logo, wayfinder, etc. - as well as the screen animations.
“There’s a tactile quality to all of the science going on in that film and we really tried to incorporate a lot of that into our show. The technology really feels like it’s put together by human hands and everything appears to have a specific function. It was fun reimagining the present as someone back in the early 80’s might have imagined it." — Alex Digerlando for Interiors
Overall, this miniseries breaks the mould of a stereotypical sci-fi series and challenges our imagination in a way that leaves you in a state of contemplation.
“Watching the film back then felt very magical. It was like a dream!” Evelyn expressed. One of Roald Dahl’s classics, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was one of the films that Evelyn thought had a production team that was ahead of its time. Fun fact: It was also a film that fell through the hands of many directors before landing on Tim Burton’s as his style seemed to be the only one that the Dahl family agreed with.
Looking at the set designs, it was hard for us to believe that this was something made in the early 2000s. It was also difficult to tell if there were any visual effects at all as the interactions between the characters and their surroundings seemed very authentic. As you may have guessed, Burton stayed away from applying too much visual effects in order to achieve that consistency throughout the whole film. Do not let your eyes fool you, because the Oompa-Loompas were actually played by a single actor (Deep Roy) who was then duplicated through split screen photography and front projection effects.
“Everything in this room is edible. Even I'm edible. But, that would be called cannibalism. It is looked down upon in most societies.” — Tim Burton, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Remember when Willy Wonka said that everything was edible? Raise your hands if you believed it because you might be right. Giant lollipops, sugar canes, humbugs… you name it. Oh, and the squirrels? A hundred percent real. They were also trained for the scene where they give Veruca Salt a hard time. Un-be-lie-va-ble.
In 2006, Alex McDowell was nominated for BAFTA’s Best Production Design. Though he was not the winner, he along with his production team will always hold a special spot in the hearts of the many fans as they were the creators of the Chocolate Factory; they were the ones who brought it to life.
“This one is going to be a bit eerie,” Yu Ting made a disclaimer before she introduced us to A Cure for Wellness, a psychological thriller directed by Pirates of the Caribbean’s Gore Verbinski. Yu Ting remembers the film for its horrifyingly beautiful and silent aesthetic, one that kept her at the edge of her seat but her eyes glued to the screen. The film unfolds in a gorgeous spa (or “wellness”) centre that was, in reality, set in Germany’s historical Hohenzollern Castle and Beelitz-Heilstätten hospital.
The German military hospital was where Adolf Hitler was once treated. Acclaimed production designer Eve Stewart knew that it had the architecture and interior needed to bring out a sense of discomfort that is key to the style of the film. Stewart and the production team cleaned the location but was careful to retain the essential features that contributed most to the creepiness.
“The hospital had a kind of inherent beauty in its dereliction." — Eve Stewart for Cinema Buzz
It was evident that water was the “cure for wellness” because of the major role it played in the film. From steampunks to water tanks (with eels), Stewart had to do a lot of water-related research and experimentation. "My grasp of physics in terms of water pressure and the way thick glass can refract light is now fantastic,” she told Architectural Digest.
The quiet tension that lingers throughout the film proves that there are delicate ways (that do not comprise of a jump scare) to actually scare someone.
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