World building doesn’t get more varied or adventurous than in Damien Chazelle’s front-running musical, “La La Land,” Denis Villeneuve’s ethereal alien thriller, “Arrival,” Jon Favreau’s inventive Disney hybrid, “The Jungle Book,” Scott Derrickson’s Magical Mystery Tour, “Doctor Strange,” and Martin Scorsese’s spiritual passion project, “Silence.”
“La La Land”
For production designer David Wasco, LA became a Technicolor/CinemaScope dreamland where past and present intersect for jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone). And although the designer got to explore such hidden gems as Redondo Beach’s historic Lighthouse Café, his two greatest triumphs were the bravura, Busby Berkeley-like opening on the interchange of the 110 and 105 freeways overlooking the downtown skyline, and the Griffith Park Observatory planetarium.
With a brief window during a hot August weekend, the California Highway Patrol shut down the freeway interchange so they could shoot “Another Day of Sun” for the meet cute in traffic between Sebastian and Mia amid 100 dancers. It was Wasco’s idea to have Sebastian drive an ’80s Buick Riviera.
But even though the production designer adores shooting on location, he built a massive set for the planetarium fantasia dance number. “We found a used Minolta planetarium projector on E-bay — just like the real one from the era of ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ — and put it on a turntable,” Wasco told IndieWire. “We built the whole set around that Art Deco extravaganza circle and they were able to do the wire work and put them into the heavens.”
Production Designer Patrice Vermette created various shapes to connect linguist extraordinaire Louise (Amy Adams) with the heptapod aliens. These include the charcoal gray, oval craft (inspired by a planet outside our solar system), the horizontal barrier inside, and the circular patterns the aliens communicate with, symbolizing time without beginning or end.
“We were having trouble coming up with a language,” Vermette told IndieWire. “We looked at at hieroglyphs, but Denis didn’t think they were alien enough, and my wife (Martine Bertrand) is a painter and asked if she could take a crack at it. The following morning she presented a series of drawings and one of them was this logogram that looked like an ink blot. It was perfect — we reverse engineered it into a series of 100 symbols.”
“The Jungle Book”
To achieve a new level of photorealism, they raised the bar for animation at MPC and Weta Digital so it would appear like a live-action movie. The challenge for Production Designer Christopher Glass was getting more detailed than in live-action, right down to the textures of rocks, tree bark and pine needles.
Glass created an assortment of environments encompassing the full flavor of India, from the opening wolf den where Mowgli grew up, to Kaa’s dark and lush jungle digs, to Baloo’s colorful world, to King Louie’s temple.
Glass was charged with creating practical sets that would blend seamlessly into the
digital ones. “The biggest challenge was deciphering which parts of the set we’d need to build,” Glass said. “That’s where the mo-cap version of the movie really served its purpose. We could see where Mowgli’s footfalls would be, what he touched. That all dictated what we built for the actual shoot.”
Taking cues from comic book artist Steve Ditko’s psychedelia, Production Designer Charles Wood devised a series of otherworldly dimensions new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Astral, Mirror and Dark).
For the look of the film, though, he examined references of atmosphere, barnacles and coral, twisted, collapsed and damaged buildings, desert landscapes, eldritch light, installation art, sculptures, interior spaces, medical spaces, space/time, surrealism and the underground.
“We tried to introduce that luminescent sense of color and light and reflection into a lot of these kind of dreamy worlds,” Wood said.
For his ninth collaboration with Scorsese, Production Designer Dante Ferretti (who also did the costumes) immersed himself in 17th century Japanese architecture for this historical drama based on the novel by Shūsaku Endō. Andrew Garfield stars as a Portuguese Jesuit priest sent to Japan to ease the suffering of “Hidden Christians” driven underground because of persecution and torture.
Filmed in Taipei and the surrounding area, Ferretti built everything, including the villages, ancient Nagasaki and areas of Macau, such as the Ruins of St Paul’s, where Japanese Christians were exiled. It’s a deeply divided world despite peace and stability.
“You build something for the movie but it’s like shooting in the real place,” Ferretti told IndieWire.