What do Wes Anderson, Steven Spielberg, and Steve McQueen have in common? They all rely on the worldbuilding skills of Oscar winner Adam Stockhausen (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”), one of the most eclectic production designers working today.
“Adam is a quiet comet,” said production designer Mark Friedberg (“Joker”), who mentored Stockhausen. “Despite his quiet demeanor, the intensity of his vision blazes. I met him when he had just started as a draftsman and brought him onto our team during ‘The Producers.’
“On our next film,’ Across the Universe,’ he got to design the giant street set, and by ‘Synecdoche New York,’ he was my art director. We held each other up (he held me up more) on ‘Darjeeling Limited’ in India, and by the end of that I knew he was destined for great things.”
Stockhausen conveyed a “Goya-esque” horror and beauty in McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” offsetting the brutal inhumanity of enslavement with the beauty of the Louisiana landscape, and reverse engineering the mechanics of 19th century farm life.
For “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Stockhausen wholeheartedly embraced the handmade, analog world of Eastern European opulence. The town became a pastel delight, and The Grand Budapest was modeled after many hotels from the region, cobbled together with a patchwork of eye-popping designs, colors, fabrics, and decor.
When Spielberg grabbed Stockhausen for “Bridge of Spies” and “Ready Player One” (they are currently collaborating on “West Side Story”), he delivered two very different worlds: Cold War-era New York and Berlin for the spy thriller, and a boundless ’80s mashup for the futuristic OASIS video game that included recreating The Overlook Hotel from “The Shining” and creating a Hot Wheels-like New York race with the grittiness of “The French Connection.”
Then Stockhausen was back with Anderson on the Japanese-influenced “Isle of Dogs,” a stop-motion first for the production designer, who shared duties with co-designer Paul Harrod (“Fantastic Mr. Fox”). They created the entire universe with 240 micro sets, from the red lacquered Municipal Dome to the monochromatic science lab to the ashen ruins of Trash Island with its overhead tram.
Everything was built by hand, as the city was divided into traditional buildings and ’60s futuristic-looking architecture. But the dystopian Trash Island design was the most demanding, with a multitude of zones defined by different kinds of trash.