A new twist on George Miller’s post-apocalyptic wasteland; a frozen wilderness transformed into a haunting dreamscape; space travel and the colonization of Mars; war-torn East Berlin; and a transgender tale defined by art and contrasting cityscapes compete for the Academy Award.
1. “Mad Max: Fury Road”: The challenge for production designer Colin Gibson was re-imagining how the apocalypse might look and creating fresh and arresting images for the wasteland and a new social order wrapped around humanity’s “comeback.” The West African desert provided riverbed canyons, large orange-and-pink dunescapes, a nearby mountainous ridge, and “empty, open nothingness for 360 degrees.” Meanwhile, the War Rig and the War Boy’s vehicles were conceived as salvage wreckage, but designed as a combo of fetish and beauty.
2. “The Revenant”: Production designer Jack Fisk was passionately drawn to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s intense physicality and metaphysical journey. He transformed the frozen wilderness of the Canadian Rockies into a naturalistic wonder, building a fort with a pallet of wood discarded by the Park Service, and creating a “dilapidated” church that became a haunting dreamscape. The environment became a metaphor about nature and a life lesson for Leonardo DiCaprio’s monk-like fur trapper: “It’s not for you or against you but just there, and you have to make it work for you.”
3. “The Martian”: Production designer Arthur Max calls this “NASA-meets-’2001: A Space Odyssey.’” His grand design for the magnificent Hermes spaceship is a triumph of the collaboration between art direction and VFX (courtesy of Framestore). It faithfully followed NASA’s design philosophy: modular with interconnecting segments, a gravity wheel that creates artificial gravity in rotation, and powered by an ion plasma nuclear propulsion engine. And after immersing himself in all of the research and providing a future outlook, “it was about making it look cool.”
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