Designing Confined Spaces in 6 Oscar Contenders

There’s an interesting production design trend this awards season, as films explore character from the inside out in confined spaces and iconic neighborhoods.

1. Room: How do you make a 10 x 10 foot space actor- and camera-friendly for Lenny Abrahamson’s harrowing drama about a mother (Brie Larson) and son (Jacob Tremblay) held captive in a shed for seven years? You ingeniously make it modular to fit the crew and cameras, sliding pieces in and out. It was end result of a unique challenge for production designer Ethan Tobman. He studied prisons and tiny Hong Kong apartments and personalized the space down to every detail. He experimented with doors, surfaces, and the skylight, altering orientation in different ways until every object became a character. Tobman also tested cork, dirtying it, bleaching it, and drying it, trying to create a tapestry of browns and ochres that might approximate seven years of cooking and breathing and living. Except for the boy, who’s never been outside the confines of Room, it’s a comfortable, joyous, fairy tale-like place.

2. Steve JobsIn this inventive backstage conceit, scripted by Aaron Sorkin, the late Apple co-founder (Michael Fassbender) confronts his public and private failings while plotting his grand tech vision during three product launches. And production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas crucially helps director Danny Boyle shoot in actual locations in sequence: the unveiling of the Macintosh in ’84 at Flint Center, De Anza College; NeXT in ’88 at War Memorial Opera House; and the iMac in ’98 at Davies Symphony Hall. Each launch has special psychological significance: the Macintosh was the first computer that Jobs made his own (while at the same time he denied paternity of his five-year-old daughter, Lisa); he plotted his revenge against Apple in the more operatic setting; and he achieved game-changing success while owning up to his failures at the Symphony Hall.

3. The Martian: Production designer Arthur Max calls Ridley Scott’s surprise Best Picture contender “NASA-meets-’2001: A Space Odyssey.’” Matt Damon’s special expertise as a botanist proves the key to his survival and colonization of Mars. Confined to the artificial habitat, he makes a makeshift organic potato farm using the central room. However, Max’s 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.

Read the rest at TOH/Indiewire.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Crafts, Movies, Production Design, Virtual Production

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