Sunday, January 10, 2010

For Your Consideration: Best Art Direction

With the announcement of the Academy Award nominations just mere weeks away (Feburary 2nd for those waiting by the phone), the speculation process turns into a mini Olympics for the film industry, pundits and avid moviegoers alike. The Art Directors Guild recently announced their nominees for Excellence in Production Design (which includes period, contemporary and
fantasy categories) and often gives clues to who will be nominated for the coveted Best Picture....and who will not.

The following are a few of the Guild's nominated films. Let the games begin!

Avatar (Warner Brothers)

Production designer Rick Carter (the genius behind Forrest Gump, Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds and The Polar Express), designed the sci-fi film's Pandora's dream state visuals (coined by director James Cameron as "phantasmagoric") which are a huge hit with 3-D goggle wearing audiences everywhere. Carter reportedly described the project to Cameron as "The Wizard of Oz meets Apocalypse Now" and the film's innovative designs of Pandora's ecosystem rise to the challenge. Avatar will no doubt be nominated in the Best Visual Effects category as well.

Actress Susan Sarandon in The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones (Dreamworks/Paramount Pictures)

Based on Alice Sebold's best-selling novel, Bones is the story of a young woman who is murdered by a serial killer and watches her family deal with the aftermath from heaven. Production designer Naomi Shohan and set decorators George de Titta Jr. and Meg Everist created a small town seventies style suburbia to perfection.

Sherlock Holmes (Warner Brothers)

Production designer Sarah Greenwood and set decorator Katie Spencer (the Oscar nominated duo of Atonement and Pride and Prejudice fame) created an Edwardian 1890's England for director Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. From Victoriana filled society soirees to dark and dank prisons, the detailed design team left no stone unturned...and neither did Sherlock.

Inglorious Basterds (The Weinstein Company)

Who but Tarantino to do World War II on steriods? Production designer and set decorator team David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco used Paris is Burning (1990), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Where Eagles Dare (1968) and Sergio Leone films as reference points in designing Nazi occupied France (which was largely filmed in Berlin). Shown below is the dictator's military complete with oversize map, overscaled table and signature Nazi red - all very Hitleresque.

Public Enemies (Universal)

Production designer Nathan Crowley took a break from his Batman duties (The Dark Knight and Batman Begins) to craft a thirties period environment for John Dillinger. Along with set decorator Rosemary Brandenburg, the design team used actual historic locales such as "The Little Bohemia" lodge in Wisconsin where he evaded the Feds and reinterpreted a gentrified Biograph Theatre in Chicago.

Julie & Julia (Universal)

Historically recreating the iconic kitchens of celebrated chef Julia Childs fell to production designer Mark Ricker (Far From Heaven) and set decorator Susan Bode. The famed kitchen plays a starring role from the Childs homes in Paris and Cambridge, Massachusetts to blogger Julie Powell's humble galley.

For more on the Art Directors Guild nominations, see their website.

Photo credits: Warner Brothers, Universal, Twentieth Century Fox, Sony Pictures, photo by Francois Duhamel/Weinstein Company, photo by Barry Wetcher/Dreamworks 2009.


  1. Hi Cathy,
    I was surprised to see the absence of "A Single Man" on the list; do you think it's because it was filmed on actual locations? Even so, the set design was outstanding, especially with the limited resources.
    I will enjoy visiting here!

  2. Believe it or not, it's the really chic film designs that get overlooked by either heavy period or heavy technical films. I would love to see A Single Man on the nominations! Thanks for reading!!!