The set design of a movie plays a major role in shaping the viewer’s experience. Creating a whole world, expressing ideas and reflecting character development is the real challenge. The set design then can be a powerful tool that manifests much deeper concept. This can involve creating a building as a main element in the plot, a rich visual or shaping an urban setting.
Here are some movies in which the set design was really special:
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Among the most iconic movie sets is that of the Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson takes us into a murder-mystery adventure in an Eastern European hotel on the eve of World War II. Like all of Anderson’s movies, the stunning visuals, symmetrical one perspective shots instantly capture the eye.
You’ll wish to visit this amazing hotel once you see the movie. However, this hotel, along with all other locations, are completely fictional. It is a miniature model by the production designer Adam Stockhausen. Stockhausen created the fictional country of Zabrowka using hues of pink and magnetta. He got inspiration from the Eastern European cities. Karlovy Vary in Czech Republic was a valuable inspiration to the designers. Especially the Grandhotel Pupp from which Stockhausen got a lot of reference details. Basically, Grandhotel Pupp’s exterior inspired that of the Grand Budapest Hotel. Along with the wide corridors, the carpet running down the center and windows throwing light into the hallways.
Furthermore, they shot most of the scenes in Görlitz in the easternmost area in Germany. The production crew actually built an entire hotel lobby inside a department store in Görlitz. You can get more from behind the scenes of creating the Grand Budapest Hotel here.
This dark comedy Korean drama has been the talk of the hour ever since it won the Oscar as best movie in 2019. A story about class discrimination cleverly used the set design to convey its message. While watching the movie you can’t help but fall in love with the rich family’s house that is said the be the work of the famous architect Namgoong Hyeonja. That’s when you’ll pick up your phone and start googling this genius only to find out it is a fictional name. You’ll be even more surprised to know that the house was designed and built from the scratch especially for the movie and it never existed before. The credit then goes to the production designer Lee Ha Jun.
Lee explains that as a production designer, he had a different perspective from an architect while designing the house. Since he keeps in mind camera movement and lighting issues. Bong Joo was keen that the design of the house served his camera needs and characters’ pathway inside and how it aligns with the script. Therefore, the house came out as a universe of its own.
The staircase for example was a special element. Bong specifically demanded the continuity if everything from up to bottom. Moreover, Lee designed the main wall window in the living room overlooking the garden with 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This is in order to make the view seems like a photograph on screen. Generally, they made a minimal interior design and used dark wood and grey-toned materials to create contrast with the exterior.
Batman movies & Gotham City
Gotham city, it’s the large metropolitan city in the United State that witnessed the everlasting fight between good and evil. Home city of Batman was first introduced in the comics in 1940. This meticulously designed world greatly shaped its main character, Bruce Wayne. The nature of Batman’s setting is closer to pulp crime and noire serials. Fighting crimes in dark alleys, rooftops and places we can relate to. This makes you wonder about development of Gotham City design.
As a matter of fact, the development of Gotham city went through several phases over the years. A lot of previous work had influenced these phases. For example Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) had iconic infrastructure of skyscrapers reflecting the impact of industrial revolution and the corrupt that followed it.
The vision for Gotham city represents a timeless gloomy image of New York that suffers from crime and chaos. Tim Burton’s 1989 version presented this through illogical piling of architecture. On the other hand, Joel Schumacher in Batman Forever (1995) went for colourful style to add life to it.
In Nolan’s trilogy, designers went back to basics and dealt with Gotham as a real place rather than a fictional non relatable image. Models were built in Nolan’s garage. Moreover, they filmed across real locations including Chicago, Pittsburgh and LA. Among the locations is 35 E. Wacker, formerly known as the Jeweler’s Building, facing the Chicago River. It’s the Gotham City Courthouse in “Batman Begins”.
Surely a mystery movie about the murder of a mystery novelist must have a special setting. From the very first minute you’ll get caught in the world of Harlan Thrombey, the famous novelist in the movie, and his country mansion. However, you won’t imagine that what you are watching is not actually one house. The production designer David Crank turned three locations into one mansion to serve the screenplay.
The exterior of the house was a Gothic revival mansion outside of Boston dating to 1890. On the other hand, they used Ames Mansion at Massachusetts’ Borderland State Park for the interior scenes. It is a 20-room historic site that was previously used in Martin Scorsese’s 2010 thriller “Shutter Island”.
While looking for a set, they were looking for a house to represent the personality of mystery novelist. But most importantly they needed a floor plan that aligns with the storyline. The spaces arrangement played a major role in the script. Therefore, Crank had to build the third location in less than three weeks. He built the study with a low, curved ceiling and connecting hallway on a sound stage.
Besides the captivating house, there is this special ring of knives around the chair. The knives all appear to point towards the chair seat. You can’t help but think of the famous Game of Thrones iron throne. However, Crank said it was not actually the inspiration behind this piece.
In the heart of a busy futuristic city lives a shy unhappy man who gets into a strange love story. The movie “Her” takes you to a livable world in the near future. What’s unique about this movie is how it pictures a new future that is not totally dystopian. It shows a bright, orderly Los Angeles of tall buildings and skyscrapers.
Indeed, architecture is not a main overpowering aspect in the movie but rather subconscious. Director, Spike Jonze and production pesigner, K.K. Barrett wanted to reflect the characters’ emotions through the production design. This is clear in interior set design as well as the entire city of Los Angeles.
The movie used architecture of Los Angeles and Shanghai to create this futuristic world. They used an apartment in WaterMarke Tower for the main character’s home. The tower a 35-story luxury high-rise in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles. Mainly Barrett wanted to show the overview of the city. He wanted to bring the outside city in. Therefore, they added a clear window glass to the interior. The design follows a minimalistic approach. They used floors that shine with wood of soft tones. They also added see through wall partitions.