Oscars: 5 Nominated Production Designers on the Challenges of Shooting in Real-Life Settings

Production Designers - H 2016

This story first appeared in the Feb. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Bridge of Spies
Production Design: Adam Stockhausen
Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich

Steven Spielberg wanted to shoot as much of the Cold War drama on location as possible, including at the New York Bar Association, used for the law firm of James Donovan (Tom Hanks). "It's a beautiful building with amazing windows," says Stockhausen. "The trick was that it's busy. When there were a couple of hours free, we'd rush in to do a little bit of work, swapping out every piece of furniture and painting the place."

The Danish Girl
Production Design: Eve Stewart
Set Decoration: Michael Standish

Brussels' Horta Museum, designed by art nouveau architect Victor Horta, became a key gallery office in the film. "It embodied the look we were trying to go for in that part of the film where Lili has almost fully transitioned into her feminine self," says Stewart. "Just like the Lili in Gerda's paintings at that moment, the architectural structure was delicately curved with soft, diffused light. … We were allowed to hang our own paintings and dress the space to our needs, replacing furniture and adding lighting."

Mad Max: Fury Road
Production Design: Colin Gibson
Set Decoration: Lisa Thompson

Plans to shoot in the Australian desert were scrapped when flooding caused a giant flower bed to grow in the original location. "But Namibia was terrific; it had five flavors of desert," says Gibson. "We built about 300 fake rocks — ranging from a couple of feet in diameter to 60 feet around — to cover trees and small plant life. We put in some of the roads; we built platforms and ramps. The locations were fantastic blank pages, but we still did a lot of work to make them film-friendly."

The Martian
Production Design: Arthur Max
Set Decoration: Celia Bobak

To tell the Mars survival story of Mark Watney, the filmmakers traveled to Wadi Rum in southern Jordan. "It works very well as Mars in its geology and color," says Max, adding that VFX was used "to embellish the rock formations and add gigantic volcanoes," including Mars' Olympus Mons, which is 374 miles in diameter. The exterior of Watney's Hab was built on location, based on research with NASA and visits to JPL and the Johnson Space Center.

The Revenant
Production Design: Jack Fisk
Set DectorationHamish Purdy

"The challenge was to find locations that looked like they could have been of another time and create a journey for Hugh Glass [Leonardo DiCaprio] that didn't look repetitive," says Fisk, adding that he sought out locations that looked dangerous, had large scale and would indicate that Glass was getting somewhere. "The first attack sequence was shot in Alberta, near the water, then we went to British Columbia. I wanted a forest with huge trees for the bear attack to look primal and to make Leo look smaller."