Oscars: How 'Interstellar's' Team Created a Realistic-Looking Spaceship

Interstellar Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Paramount and Warner Bros.

Interstellar Still - H 2015

This story first appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Some of this year's Oscar-nominated production designers were at liberty to give their imagination free rein, while others found inspiration by diligently researching the past.

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On the fantasy side of the spectrum, Meryl Streep’s witch in Into the Woods finds herself in a ruined abbey in a magical forest as she undergoes a transformation to regain her former beauty. The scene was filmed in the United Kingdom’s Windsor Great Park, which was extended by an actual set that was built on a stage. “It was a fairly pristine area, so we had to make it look more complicated,” says production designer Dennis Gassner (nominated with set decorator Anna Pinnock). “The stones and wood were muted so that her costume would be the dominant thing in the scene.”

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By contrast, for Mr. Turner, the story of 19th century painter J.M.W. Turner, production designer Suzie Davies and set decorator Charlotte Watts re-created the artist’s studio by constructing sets within an existing southeast London building. Says Davies: “I was keen to fill the room with detail and texture, including layers and layers of years of work, paint and grime. We built the bespoke spinning table after finding details of how Turner’s father had built it for him.”

Into the Woods
The woods into which Streep travels were actually located in the U.K.’s Windsor Great Park.

Interstellar’s spaceship, Endurance, was a ring-module structure with docking stations for four pods. A 25-foot miniature was built at New Deal Studios in Sylmar, Calif., while a 200-foot segment was built at Sony Pictures in Culver City. Because the film was aiming for a futuristic look grounded in reality, production designer Nathan Crowley and set decorator Gary Fettis did extensive research — watching NASA films, studying the space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center and even visiting SpaceX, the private company dedicated to space exploration, where they were treated to a personal tour by the company’s founder, Elon Musk.

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Mr. Turner

Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner, painting “The Harbor of Dieppe,” one of the 12 Turner paintings re-created for the film.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
F. Murray Abraham (left) and Jude Law in the dining room of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Production designer Adam Stockhausen and set decorator Anna Pinnock worked with a less-than-grand color palette of orange and green, matching period props they found at Studio Babelsberg outside Berlin. The mural was inspired by the work of German painter Caspar David Friedrich.

The Imitation Game
Alan Turing’s computer is seen in different stages of development in The Imitation Game. Production designer Maria Djurkovic, nominated with set decorator Tatiana Macdonald, says, “The machine had to work on the level that all the dials had to run and move in a sequential order, as the real machine did.”