Emmys: How 'Westworld's' Production Designer Invented the Future in an Eerie Amusement Park

7:00 AM 6/6/2017

by Carolyn Giardina

Design pros on four new series — also including 'The Crown,' 'Feud' and 'Taboo — reveal how they re-created history (1940s Buckingham Palace, early 19th century London) and built a stand-in for Joan Crawford's Brentwood home.

Westworld Production Design - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of HBO

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

  • Feud

    For this limited series about the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, production designer Judy Becker got to re-create each star's home, such as this stand-in for the latter's Brentwood abode. "Joan Crawford lived in the same house from when she became a movie star until the late 1950s, and she kept redecorating it," says Becker. "In some ways, she was thrifty — she would keep her furniture and re-cover it, but it was always up to date for the time period. And she was a movie star — the furniture is beautiful, pristine and with a Hollywood Regency style. For some of the '50s she lived in New York, but we took poetic license and showed her taste from New York [in the Brentwood house], such as the blue-and-white color scheme."

    The portrait hanging over the fireplace was painted for the set, based on a photo of Jessica Lange as Crawford. In another room in the house, "the vanity wing with the three-sided mirror shows the importance of her appearance," adds Becker. "She worked very hard at it — face cream — it was well documented."

  • The Crown

    Most of this period drama about Queen Elizabeth II is filmed on location throughout the U.K. The rest is shot at London's Elstree Studios. Eight locations and sets were used just to depict various parts of Buckingham Palace, such as this entrance. It belongs to Lancaster House, which was completed in 1840 and is situated near the real palace.

    "We used minimal [set] dressing, choosing to magnify [its] vastness," says production designer Martin Childs. "Examples of how we exploited the scale are the use of the staircase and hallway to assemble the family for Elizabeth's wedding and to show how cold and unfriendly Buckingham Palace is compared to [Elizabeth's preferred] Clarence House." Lancaster previously was used for Buckingham Palace in The King's Speech and Downton Abbey.

  • Taboo

    One of the standout sets in the dark drama, which takes place in London in 1814 and stars Tom Hardy, is Prince Regent's (Mark Gatiss) office, which was filmed on location at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, England. "When you work in stately houses, you have to use much of what's there," says production designer Sonja Klaus. "We used the paintings, but [the owners] gave us permission to remove the furniture and dress it. It was an opulent setting."

    The details come from period references and an aim to reflect the character. "Since there are no photographs from 1814, we relied on looking at artists' works, but those that were more real and less stylized from the period. Regent loved food and drink. He also was a great lover of the animal kingdom and collected a lot of [stuffed] exotic animals."

  • Westworld

    Production designer Nathan Crowley was working on Christopher Nolan's Interstellar when he got the call from Westworld co-showrunner Jonathan Nolan (Christopher's brother) about the thriller centered on a Western-themed amusement park populated by humanoid robots. "It was a great opportunity to do two period films: one futuristic and one set in the 1890s. It was a fascinating world to design," says Crowley, adding that the park's control room "defines what we were trying to go for. The room is dark with red, and in the center is a 3D map of the park — an effect that was shot on camera. It started with a sculpted landscape of the entire park, made of foam. Two 4K projectors displayed the textures on the foam to give the appearance that it was rotating."