Lawrence G. Paull, the production designer and art director who received an Oscar nomination for his work on the Ridley Scott sci-fi classic Blade Runner, died Sunday in La Jolla, California, a publicist announced. He was 81.
Paull’s distinctive design style also can be seen in director Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future (1985) and Romancing the Stone (1984) and in Ron Underwood’s City Slickers (1991), starring Billy Crystal and Jack Palance.
He also worked on Peter Fonda’s The Hired Hand (1971); Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976), American Flyers (1985) and Another Stakeout (1993), all directed by John Badham; John Carpenter’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992) and Escape From L.A. (1996); Jonathan Kaplan’s Project X (1987) and Unlawful Entry (1992); Jon Avildsen’s W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings (1975); and Paul Schrader’s Blue Collar (1978).
He shared his Oscar nom for art direction-set decoration with David L. Snyder and Linda DeScenna.
“Ridley really knew how to appeal to the art department, he was very wise about it,” Paull once said in a rare interview. “What he would say, up in the art department: ‘If you build it, I’ll shoot it.’ And who could resist the temptation of that? Because we’ve all suffered, making films with gigantic sets, and beautiful sets, and all that is shown are talking heads. And that was disappointing. But because [Ridley] was an art director, he knew he could hook us with that bait. And he did it — if we built it, he shot it.”
Scott in a statement recalled that he was “always struck by [Paull’s] staunch and faithful support of the strange plan for the unique world of Blade Runner.” He continued, “Between Syd [Means, visual futurist on the film] and myself and Larry, it was a challenging, monumental task for him and against all odds — the proof is in his work in the film. So I guess we won. My hat comes off for him.”
His film résumé also included Harlem Nights (1989), Predator 2 (1990), Born Yesterday (1993), Naked Gun 33-1/3: The Final Insult (1994), Sgt. Bilko (1996) and Light It Up (1999).
Born on April 13, 1938, in Chicago, Paull received a B.A. in architecture from the University of Arizona and began working in films as a set designer and art director before advancing to production designer.
His early career as art director includes more than 20 TV movies and feature films by such celebrated directors as Robert Mulligan, Delbert Mann and Lamont Johnson. He also designed the Emmy-winning Friendly Fire in 1979; Oprah Winfrey’s ABC miniseries The Wedding in 1998; David Greene’s Rehearsal for Murder in 1982; Burt Reynolds’ Hard Time in 1998; and James Keach’s Murder in the Mirror in 2000.
Following his retirement from the motion picture industry, Paull in 2004 joined Chapman University in Irvine, California, where he created and taught a new curriculum that is required for a masters of fine arts degree in production design.
Before Chapman, Paull was senior filmmaker-in-residence at the AFI in Los Angeles, creating the curriculum required for another masters in production design. He worked with the adjunct faculty on the format and content of each course. He also was a guest speaker at Harvard, USC, UCLA, Catholic University and the University of Arizona.
Survivors include his wife of 36 years, Marcy; his son, Michael, president of Disney Streaming Services, his sister, Lesley; and his brother-in-law, Craig. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made in his memory to the charity of your choice. There will be no services.
Darah Head contributed to this report.