‘Barbie,’ ‘Oppenheimer,’ ‘Saltburn’ and More ADG Awards Contenders Reflect Anxieties and Darkness of Today’s World

When the Art Directors Guild holds its annual awards ceremony on Feb. 10, prizes will go to talented designers who created looks ranging from the nuclear-threatened whimsy of Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City,” to the apocalyptic wasteland of “The Last of Us,” to the pink-hued fantasy of a doll choosing between plastic eternity and real-world life and death (she picked the latter).

See a common thread here? In addition to the gloom lurking behind these creations, other contenders provided backdrops for the implied genocide of  “Killers of the Flower Moon,” the grief of a lauded composer stricken by the death of his wife in “Maestro,” the battlefield carnage of “Napoleon” and the development of an ultimate weapon that can extinguish humankind in “Oppenheimer.”

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Want more? There’s AI armageddon in “The Creator” and “A Murder at the End of the World,” Frankenstein biology in “Poor Things” and a cool-headed professional assassin in “The Killer.”

Of course, not every project vying for an ADG Award this year foreshadows doom. Contenders like “Wonka,” “Frasier” and Taylor Swift’s “I Can See You” video have lifted spirits. But the undeniable undercurrent of civilizational decline and mortality among the major award categories reflects today’s anxieties.

The production designers who crafted these worlds, bleak or bright, mined a wide range of inspiration. Here they are in their own words.

“Barbie” designer Sarah Greenwood looked to “California skies and the San Jacinto mountains.” Her foundational influences: “All the early Ken Adam [designs for] James Bond.”

James Price and Shona Heath of “Poor Things” drew from Francis Bacon’s raw, bloody imagery, as well as Maxfield Parish’s super-saturated skies and tableaus. Painters also inspire “Saltburn’s” Suzie Davis, including Caravaggio and the pre-Raphaelites. For “The Bear,” Merje Veski blended “Scandinavian design simplicity and natural materials” with “Chicago’s ever-evolving culinary scene.”

Donald Graham Burt of David Fincher’s “The Killer” was stirred by “anonymity and the beauty of the mundane,” pulling influences from films like “Chinatown” and Fincher’s “Zodiac.”

“The Gilded Age’s” Bob Shaw, meanwhile, admires the work of Dante Ferretti: “From the first time I saw ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,’ he has represented the gold standard.” “Succession” shows a different side of the world of the ultrawealthy, a place where Stephen Carter sought “hollow and sad interiors” and colors that “minimized emotional connection.”

Other wellsprings cited by designers: Brandon Tonner-Connolly drew from “the community at the heart” of “Reservation Dogs”; Glenda Rovello relied on post-modern influences for “Frasier”; Steve Bass was inspired by “the ornate theater location in Washington Heights” for the “76th Annual Tony Awards”; François Audouy’s “Scary Fast” commercial for Apple harked to “movies imbued with the magic of craftsmanship”; and Ethan Tobman brings up the aforementioned Fincher and Baron Munchausen as sources for Taylor Swift’s “I Can See You.”

Whatever their inspiration, filmmakers mirror the times they work in. For art director Yoji Takeshige (“The Boy and the Heron”), the art of film itself is a path out of darkness: “For all of those people in war-torn and conflict-ridden areas and those impacted by disasters whose daily lives don’t allow them the pleasure of viewing films, I pray from the bottom of my heart that their circumstances will change so they can enjoy watching films again as soon as possible.”


WHAT: ADG Excellence in Production Design Awards
WHEN: Feb. 10
WHERE: Ray Dolby Ballroom, Ovation Hollywood
WEB: adg.org

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