Of all the Oscar winners, we're naturally most interested in the one with the background in design. Canadian production designer Paul Austerberry, who holds a degree in architecture from Carleton University, took home Best Production Design for his work on Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water." Austerberry was joined on stage to accept the trophy with his collaborators, set decorators Jeffrey A. Melvin and Shane Vieau.
Del Toro's vision called for a dilapidated, formerly grand apartment over an old movie theater to be shared by protagonist Elisa and floormate Giles. With the story set in 1962, decades past the movie theater's heyday, the apartment above has been split into two spaces, with the dividing line bisecting the large arched window. Del Toro envisioned the space in "pre-pre-production" and Tweeted these sketches of it done by illustrator Guy Davis.— Guillermo del Toro (@RealGDT) November 11, 2017 " contenteditable="false">
Austerberry was tasked with realizing the space. Here we see Elisa's half of the floor, which has an elaborate backstory left unmentioned in the film but which echoes the theme of water: The apartment was, at one point, damaged by fire. You can see the effect the water used to put it out has left on the wall at right.
Del Toro and Austerberry also reasoned that the fire damaged the flooring, which was stripped away to reveal the subflooring beneath. The less-precise requirements of subflooring mean that gaps are permissible between the planks, which is why you see light from the movie theater below filtering through the cracks.
Tasked by del Toro with creating a blue wall for Elisa's apartment, Austerberry came up with an interesting idea: It would have an aquatic-themed mural on it…
…the famous "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" woodblock print done by Japanese artist Hokusai in the 19th Century.
To avoid hitting viewers over the head with it, the painting was gradually distressed…
…until it became practically invisible. "[The mural] faded back into the wall," Austerberry told the L.A. Times. "You have to look for it to find it."
Guy Davis also did the concept sketches for the lab in which the film's creature is contained.
Here's some snippets, frustratingly truncated, from Insight Editions' "Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water: Creating a Fairy Tale for Troubled Times" book, which describes what Austerberry was going for as he realized the space.
Here's a quick behind-the-scenes look at some of the sets:
For those of you interested in how one becomes a production designer, here's Austerberry talking about his early architecture career, why he shifted into film work and what the challenges are:
In this longer interview with BAFTA, Austerberry describes in greater detail what a production designer does:
If you readers are interested in learning more about production design, we have an opportunity to interview a longtime set designer/digital set designer who works in Hollywood. It's not traditional ID, but could be interesting--should we do it?
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Production design for this movie was phenomenal, so glad it won the oscar. Definitely do the interview, it's such a fascinating design role
Very creative and interesting design work. Definitely do the interview.