Rian Johnson’s whodunit is set during the pandemic in 2020 on the private Greek island estate of the character Miles Bron (Edward Norton) — a villa location on the Peloponnese peninsula that was enhanced with VFX to appear as an island in the Ionian Sea with a glass, onion-like dome and atrium as its centerpiece. “I researched every dome shape and modern glass construction detail I could lay my hands on. I then cut open an onion, layer by layer, to study its structure,” says Rick Heinrichs, whose plans for the building are pictured left. “Apart from the oxymoronic-metaphoric quality of transparency and layers, which were hallmarks of Rian Johnson’s murder-mystery film, I wanted the design to project Miles’ childish characteristics — the need to project a laid-back, cool-bro persona who embodies aesthetic living, layered atop his craving that he be seen as a genius disrupter, crowned by his thirst to overwhelm others with his outsized power and wealth.”
Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (Netflix)
Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s semi-autobiographical musing follows documentarian Silverio, who is in the midst of an existential crisis. “[He’s] caught between the life that he left behind in his native country and the prosperous existence he has built with his family beyond the border in the U.S. The sets are not just physical manifestations of his world, they are part of his state of mind,” explains production designer Eugenio Caballero, who viewed Silverio’s Mexico City apartment as key to the drama. It was built on a stage at Churubusco Studios in Mexico City (and later transported to a desert location in Baja California). “It explains our main characters and who they are, or who they were when they left Mexico 13 years ago,” Caballero explains. “Silverio’s main influences are there. The art on the wall, the midcentury furniture pieces in combination with antiques, flea market objects and popular art, the political magazines, the decoration of the kids’ room and the family photos all provide us information about the life they lived there. We used books, albums and objects that are meaningful for Alejandro, and for a generation of Mexicans who grew up like him. We did extensive research on which pieces we wanted to have in the set and then tried to build around them.” Caballero adds that Silverio feels out of place, whether in Mexico or in the U.S. “This contradiction and paradox are reflected in the sets. The elements are often in a place where they don’t belong,” he says, noting that Silverio’s apartment is flooded with water or full of sand in certain scenes. “Later, this same apartment appears in the middle of the desert.”
In filmmaking duo Daniels’ (aka Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) genre-bending story, Chinese American immigrant Evelyn (Michele Yeoh) and her family live above a laundromat, their family business. Research began with examining the styles of such ’60s- and ’70s-inspired businesses, and as production designer Jason Kisvarday explains, “What we found is that the laundromats in North America were a lot less exciting than the launderettes in the United Kingdom in the 1960s and ’70s. They were amazing — just bright colors and patterns and wallpaper. So, we actually pulled a lot of our inspiration from British launderettes.” The next challenge was finding a location. “There was a lot of specific choreography for the scenes that they wanted to shoot there, and the problem we were finding was that a lot of laundromats are small, and you can’t see across them,” he says. “The machines might be tall or there are visual obstructions. We traveled all over Los Angeles County looking at lots of laundromats.” The one they chose for filming, Majers Coin Laundry in San Fernando, ticked all the boxes. “It had the big parking lot in front, where we had some scenes play out, and there was enough room inside that you could get depth and shoot down the rows of machines. But creatively, I think it was a little less than halfway there, so it was a good start to build on. We added layers on top of what was already there. For example, a lot of the machines were brand-new stainless steel machines, and we wrapped them in different shades of off-white and almond vinyl and the scenic department painted them to make them look like older machines, and not even matching older machines. There was a wonky one that had a piece replaced [or one that] had some rust dripping down the side of it.”
Tár (Focus Features)
In writer-director Todd Field’s contemporary drama, Cate Blanchett plays fictional composer, conductor and EGOT winner Lydia Tár. “Our biggest challenge on the film was defining that character, Tár: what she is, what she wanted herself to be but also what she really is,” says production designer Marco Bittner Rosser. “There are two interiors that maybe define her the most, which is her home interior and her studio space.” For her apartment in Berlin, the centerpiece of her space is a Steinway piano surrounded by “very precisely curated” pieces of art and furniture, he says. “By keeping it very reduced to the pieces that define her life — like art, music — and giving the character a lot of space to move, that makes the space quite a graphic representation of who she is.” He explains that the pieces are real art, including works from Icelandic Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, Danish artist Sergej Jensen, Romanian artist Victor Man, Czech artist Klára Hosnedlová and American artist Laurie Fields. “We were quite careful what pieces made it into that kind of exhibition of her space,” Bittner Rosser says, adding that his team worked with The Boros Foundation, a Germany-based nonprofit dedicated to contemporary art, to contact the artists and obtain permission to use their work in the movie. Of the home interior, he adds, “The challenge was to create an authentic-feeling space that’s still bigger than life.”
This story first appeared in a Jan. stand-alone issue of magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.