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Dave Blass on Derek Hill for ‘Hatfields & McCoys’

Art Directors Guild Awards 2013

IDesign excellence is frequently thought of in terms of its level of opulence, lavishness and finely polished style. More often than not, the design awards go to the “pretty” shows. For “Hatfields & McCoys,” production designer Derek Hill has no “pretty” brush in his quiver. With grit, dirt, and hewn timbers as his tools, he and his team paint the deeply immersive landscape of Appalachia for the miniseries.

The historic Hatfield-McCoy feud is brought to life in this sprawling epic of two families pulled apart by strife and despair. The muted color palette of tobacco, amber whiskey and pine hit the emotional chords that transport the audience to a time just after the Civil War, and Hill continues to play the subtle notes as the story unfolds over the next 30 years.

At its best the series transcends other western designs in the blending of the vast landscapes with the intimate structures cobbled together using any means these settlers had available. Each wooden shanty, cabin and barn is layered with a rich veneer of antiquity that creates a unique sense of place for each of the families, and the culture around them.

As a viewer I was never at a loss as to where I was, or what family I was sequestered with. Each clan is vividly defined by environment as well as architecture. The rolling hills of the Hatfields, juxtapose nicely to the dense woods of the McCoys. The newer brick and clapboard of Pikeville play eloquently off the older rundown Mate Creek, each defined in its own place in time.

Hill and his talented group succeeded in creating a vast array of distinctive environments, masterfully blended together so that you can smell the smoke and feel the sweat and blood oozing from the screen.

Blass’ credits include production designer on “Justified.”

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