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10 Production Designers and Costume Designers Up for Oscars Discuss Their Favorite Creations

There are many questions you can ask production or costume designers, but one of the hardest to answer is, “Can you pick one set or a single costume that was integral to the entire project?” Says “Hail Caesar!” production designer Jess Gonchor, “That’s almost like picking your favorite [child].” Nonetheless, after the credits finish rolling there’s usually one location, or one interior, or one outfit that lingers. Here’s what this year’s 10 Oscar-nominated designers designated as their “one thing.”

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Patrice Vermette
Production designer, “Arrival”
My One Thing: The starship’s spare, darkened interior.
Importance: “It’s the beginning of the journey for our main characters,” says Vermette. “As we enter the shell we wanted to convey the idea of strangeness, a long walk into the unknown, to which we added a gravity shift for the humans to take a leap of faith towards their future. … The idea of the glass wall [where the team meets the heptapods] is a visual connection to the large window overlooking the foggy lake in Louise’s [Amy Adams’] house.”

Stuart Craig
Production designer, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
My One Thing: The Magical Congress of the United States of America’s New York building (aka the Woolworth Building)
Importance: “[Author] J.K. Rowling specified that it was her decision that we use the Woolworth Building,” says Craig. “She chose it because it has a lot of Gothic decoration externally, and that’s the style of [Harry Potter’s school] Hogwarts. Inside, however, we made something very different of it — eliminated all the floors from the basement to the roof to achieve a cathedral space. It’s a pretty bold set.”

Jess Gonchor
Production designer, “Hail, Caesar!”
My One Thing: The faux-film set inside the main movie for the Roman epic being made called “Hail, Caesar!”
Importance: “It sets up the scale of what these old movies used to be and what went into them, and it keeps reappearing in several scenes throughout the movie,” says Gonchor. “We recreated about a quarter of a mile of the Appian Way out on this ranch, and we took over all of the six stages of this small lot in California, so it was like being at MGM back in
the day.”

Courtesy of Dale Robinette

David Wasco
Production designer, “La La Land
My One Thing: A faux-L.A. backdrop as part of the alternative reality sequence featuring elements iconic to the city.
Importance: “It was done as theatrical scenery and painted as such — and what drove the design was the way the song and the music was placed: the director [Damien Chazelle] wanted some things on different beats, so I had to move elements around,” says Wasco. “[Chazelle] would film [rehearsals] on his iPhone and then we’d use that to get measurements, so I got to work with all kinds of departments I usually don’t deal with, like the dance department.”

Guy Hendrix Dyas
Production designer, “Passengers”
My One Thing: The art deco-style concourse bar on the starship Avalon, inspired by “The Shining.”
Importance: “It’s meant as a meeting place for passengers after they wake up from hibernation,” Dyas says. “In our film it’s a point of meeting and discovery for Jim [Chris Pratt]. The only way he can achieve human contact is by going to the bar and interacting with this robotic barman. It was wonderful that we could put this period-type set into a futuristic gleaming spaceship, and it has a warm, almost jewelry-box element.”

COSTUMES

Joanna Johnston
Costume designer, “Allied”
My One Thing: British spy/French resistance fighter Marianne’s [Marion Cotillard] nightdress and dressing gown
Importance: “I looked at films from the early ‘40s and glamorous pictures of movie stars with the idea that we would make it more glamorous than it would have been [in World War II],” Johnston says in the film’s notes. “I wanted her to be sexy, but I also wanted her to have air in her costumes, so the make up of that costume is a cool, ice-blue satin nightdress. That’s sexy — and then the air is in the dressing grown … we printed [it] so it’s got a bit of warmth in it.”

Colleen Atwood
Costume designer, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
My One Thing: Newt’s [Eddie Redmayne’s] overcoat/waistcoat outfit.
Importance: “I had to come up with something that set the tone of the whole movie,” she says. “It’s tricky to design a costume that’s worn for the whole movie. It had to be iconic. The costume is based loosely on 1920’s men’s clothing, with a bit of flair to it. The overcoat has a slight flare and it’s lower in the back than the front so it looks like it’s moving more than it is.” Atwood also did costumes for “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.”

Consolata Boyle
Costume designer, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
My One Thing: The outfit Florence wears when she keeps an appointment to record one of her songs.
Importance: “The costume that remains closest to my heart … and which sums up for me all of Florence’s unique characteristics, is the one worn for the recording session at the Melotone studio. It shows her naïve decorative dress sense, her deep love for music — and her total self-delusion.”

Madeline Fontaine
Costume designer, “Jackie”
My One Thing: Jackie Kennedy’s iconic pink suit and hat combo, worn on the day of her husband’s assassination.
Importance: “It had to be convincing,” says Fontaine, noting that “all the other costumes had to be as close as possible to the public memory of these few days, which have been so much pictured and filmed.” Verisimilitude, she says, gives “credibility … to this incarnation of a first lady for whom appearance and elegance seem to be so important.”

Mary Zophres
Costume designer, “La La Land
My One Thing: Mia’s white dress from the film’s what-if-they-had-stayed-together alternate reality sequence
Importance: “That dress makes me teary-eyed,” says Zophres. “It makes me happy. They do that waltz and it’s graceful and beautiful and airy as she twirls and lifts — the dress has this anti-gravity ability. We wanted a dress that could make a full circle, since the film had reached a full circle, so that dress has a higher circumference in it. It’s the apex and culmination of all of her dresses.”

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