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Production Designer Adam Stockhausen on Building Wes Anderson’s Worlds

Production designer Adam Stockhausen, known for creating much of the fantastical look of Wes Anderson films such as “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Grand Budapest Hotel,” for which he won the Oscar, says he derives much of his inspiration from intensive research.

Working closely with Anderson, Stockhausen most recently designed the upcoming “Isle of Dogs” while also creating the look of adventures inside a video game for Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi actioner “Ready Player One.”

Stockhausen, also known for Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” and Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” for which he was Oscar-nommed, has achieved a notably quick rise from theater work in New York through his film debut in 2004, working for production designer Mark Friedberg on the surreal “Synecdoche, New York” by Charlie Kaufman.

The old-fashioned stop-motion look of “Isle of Dogs” is already generating buzz.
It’s an amazing story. I’m so excited for it to come along. The actors are terrific and I think it’s spawned its own method. It’s different – it’s clearly different from the stuff you see every day.

And you’re simultaneously doing “Ready Player One,” where you’re inside a computer game for much of the film?
Yes and it’s completely different styles of animation. Because “Isle of Dogs” is the most handmade thing you can imagine because every single thing in the frame is handmade. There’s no store where you can go to find this stuff. Every door, every rock is handmade.

On “Ready Player One,” even though you’re using computers for everything it’s the exact same process. Everything has to be chosen. Everything has to be built. There are no locations you can go to.

How did you and Anderson come up with the weird and wonderful look of “Isle of Dogs,” in which we see a young boy interacting with talking mutts voiced by Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton and Bill Murray?
I was with Wes at the beginning of the project and doing sketches and getting the style of it and then an animation team led by Paul Harrod took it over to start shooting.

You do intensive research to draw from real worlds and objects. How did that process work with Anderson on your first joint project, “The Darjeeling Limited,” for which you completely built a real train car interior – then had to do it over again with a copy facing the opposite direction?
The backwards train car — that was funny because we didn’t realize we would have to do that when we started the process. What the issue was, is the train would go out in the morning and then it would come back in the afternoon. So the light in the background in the afternoon would be going the other way. It was a rough day when we had that realization. We were like, ‘No! We have to make another one!’ And there was not a lot of time to spare.

What were your thoughts on Anderson’s unique style when he first approached you? Had you seen “The Royal Tenenbaums” and wondered how on Earth that world was designed?
I certainly knew his work and it’s very exciting work. His visual style is his visual style and I lay no claim to it. It’s all his.

And how do you know you’re on track when you’re developing the style of a Wes Anderson film?
It’s the other way around – he’s very specific and things are very designed so we’re looking at the roughest of thumbnail story boards months and months and months before we start shooting anything.

In “Grand Budapest Hotel” there’s the room where they hide the painting. There’s a little spy window that looks in on the characters in the room. And we still hadn’t figured out where it would be so we’re walking around with this little piece of cardboard representing the window to see how it will work. The camera is zooming in from there and it’s a very tricky camera move. There’s a thousand of those little details going on simultaneously as the puzzle works itself out.

You’ve talked about the goal and it’s really complicated and tricky to get there. So there’s no sort of ‘Here it is – hope you like it.’

But that was not your process in the conversion of the department store in Gorlitz, Germany, which you used as the set for “Grand Budapest Hotel” as it goes through the ages.
We literally built it in the same space at the same time. The 1920s version was literally being built behind the walls of the other one. We did the conversion of the contemporary one into the old one over the course of a weekend. It was pretty intense.

We went to Prague and looked at the Obecni dum, the Municipal House theater. And in Karlovy Vary, looking at the Grandhotel Pupp. Not so much the facade because the facade is white. But there’s a quality of the hallways and the windows in the hotel. There are ideas from all over.

Your use of miniatures in “Grand Budapest” solved several technical challenges but also added an old-school charm.
Again, I would credit Wes for that. But using miniatures is a great tool. The ski-slope chase, for example. How else would you do it? The James Bond way? It would be terrible – completely contrary to the spirit of the film.

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