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How Batman Movies Influenced the Design of ‘Birds of Prey’

Cathy Yan Birds of Prey Director
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/Claudette Barius

When you’re a production designer, and your mood board is the mental state of the film’s lead character, it seems like the creative world is your oyster. When the lead character is Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, that’s a creative world where all bets are off.

“I approached everything through her ditzy, glitzy, analytical, yet throwaway, approach to absorbing the world,” explains K.K. Barrett, the man responsible for creating the world of “Birds of Prey.”

There is nothing subtle about Harley Quinn. Barrett adds, “It’s almost like you’re telling a crazy story to someone that goes off on a tangent, and you have to keep pulling it back and focusing it.

Barrett and director Cathy Yan had to find places in Los Angeles that felt like Gotham. “We had to avoid trees, especially palm trees and grass,” Yan says.

The Arts District and parts of Downtown Los Angeles served as Gotham City for the film.

Barrett says, “The design aesthetic is always trying to add shade to a character that perhaps isn’t touched on in dialogue, yet shows a different side to who they are.”

Roman Sionis’ (Ewan McGregor) loft and club are examples where he tried to show that. “I kept playing with the idea of suppression and didn’t want the club to have a name,” Barrett says.

Instead, he chose statues of the symbols of “See no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.” The plan was for the statues to frame the stage, but Barrett wasn’t excited by the aesthetic. He settled on the statues filling the stage. “That was very Roman; suppression, winking and peeking with a touch of S&M.”

When it came to harnessing elements of previous versions into the film’s visuals, the most obvious version was to look at “Suicide Squad.” Yan embraced David Ayer’s dynamic street style and took some of Harley’s aesthetic. “Her mallet and bat are the same, and her tattoos are the same, but we have fun with them.”

Yan also took from Christopher Nolan’s movies. “They’re much darker versions of Gotham,” she says. She also looked to Joel Schumacher, picking out his camp and colorful versions of the city. “It’s all in there,” Yan says. “It’s a weird combination of the movies before it.”