On Sunday, the world and film lovers will get to see how the Academy Awards will handle its biggest night in a completely different way than ever before. At a Wednesday virtual press conference, Tony–winning set designer David Rockwell provided some insight into his plans for transforming Los Angeles’s historic Union Station for the ceremony.
Rockwell is no stranger to designing for the Oscars — his team at Rockwell Group previously designed sets during the 2008 and 2009 ceremonies. The key to finding the ideal location began with Rockwell looking back at the previous locations where the Academy Awards had been held, such as the Biltmore Hotel and the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.
He knew the space needed to be “self-contained, but we wanted to find a place that had enough scale and that we can create a room within a room.”
His challenge this year was to ensure there was safe social distancing, but he also faced restrictions with what he could do with the building, “Nothing can attach to the ceiling, and nothing can attach to the floor,” Rockwell said in a Zoom conversation.
Additionally, he wanted to use every space of Union Station. That included using the two courtyards. He confirmed that “both are being used for the show.” Rockwell adds, “We also knew high heels on grass was going to be a particular problem,” but he promises that will be resolved.
The trees on the North Patio will be surrounded by teak platforms. Rockwell has also called on local florists to create a woven ceiling of flowers to hang overhead with live flowers around the trunk of the trees. His inspiration? Maxfield Parrish’s 1918 painting “The Garden of Allah.”
A DJ space will be set up outside alongside a bar. Questlove, who will serve as the in-house DJ and musical director, will have a station that will “very much be a part of the main picture.”
Inside, a wrap-around screen wall will be used as a portrait gallery with white squares that will be populated with the nominees in each category.
Since Rockwell can’t hang lights from the ceilings, Oscar-inspired lamps have been set at each table to provide enough local lighting.
Rockwell hopes guests will feel comfortable. He wanted to “create the conditions where people will very much want to participate in the great, spontaneous moments.”
“The entire mainstage is conceived of as a live set, and can be used in many places. For the presenters and nominees, the action will take place all around the room,” says Rockwell.