Creating Wes Anderson’s Wacky World Is Just Another Day At The Office For ‘Grand Budapest’ Production Designer Adam Stockhausen

In a relatively short career, Adam Stockhausen has notched his second consecutive Oscar nomination (last year it was for 12 Years a Slave), working with such directors as Wes Anderson, Steve McQueen, Wes Craven and now Steven Spielberg on an upcoming film. The richly detailed work he created with Anderson on their second collaboration (the first was Moonrise Kingdom) is the stuff of actual Oscar wins (he recently won the Art Directors Guild period film award). Here, Stockhausen discusses what it’s like to work with a visionary like Anderson, his influences, and how he helped create the world of Grand Budapest.

This is your second collaboration with Anderson. What’s your working process like?

The basic process is breaking down the script into all the component pieces and then researching and getting reference imagery for every single piece of that. Meanwhile, Wes breaks down the script himself, producing thumbnail drawings of how he sees the scenes, and editing those together as well as all the little animated mini clips of the different pieces of the film—we call those animatics. The animatic and the reference imagery become the guide for how we’re going to move through (the film).

Does Anderson reference specific films, paintings, photos or all of the above?

All of the above. On this one, there definitely were old photographs of hotels and the architectural record of those hotels. We definitely looked at a lot of films and a wide range of them.

Were there specific references?

Absolutely. We looked at The Shop Around the Corner and other Ernst Lubitsch films. We looked at an Ingmar Bergman film called The Silence that we actually took some details of. In that film this boy is walking through the hallways of this hotel—through the whole film—and we actually liked some of the details of the carpeting and of the doors and brought those into our hotel.

Can you talk a bit about creating the interior hotel space of the Grand Budapest?

That was the main set for the film—the interior of the hotel. Rather than building that from scratch—because we couldn’t afford that—and rather than finding a hotel, because that didn’t exist, we had to kind of go into the middle and the middle ground happened to be this incredible Art Nouveau defunct department store in this tiny little town called Gorlitz in eastern Germany. The shell of what you see in the movie was there—it was a lot of linoleum that got turned into those carpets. We built in the lobby, and the coat check, and the concierge area—all that stuff.

What’s it like working with a director like Anderson, who pays so much attention to production design?

It’s fantastic working with Wes. It’s really fun being able to focus in and make these details really special, and really focus on all of them. It’s a race, too, because there are an awful lot of details that you’re trying to get finished before it’s time to shoot.

Part of Anderson’s distinctive aesthetic is his eye for color. What was your initial discussion with him in terms of crafting the pinkish look that we see throughout the film?

Wes knew that he wanted the hotel to be pink. That’s one of the fun things about working with him—he has such a strong sense of color and makes very bold, daring choices that, just left to my own devices I’m not sure I would have come up with. So, working with him is inspiring in that way. And then it’s a process—working with colors that go together, adding in tones that help balance things, figuring out what the right pinks are. The funny thing is, we started with all this pink, and I think this would be true of any color—if you use too much of it, you stop seeing it because it’s everywhere and you start taking it for granted. So, we found that we had to add in yellows and different colors to kind of cut it back so you could see it more. And it’s those kinds of things you learn as you’re going; in this case, we learned from taking a section of the walls in the hotel and painting them.

Is there anything that you have learned or integrated into your process from working with Anderson?

I definitely gained a deep understanding of how important the details are, and how to find them, how to trust them, how to bring them forward and let them be present—to not overlook them, and to not just make them up—to really find and focus on making the details right.

Your next project was directed by another legend, Steven Spielberg Can you tell us anything about that?

The film is untitled, we’re calling it The Untitled Cold War Spy Thriller right now. It’s a wonderful true story, set during the cold war, about Gary Powers, whose U-2 spy plane was shot down in the late 1950s. We shot some in New York, some in Germany, even a little bit in Poland. It was a wonderful experience.

Adam Stockhausen photographed by J.R. Mankoff

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