For K.K. Barrett, the Academy Award-nominated production designer of Warner Bros’ Her, one of the most important aspects of the film was developing the device that would deliver the voice of Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), the computer operating system. “It was the first design we went after because we knew it would set the tone of how sleek or not we were,” said Barrett. “We had a very forward-thinking version in our head and then abandoned it within about two weeks because we didn’t want it to be about technology or him fighting technology, so we had to take the attention away from that and put it back onto him.” The ‘him’ of Her is Joaquin Phoenix, who portrays Theodore Twombly, a lonely writer whose job it is to write beautifully crafted, intimate letters for other people. He buys an operating system to help him organize his world and is seduced by its intuitive software that ends up offering him the intimacy missing from his own life. Her just won the WGA Award for best original screenplay for Jonze, and Barrett this past weekend won the award for production design from the Art Directors Guild.
Barrett used the color red throughout the film in the production design. “We wanted the world to be warm and comfortable, and we weren’t afraid of reds and oranges and golden sunlight,” said Barrett. “The use of red in the movie is so strong and gives you a focus. It was our way of uncluttering.” Even though the film was futuristic, there was a conscious effort not to create such an ultra-modern environment. “We were anti-dystopian. So many of the films about the future have that. It becomes such a hard battle if you do that because then you have your characters fighting that world rather than dealing with their own internal character problems.” The film, clearly worked in the way the production was designed as the audience does focus on the relationships, not the technology. “Her is about when to love, the damage that it does and how to trust. You’re always beholden to the story and trying to set a tone for the characters to be believable. You don’t want to disconnect the design from the story that the actors have to carry. We were very careful not to overplay anything to distract from the timing and temperance of that story.” The hardest point of the design is coming up with the ideas and what to do and how to express it to be unique to the film. It’s a very common challenge, but it helped that the collaborative effort with Jonze and his team was completely in sync. “It’s not departmentalized by title, so we have everyone to bounce ideas off of. It was a very organic process. It was a team effort.”