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How 'Asteroid City' Production Designer Creates the Worlds of Wes Anderson

Production designer Adam Stockhausen shows us how he brings sets to life for Wes Anderson's iconic films like 'The Budapest Hotel,' 'The French Dispatch' and 'Asteroid City.' How do you get the retro look and feel of the Luncheonette scene? How do you portray depth and richness in each shot? How can you make sets "float" for the insides to be seen and be as light as possible? From ample research to gather all the intricate details to physically bringing the sets to life, Adam takes us through his genius process of production design. 

Asteroid City premieres June 16th

Director: Adam Lance Garcia
Director of Photography: Zach Eisen
Editor: Michael Suyeda
Guest: Adam Stockhausen
Producer: Frank Cosgriff
Line Producer: Romeeka Powell
Associate Producer: Rafael Vasquez
Production Manager: Natasha Soto-Albors
Production Coordinator: Jamal Colvin
Talent Booker: Meredith Judkins
Camera Operator: Brad Wickham
Gaffer: Niklas Moller
Audio Engineer: Sean Paulsen
Production Assistant: Amanda Broll
Art Department: Jeremy D. Myles
Post Production Supervisor: Edward Taylor
Post Production Coordinator: Jovan James
Supervising Editor: Kameron Key
Assistant Editor: Courtney Karwal

Released on 06/16/2023


What we try to do is make it

as quick and light as possible.

And so pull a pin here and a hinge goes,

and the thing just slides out.

And you can kind of see an example of that

in like the cafe in The French Dispatch,

how the whole thing is planned so that

the front of the cafe just opens up like a curtain,

and suddenly you're inside of the thing.

We'll do lots of mechanical things like that

to make sure that the sets are able to open up

and be seen from, you know, inside out and outside in.

[taut string music]

Hi, I'm Adam Stockhausen.

I'm a production designer.

This is how I helped create

some of the worlds of Wes Anderson.

[string music continues]

[playful music]

The production designer works with the art department.

What we basically do

is the physical environment of the film.

You'll read a script and it'll say you're in a monastery

at the top of the Himalayas, or you're in a train station

in Prague, or you are standing in front of the Berlin Wall.

Then you turn to the production designer

and say okay how do we do that?

I've worked with the director Steve McQueen

on 12 Years A Slave.

I've worked with Steven Spielberg on a number of films.

We made Bridge of Spies together,

Ready Player One together,

and we made West Side Story together.

I started designing with Wes on Moonrise Kingdom.

Then we did French Dispatch,

we did Grand Budapest Hotel.

I co-designed Isle of Dogs with Paul Harrod,

and most recently we made Asteroid City together.

Working on any film, you're starting with a script,

you're starting with research,

and you're starting with a conversation

about what does the world of the film,

what does this space look like?

Where are we?

With Wes's films, we're very often breaking the movie down

frame by frame, shot by shot,

and there are wild changes in between those shots

where on another film you might go to a location,

and you'll do all the different angles within that space

sort of somewhat naturalistically.

When you look this way, you'll really look this way.

When you look that way, you'll actually turn

the camera around and look that way.

That's not necessarily true a lot of times

on Wes's films, where each angle will actually

be broken apart into its own set,

or its own location, and will actually manipulate space,

and that requires a intensity of planning.

[stiff, formal music]

Almost always, the initial conversations

are where and how do we do this?

We ended up in a space outside of Madrid

that had the right weather, the right sunlight,

the right space, and also the right other pieces

that we needed to go along with the main site

of Asteroid City.

So what we're looking at right now is the sort

of early days design for The Luncheonette

which is sort of the center piece of Asteroid City.

This was a base sketch that Alexios Chrysikos did with me,

and this is a conversation with Wes about the shape

but also the specifics and the look

and feel and the level of detail and how aged is it.

And a lot of these things that you're seeing in here

come from very specific reference points

in old photographs, old postcards, old films.

We would talk about Bad Day at Black Rock

and the diner in the town.

We'll talk about Ace in the Hole

and the trading post store that's at the heart of that film.

And individual details will come

from those things very often.

How do we use research and then bring it to be something

that's a heightened version of what it is?

Is it the exact thing, or is it the feeling of the thing?

And looking at the research is a wonderful tool

to give you all of these specifics.

It's just a goldmine of tiny little details.

So this is sort of a drafting layout.

We're looking at one piece, one view of one part

of the town of Asteroid City, but this is the kind

of thing that we would do for everything.

In this drawing, we're working

on the kind of basic layout of the place.

How crowded is it?

What kind of a diner is it?

Where does this paneling come from?

Where does that door come from?

How are we going to be seeing into the kitchen,

the back room of the place.

Under the surface, we're also talking about

specific shots in the storyboard.

And so the reason it's this long is

because we have a shot from here that needs this huge depth

into the distance of the length of the place.

We have dolly shots that start looking into the kitchen

and then sliding down the counter to find another character.

This whole thing is moving and shifting

to try to bring the details to life

but also be perfectly in position so that those shots work,

and everything lines up when it needs to.

We'll go from something like this,

[pages shuffle]

and now we're getting back into the world of Erica Dorn

in the graphics department

developing the exact colors on the tiles

and the specific wallpaper.

And then that merges with the more technical layout drawing,

and we get something like this where we're,

at this point in the process, locking in those details

of finishes and color balance and what is this whole space

from a color point of view, how does it all hold together?

It really is kind of a forensic process

of taking storyboards and kind of saying, okay

how can we work this puzzle backwards?

So here we're looking at a couple of shots,

not frames from the film, but just shots

as the sets were coming together and as we were finishing.

Part of that sort of forensic process

of studying what exactly we need for each shot

involved figuring out how the thing comes apart.

the sides were made on hinges to open up.

The whole thing has a steel skeleton to hold it together

as the various component parts of it pop and move away.

The window frames all remove very quickly.

I think it's very normal to be making sets

that float and break apart.

What's kind of special here is that what we try to do

is make it as quick and light as possible.

And so pull a pin here and a hinge goes,

and the thing just slides out.

And you can kind of see an example of that

in like the cafe in the French Dispatch,

how the whole thing is planned

so that the front of the cafe just opens up like a curtain,

and suddenly you're inside of the thing.

We'll do lots of mechanical things like that

to make sure that the sets are able to open up

and be seen from, you know, inside out and outside in.

What we're looking at here is The Writer's Study.

So the scene is talking about the development of the play,

why Ed has written Asteroid City.

The potential lead actor comes to visit him.

But of course this isn't a real house

this is a dramatic retelling.

And so we are doing here a stage set version

of the country house by the sea and it's done very much

in the western style that will later see in Asteroid City.

We did a bunch of black and white shooting

in The French Dispatch, and we were able to look at things

with the iPhone on the black and white setting

to start getting the sense of how the different colors

were relating to each other.

And then we eventually kind of just decided

well, why don't we just paint things in black and white,

even though certain elements, the paintings, the costumes,

may have a lot of color.

Colors shift around and don't read in black and white

necessarily the same way that our eyes perceive the color

as in a value sense.

And so you can have a blue that turns completely black

or a red that goes completely black.

And so it's just kind of nice to be able to say, okay

well I want to achieve this level of balance

between the darkness value of the floor

versus the stone versus the timber.

And then sort of find a way to achieve that in paint

so that the black and white media film is reading it

in a way that you're expecting it to.

I think this is a really interesting image to look at

because you don't see it this way in the film.

It's black and white in the film.

With the scenery elements, we were working basically

without color as a thing that was entering our minds,

because we knew it was going to be seen in black and white,

and we were checking how it was reading in black and white.

So it actually kind of looks low contrast here

when you look at the thing, you go,

this looks bad, and Wes loved this piece of fabric,

this specific vintage piece of fabric.

So we used it, but we checked how it was going to look

compared to everything else.

Same answer with the typewriter.

It was just a great typewriter and it was better to use it

in blue knowing what the black and white film

would do to it than to paint the thing gray

and lose something special about it.

[spirited music]

Grand Budapest Hotel is a story

about Europe in the 20th century

and the struggle to hold onto to beauty in life.

Wes went on a preliminary scout to look at some hotels,

and to kind of ask the question and say, okay

starting point, should we go to a grand hotel?

Eventually kind of deciding there isn't one that's perfect.

They're either derelict or they're in operation,

but it was too big to just build the whole thing too.

So the kind of Goldilocks solution to the whole thing

was a location that had the right bones

and gave us the scale of the architecture of a grand hotel

but where we could build inside of it

the actual specific space that we wanted

and sort of be very efficient with frankly the money

we were spending and the pieces we were building

to say we're going to get a lot of it

from the bones of the place.

On that scout, Wes ended up in a town called Gorlitz

in the very farthest east part of Germany

and sent these pictures and it was just magical.

It was just obvious.

That's it, that's the place.

So what we're looking at right now

is a really gorgeous pencil drawing by Carl Sprague.

He did this beautiful layout

for what would become the large miniature

of the facade of the Grand Budapest Hotel.

We see it in a few different ways.

So this is built as a miniature, it's about

I think, 12 feet across this thing.

And then we went to a location

where Mr. Gustave and Zero pull up

in the Mendl's van outside the entryway.

And so we kind of zoom in into here.

We found a location for and did a heavy modification

to actually be the front entry part of the hotel itself.

And then we built another section of the upper windows

and upper balcony for the piece of the movie

where Zero goes out the window and down

and eventually crashes into the Mendl's van below.

So the Grand Budapest hotel lobby and interior was built

inside of a disused department store, Karstadt,

in Gorlitz, Germany.

And it had all of this, it had this sort

of flying stairway structure already existing.

It had the marble columns, and when you look up,

there's this incredible art glass ceiling

in the place, and that was all there.

We brought in everything else you see.

This, the fountain, the elevator, the concierge,

the the windows in the back,

and then as you start going up in the hotel,

all of the walls with all of the doors to all of the rooms

the coat check, the barber salon, the bar, you know,

all those pieces were were us adding on

and actually building in to this atrium space

where the the original sales floors of the department store

were then stretching behind our set.

And then we used those spaces behind

to build all of our other sets.

The way that we do each set is very much related

to the aspect ratio of the frame we're using,

and then also hand in hand with that,

the way Wes wants to use the camera.

A really great example of it here is the sequence

when Agatha goes to break into the storeroom

to unlock the the safe.

We had another scene happening, turn 90 degrees,

there's the window in the distance,

and then a massive zoom-in just happens to land

on the frame of the window that just happens to be

the exact shape of the aspect ratio of the frame,

and everything lines up.

Wes and Bob had the viewfinders

and were able to say, okay, this is where it happens

this is where the turn is going to be.

And then I can start putting tape

on the ground and saying, great, great.

Here's our axis.

Everything evolves together.

The next one is the slightly more dour, 1960s version

of the hotel that we see later on in the film.

Structurally the shot is the same, the funicular

is coming up over here and the buses over here, and this

is an assembly of various different brutalist buildings

but trying to keep the same basic structure,

so that the Grand Budapest is still recognizable within it.

The one really exciting thing that we did

when we were working on the Grand Budapest lobby,

we made the 1960s version of the lobby

inside the 1930s version of the lobby

kind of as a nesting doll structure.

And so what you're seeing in this sketch by Ulrich Zeidler

where we floated down this egg crate lighting ceiling

and filled up to the first floor mezzanine area

with this entire light grid.

It was a really interesting way

of building a set within a set

and not having to build every last bit of this from scratch.

I mean, it was actually very lightweight.

It's a carpet, some colored plastic panels,

and a ceiling, completely transforms the thing.

The story of the architectural destruction of the hotel

is something that you see around that part of the world.

You'll see these amazing old Beaux-Arts buildings

that have plywood veneer paneling

just stuck on top of the marble.

There was a building in Gorlitz where we were shooting

for the dining room scene.

It was the Stadthalle at the community theater center

in the town and the balcony rail had these carved angels,

and at some point, cover had been put over them,

and I guess the heads of these things were in the way,

so they'd been knocked off

and the next layer was put on top.

There was something appropriate about keeping the space

what it was and just cladding over it

to become the newer, updated version of the place.

I almost-

Education zero. Now it's exploded.

Good morning, Cicero.

Call the goddamn plumber.

In mocking shots up all the time,

we're always dealing with the elements

at the edge of the frame

and the parallax that's created and the barrel distortion

of the lenses and and countering it with pieces of scenery.

And that happens from the smallest thing.

Like how would you make this filing cabinet behind me,

not, if you didn't want to see the side?

You'd kind of cheat the things so that the face

was actually lining up to the axis towards the lens.

But also bigger things like hanging off the cliff edge scene

in Grand Budapest, which was a combination scene

where we had the actual cliff edge

just barely above the ground.

And then we designed the vista view down

as a miniature layer and definitely planned the angle

that all the trees were standing on

to give a greater sense of depth behind

and to try to show distance, and we'll do that a lot.

The way that Wes shoots these things

makes for incredible opportunities and incredible fun

in all sorts of different ways.

In The Grand Budapest Hotel there's a ski sequence

where Vilmos is chasing Zero,

and Wes just thought it would be more interesting

if we chose another medium to do it.

And so that's often why we'll use miniatures,

use stop-motion, use puppets, because it is fun,

and it allows a handmade way of solving problems.

All the time, we hit on these kind of amazing

shot opportunities where something will be made possible

by the fact that we're only seeing one angle.

One that I absolutely love in Grand Budapest

is the approach into the Gabelmeister's Peak train station.

And we looked and looked and looked,

and couldn't find a steam train.

We could certainly build one.

It would cost a great deal of money.

And then Wes had this wonderful idea of saying

well, why don't we do not do any of it?

Why don't we just be inside the train looking out

and see the arrival into the station?

It allowed this sort of inside out way

of looking at what a train station is

because we were only seeing it from that one way.

And so we were able to take

a railway siding warehouse building, paint the side of it,

paint it with timbers, paint Gabelmeister's Peak on it,

and dress the thing as a train platform,

and have a super-stylized way of telling the story

of the arrival into a train station.

[energetic music]

What's your name?


What's yours?

I'm Suzy.

It's such a pleasure to look at stuff

from Moonrise Kingdom and to talk about it.

We knew I wanted to have this New England feel,

and we knew this was a really intensely location-based film.

Jamestown, Rhode Island turned out to be the perfect place

next to Aquidneck Island.

It had the Bishop House Lighthouse.

That and the cove that became Moonrise Kingdom itself

were sort of the two key anchors, and when we went

on a quick scout, we saw those places,

and it it became clear, okay, this is it.

So what we're looking at here is the activity yard

at Fort Lebanon, when Sam and Suzy are about to get married,

and Jason Schwartzman is kind of giving them the lowdown

of how it's done here at Fort Lebanon.

So what was fun about it, and this actually,

it really kind of shows how we will take a location

and then modify it for what we need it to be.

The exercise field existed.

We brought in a hundred tents,

but the zip line was there already.

We set up the rocket area, but the important part

about the whole thing is that we figured out the dolly shot,

and to actually see all this stuff,

Wes said we have to be up in the air.

And so we got up on ladders and figured out

the exact right height for the shot,

which happened to be about 10 or 12 feet in the air.

And then we made this couple hundred-foot-long platform

and lined it with stockade fencing

to feel like it had always been there.

But really it was just to get the camera

to the right height to see the set beyond it.

And so that kind of careful planning out

of how to move the camera, how to see the the world

is half of what it's about.

Wes tends to go to a place and then stay

in a very small radius to make every piece of the film.

It makes us very efficient and very light on our feet,

and it became incredibly important on Moonrise Kingdom,

because we had a lot of sort of single shots

of things that were very light dependent.

The one that pops into my mind is the shot

during the storm of '65 where we see a field

with a basketball hoop sticking up out of the lake

to show that the flood is coming.

We found the spot to do it.

We put the basketball hoop into the water,

and then we waited.

And we went and we shot other things,

and I remember one day I was on duty to go check,

and it was perfect.

It was overcast and cloudy and, you know,

I was able to kind of shoot a text over to Wes.

45 minutes later that we were there

and setting up camera and about to shoot.

I can do it this way.

It's more fun this way.

That's what's so fun about this thing.

Carl Sprague did the original drawing of this

and Wes looked at it and said, it's just not extreme enough.

You know, we want a tree house that's dangerous.

That's the point of this, is that it's just too much.

We wanted to make the whole thing based on a telephone pole

that was sunk into the ground.

It had to be multiple trees tied together,

and that's what you see here is one tree tied onto another.

When you're talking about how we see these sets

it's really fun to be able to cheat massively, you know,

and to say, well this is the tree house,

and it's actually five foot by four foot by three foot

when you look at it from the outside.

When you look at it on the inside, it's 20 feet wide

and there are 16 kids having a conversation in there.

There's no augmentation to this at all.

It's exactly what you see here.

It is a tree house, and it is sitting in a tree,

and it is that high up in the air.

The only cheat to it is there's a little bit of steel here

supporting the whole thing.

I do think there was a steel spine running down the backside

of this thing and there were some guy-wires for safety.

When we weren't shooting, we actually pulled the guy-wires.

When the wind was calm and we

were going to actually grab the shot,

we pulled them out of the way

But it is what you see.

This is Summer's End.

This is the exterior of the Bishops' house

and it was great for our exterior.

We used it for Suzy walking out to the mailbox,

going to wait for the bus.

When we go inside the house, Wes broke it apart,

and there was no sort of overall architectural logic

to the space where one room would connect to another room

in a way that would seem rational.

You know, instead he told the story

and revealed the house in a series of shots,

one of them tracking left to right,

one of them pulling straight backwards.

And those were all planned from the very beginning

as the way to tell the story of the house,

and each one was set up for the exact camera move,

knowing the exact lens.

I shouldn't say there's no logic to the house

because there is a logic to the house.

There's just no, there's just, a map of the house

would be a very confusing one.

There is a sort of a logic to the house.

We just never built it that way,

and we don't experience it that way.

We experience it in this broken apart,

very specific movement way.

[orderly string music]

It's amazing to work with Wes on multiple projects

and to get to know him better and better and better.

Really a shorthand develops

where it's not just a storyboard, but everything

in the storyboard doesn't have equal importance.

It's trying to communicate an idea,

and being able to more quickly see and understand

what he's trying to accomplish

in the storytelling of the shot

and being able to get there more quickly.

That shorthand is really wonderful

and gets sort of deeper and richer over time.

And also, I think, makes me better at doing my job,

not just with Wes, but with everybody that I'm working with.

[brisk string music flourish]