building worlds

The Art & Architecture of Film Design


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For decades, audiences around the globe have thrilled to the spectacular environments and memorable settings created by the designers of American movies: astonishing visions of the future, haunting evocations of the past, poetic renditions of the contemporary world.  Meanwhile, the leading edge of architecture and urbanism has increasingly embraced the importance of “narrative” and “story” in the creation of new structures and places, widening their frame of Reference to include the power of experience, memory, and dreams.

On the evening (7 pm PDT) of January 30th, 2018, these two worlds will come together in a special cultural event—one poised at the very intersection of architecture and film, shifting fluidly between reality and fantasy, space and screen, modern urban life and timeless cinematic vision.


The event


Building Worlds: The Art & Architecture of Film Design will gather five of Hollywood’s most renowned production designers—a group of dazzlingly gifted men and women who among them have earned 12 Academy Award nominations and four Oscars—for a lively and informed conversation moderated by the architect James Sanders, AIA, author of the landmark volumes Celluloid Skyline and Scenes from the City. The event is being sponsored by the global architecture firm Woods Bagot, in association with the American Institute of Architects/Los Angeles Chapter and SCI-Arc, and will take place at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Linwood Dunn Theater, in the heart of Hollywood.

The event’s participants represent some of the most talented and accomplished figures working today, including Jim Bissell (E.T. the Extra-terrestrial, The Monuments Men, 300, Good Night, and Good Luck), John Myhre (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, Nine, Dreamgirls), Jeannine Oppewall (L.A. Confidential, Seabiscuit, Catch Me If You Can), and David & Sandy Wasco (La La Land, The Royal Tenenbaums, Kill Bill, Vols. 1 & 2). The evening will include a specially produced video presentation by the production designer and scholar John Muto (Home Alone, Night of The Comet, Terminator 2-3d)



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The conversation


At the heart of Building Worlds will be wide-ranging and stimulating conversation, exploring the ways in which design and architecture have helped to shape the extraordinary environments the participants have imagined, designed, and constructed for their array of globally admired films. Using examples from the panelists’ work (including features created in collaboration with directors Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, Wes Anderson, and others), the conversation will explore ways in which the design of films mirrors the design of actual places—and the crucial ways it differs. It will discuss the power of narrative to shape the “space” of films, and the techniques by which film designers combine careful research, close observation, and free-flowing imagination to create the broadly believable yet visually powerful “worlds” in which their films take place. 

The conversation will also ask the designers to explore the process of designing a feature film, from script and story analysis, to visual concepts, to early sketches, to working drawings, to built sets or dressed locations, to the final onscreen image. This discussion will be illustrated by rare—indeed, in many cases, never-seen-before—images provided by the designers themselves, including hand-drawn sketches, storyboards, physical and digital models, plans and elevations, sets under construction, etc. These revealing images will provide the springboard for the designers to share essential insights on the journey from initial idea to finished motion picture, from the fundamental mix of techniques they employ—purpose- built stage sets, adapted locations, and in recent decades, computer generated imagery—to the kinds of creative collaborations they they must forge with set decorators, art directors, construction departments, and, of course, their directors and producers. 

One final turn of the conversation will reflect back out to the larger urban environment in which the event—and Hollywood itself—is situated: Los Angeles. Participants will be asked to discuss the challenges and opportunities in capturing on film the city in which they live and work, in films ranging from La La Land and L.A. Confidential to Rules Don’t Apply and The Rocketeer
The program will be recorded and will be distributed online in the Spring of 2018, in edited form, in an online video.


The lineup


Jim Bissell

Jim Bissell began his career in film art direction by designing Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  His film design credits include The Monuments Men, Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation, Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, Jack Reacher, 300, Good Night, and Good Luck, The Rocketeer and the recently released Suburbicon, directed by George Clooney. Bissell was the original chair for the Art Directors Guild Awards as well as a former Vice President of the Guild. He has taught at AFI, USC, UCLA extension and the NC School of the Arts and is a member of the DGA, ADG, and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


John Myhre

John Myhre is a celebrated American production designer who has garnered five Academy Award nominations and two Oscars for his work.  In recent decades, he has been known for his long and close creative collaboration with the director Rob Marshall, on the films Chicago (2002) and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)—both of which earned him Oscars—as well as the musicals Nine (2009) and the upcoming Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt in the title role. Other film titles include The Great Wall (2016), shot entirely in the People’s Republic of China, Dreamgirls (2006), Elizabeth (1998), Ali (2001), and X-Men (2000). In addition to his film production design work, Myhre has designed several stage and exhibition projects, including the 84th Academy Awards ceremony is 2011.


JeaNnine Oppewall

Jeannine Oppewall is a renowned production designer who has designed more than thirty feature films.  She has received four Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, for L.A. Confidential, Pleasantville, Seabiscuit, and The Good Shepherd. Her notable films also include The Big Easy, The Bridges of Madison County, and Catch Me If You Can, and the recently released Rules Don’t Apply, directed by Warren Beatty. 
Oppewall began her design career at the age of 22 at the legendary design studio of Charles and Ray Eames, who, in her words, “saw something in me I didn’t know was there.”  By the end of her eight years with the office, she was designing and organizing Eames’ international museum exhibits.


David Wasco & 
Sandy Reynolds-Wasco

David Wasco & Sandy Reynolds-Wasco are a husband-and-wife team of production designer (David) and art director/set decorator (Sandy).  They are known for designing La La Land, for which they received an Academy Award, and for their work with director Quentin Tarantino, including Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill: Volume 1, Kill Bill: Volume 2, along with Michael Mann’s Collateral. For their work, the have been awarded the Art Directors Guild Award for Excellence in Production Design for a Contemporary Film, Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Art Direction. 


The Organizers

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John Muto


A longtime production designer (Home Alone, Night of The Comet, Terminator 2-3D) and scholar of American art direction, Muto founded the Art Directors Film Society in 2001, dedicated to putting a spotlight on unsung, neglected, and forgotten gems of film design. He has lectured on film design at universities in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Brazil. He has taught at the American Film Institute, UCLA, and is currently teaching production design at California State University at Long Beach. He is a twenty-five-year member of the Designers’ Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

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James Sanders


James Sanders, AIA, is an internationally recognized architect, author, and documentary filmmaker. His landmark study of the city and film, Celluloid Skyline (Knopf), was hailed by Jane Jacobs as a “marvelous—miraculous—book” and became a large-scale multimedia exhibition in Grand Central Terminal, sponsored by TCM.  In association with the NYC Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting, he produced Scenes from the City: Filmmaking in New York (Rizzoli), with contributions by Martin Scorsese and Nora Ephron.  With Ric Burns, he co-wrote the award-winning eight-part PBS series, New York: A Documentary Film, and Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film, for which he received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Non-Fiction Writing.   
Mr. Sanders is affiliated with Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation and Planning, is a trustee of the Skyscraper Museum, and is the consulting Chair of the Design Review Board for the global architecture firm, Woods Bagot.  In 2006 he was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for research in the experience of cities.


The Sponsors


Woods Bagot

Sponsoring Partner

Woods Bagot Global Studio continually expands and challenges the expectations of multi-disciplinary architectural practice in a shifting, fast-moving digital era.  Its portfolio is worldwide in scope, diverse in scale and discipline, and encompasses some of the highest-profile projects currently under way in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East—including major projects for Apple, Google, Lendlease, Brookfield, Plenary and other transformational clients.  The firm’s work is defined by its clarity of narrative and by the extensive use of state-of-the-art analytics as a platform for design.  Its sixteen studios, located in major cities around the globe, consistently imbue the firm’s work with a rigorous vocabulary that references urban and regional context, ecological and social sustainability, and innovation.  Above all, Woods Bagot prioritizes human experience and delivers engaging, future-oriented projects for its clients.  

Southern California Institute of Architecture

Cultural Partner

Located in downtown Los Angeles, SCI-Arc is a center of innovation and one of the nation’s few independent architecture schools.  SCI-Arc was founded in 1972 in Santa Monica by a group of faculty and students who wanted to approach architecture from a more experimental perspective than traditional schools offered.  SCI-Arc teaches architects to engage, speculate, and innovate, to take the lead in reimagining the limits of architecture.  Its students and faculty critically examine the rich possibilities of the built environment. From design and materials to culture and experience, SCI-Arc asks questions regarding new theoretical constructs and designed realities to constitute possible futures. It contributes an imaginative, rigorous, and forward-thinking approach to help shape the future of the architectural profession.


American Institute of Architects: Los Angeles Chapter

Cultural Partner

AIA|LA members are at the forefront of delivering design excellence, and contributing to the well being of communities throughout the greater Los Angeles region. We believe that both individual clients and larger place are best served by the expertise and standards held by our Architect members.  As the voice of the architectural profession in Los Angeles, AIA|LA is honored to advocate on behalf of members, and to support them through a retinue of resources that empower and advance individual architects, strengthen firms, advocate for the profession, and support communities and the region through design. In 2017, the chapter hosted or co-hosted over 150 conferences, presentations, events, tours, roundtables, meetings with influential regional leaders, continuing education courses, and awards programs. We encourage you to take advantage of AIA|LA opportunities this year.


Media Sponsor

Metropolis magazine is the indispensable source for architecture and design at all scales. The New York-based publication has delivered stories that link design to evolving issues and trends, from big data to sustainability, since 1981. Its audience—in print, online and at our events—looks to Metropolis for its critical views, storytelling, and inquisitive outlook that will help chart the future of the designed environment.


Cultural Initiatives 2018

Building Worlds is part of an inaugural series of innovative events and programs, sponsored by Woods Bagot in association with a group of civic, cultural, and media partners, that seek to expand discussion and understanding of major areas of contemporary architecture, design, and urbanism, including the changing landscape of cities, and the evolving nature and variety of contemporary design practice.

A companion event, LA 3.0: Development and Design for the New Los Angeles, sponsored in association with SCI-Arc, will be held on February 1, 2018 at the campus of SCI-Arc in the Arts District of Los Angeles.