Magazine article Variety

Designing Partners

Magazine article Variety

Designing Partners

Article excerpt

As a team, production designer Judy Becker and costume designer Michael Wilkinson just click.

"The entire world is our palette," says Wilkinson. "In another lifetime, Judy would be a sculptress or an installation artist - and I share this passion with her." The pair first worked together on Zach Braff's 2004 "Garden State," finding an immediate connection. But they waited 10 years for a job to bring them together again - and when "American Hustle" did just that, they each scored Oscar nominations out of it.

"It was worth the wait," Wilkinson says. Not every production/costume designer duo has to be as in-sync as Becker and Wilkinson. But this year, three films (all period pics) scored Academy Award nominations in both production and costume design categories. In each case, the designers behind the nominations for "Hustle," "12 Years a Slave" and "The Great Gatsby" are a study in how two key below-the-line slots on a film do best when immersed in a shared vision.

Becker and Wilkinson spent a lot of time working side by side on "Hustle," ultimately creating character-specific "walls" on which they could pin clothing or wallpaper swatches, to make sure everything would blend right. "We were both researchers, and we loved submerging ourselves in the (1970s) period," Wilkinson says. "When you look at (director David O. Russell's) movies and my movies and Judy's movies, it's not all about showing the pretty. It's (about) humanity, warts and all."

Unlike the "Hustle" crew, "12 Years" production designer Adam Stockhausen and costume designer Patty Norris spent relatively little time in each others' presence while plotting out the movie's design.

"We didn't work together a lot, but we naturally had a conversation about things," Norris says. "Adam's very easy to work with - and there's not a lot you're going to argue about: 'Oh, that building's gray and I want to do beige.' "

Stockhausen says they just agreed early on how the look of the film would progress: rich, deep tones for Solomon Northup's life in Saratoga; blasted, washed-out looks the further down the ladder he went once he was kidnapped into slavery.

Knowing how and when to defer to one another is key in maintaining a good balance in the costume/production designer union. …

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