The Excellence of Production Design: Apes Invades New Orleans

If you’ve never been fascinated about the movie magic created when production designers, art directors and set designers get together, then you’ve never fully appreciated film. I recently watched Frank Capra’s literary adaptation of Lost Horizon and it reminded me just how much detail and effort goes into fantastic set design. Over the decades, great films have relied heavily on the magnificent sets they inhabit.

Recently, a co-worker forwarded me a pair of pictures that exemplified the magnificence of stunning design work. In 2014, the sequel to the hit reimagining of Planet of the Apes titled Rise of the Planet of the Apes will release to theaters. The film, titled Dawn of the Planet of the Apes will feature the remnants of human civilization attempting to survive against the rising dominance of intelligent apes led by progenitor Caesar. The movie is being filmed in British Columbia and New Orleans.

In this first image, you’ll see a street-level view of a prominent New Orleans building and a partial view of the streets surrounding it. (You can click the image to enlarge it)


This second picut shows the exciting transformation of that area into a post-ape-ocalyptic vision of the future. (You can click the image to enlarge it)


As you can see, the superb detail of the work, even from a distance, stands out in this image. Of course, even art directors make mistakes. Notice the wrecked streetcar on the left side of the image. That’s a traditional, San Francisco-style streetcar. Yet, that’s not what New Orleans’ cars look like. See the image below for what they currently resemble.


It’s likely that the designers recognized that few outside of New Orleans or natives would recognize the New Orleans-designed streetcars, so they employed a very familiar and widely-recognized style to convey their intended image. Of course, where the film is set is unknown to me. For all I know, it’s set in San Francisco and they just decided to film in New Orleans because of various tax credits the state employed in the post-Katrina clean-up and aftermath to encourage filming there. Then, we’ve got a whole other issue of the setting not matching the location, but those are nitpicks really.

What’s important to celebrate in these images is the talent required to create an artificial environment that surprises, pleases and draws the audience in. Film is an immersive experience and while having great actors, a great director, a great script and great visual effects and sound teams among many other participants in the filmmaking process, there can be little doubt of the importance and prestige of the production designer and his teams.

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  1. Production Design is one of my favorite, if not favorite, aspects of filmmaking. They can not only create new worlds, but also become such detrimental tools of storytelling also.

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