Catherine Martin on the costumes and sets of Baz Luhrmann's opulent 'Great Gatsby'
Meanwhile, Luhrmann is color-obsessed, Martin says, and the very first thing they did was analyze all the descriptions in the book by doing word searches for colors mentioned throughout. White, silver and gold were predominant, leaving them with a very brilliant and high-key palette to work with. Being a summer story, that made some sense, but then there was discussion about how color influences the mood of various scenes.
"For instance, if you go to the 1923 renovation of The Plaza, it's different, but it's not unlike the current renovation," Martin says. "They were very white, bright rooms. Very sparsely furnished. Even the suites, there was no artwork, just mirrors. And when we did all this research, and because we had such a great association with The Plaza and it's such a character in the book, Baz felt that this environment was not the right kind of heavy oppressive place for the penultimate conflict in the book to take place. So we then had to look for other inspirations and another palette that somehow had its roots in The Plaza but could be extrapolated to create a much darker, heavier, more oppressive, hotter environment. We looked to the Oak Room and we used the oak paneling from the Oak Room and got the idea of making this room a much more heavy and intensive place where you could imagine this terrible fight over Daisy ensuing between Tom and Gatsby."
In the production design sphere, digital work is increasingly creeping in as a hugely supportive element. In recent years, in fact, heavily computer-generated work in films like "Avatar" and "Alice in Wonderland" has walked away with the Oscar for Best Production Design. For Martin, she's in the fortunate place of being involved with a Baz Luhrmann film from the moment he decides to make it and convince others to be a part of it through to the delivery of the final color-timed frame, so she's a significant part of that process every step of the way.
In "The Great Gatsby," the environments and sets were all geographically detailed. Something like Gatsby's mansion and Nick's bungalow and their relationship to the green light at the end of Daisy's dock are all mapped out way before shooting in a real geographical space. They all had their own internal architectural reality and were described, drawn and modeled so that Luhrmann could understand their spacial relationships.
"All these complex and detailed geographical and design points were not left till post," Martin says. "I'm very lucky that I've been able to work hand-in-hand with Chris Godfrey, who is our visual effects supervisor, helping to realize Baz's ultimate vision. Because Baz sees no division between any of these many art forms that go into making a movie. Whether it's the dissolving of Daisy's letter in the bath when she realizes that she's going to marry Tom Buchanan and she still, I suppose, loved Gatsby somehow, to how the Buchanan mansion might look, we still had some members of the art department working on furnishing the visual effects department with architectural details, window details, right up until weeks before the final visual effect was delivered.
"So I think it's an absolutely intrinsic part of production design. And the art department, I think, needs to work hand in hand with visual effects. Certainly that's been my experience in working with Baz. And in fact I think we would probably have a visual effects art director on the next film, because you need someone who understands the process, to make sure that all the right information is going up to all the multiple houses."
The result of all of this is another pair of Oscar nominations for Best Costume Design and Best Production Design for Martin. She has been nominated singularly for Best Production Design on 1996's "Romeo + Juliet" and Best Costume Design for 2008's "Australia," but the only other time she was recognized in both categories was for 2001's "Moulin Rouge!" She won both Oscars that year, and in a season as contested as this, where voters might be looking to spread the love a bit, the opulence of "The Great Gatsby" could well bring her one or two more Academy Awards.
We, along with Martin, will find out if that's so on March 2.
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