Tech Support Interview: Adam Stockhausen on hand-making the world of 'Moonrise Kingdom'
After serving as production designer Mark Friedberg's art director on 2007's "The Darjeeling Limited," Adam Stockhausen went on to design a number of commercials for director Wes Anderson over the last five years. In that time, the relationship strengthened and Anderson eventually tapped him to design his latest feature, "Moonrise Kingdom," and all the New England quirks and Boy Scout flourishes that would come with it.
Stockhausen found early inspiration for the look of the film in the paintings of Norman Rockwell. They had a spirt and a sense of color that brought the world of scouting to life in a vivid way beyond a sort of dry, 1964 "Boy's Life" magazine advertisement. And that's really where the journey of visually conveying the world of the "Khaki Scouts" of "Moonrise Kingdom" began.
"Wes really wanted the Khaki Scouts to have a unique visual style of its own," Stockhausen says. "So we looked at the Norman Rockwell paintings, and those are definitely BSA [Boy Scouts of America], but we also looked at French scouts and army patches and different countries, all kinds of stuff. So the idea was to create something of its own."
The film was shot in Rhode Island, headquartered around Newport/Middletown in the southeastern, bay-infested area of the state. One of the big considerations, from a design standpoint, was the Bishops' house -- the home of Walt (Bill Murray), Laura (Frances McDormand) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) Bishop in the film. There was a strip mall shopping center down the road from the production office that sported the usual: pet supply store, Barnes & Noble, Michael's, etc. But there was also a Linens n' Things that had gone out of business, so Stockhausen's art department took it over as a construction shop and stage.
"We basically built and shot all in one place," Stockhausen says. "Wes wanted to show the house in the beginning of the film, not just from the outside but the inside as well. It works with the music where the orchestra’s broken apart into different sections. He kind of broke the house apart to show it in all of its different parts, and thereby seeing the family and their relationships, and how the characters interact in these different and very specific ways, sort of diagram-style. That’s pretty hard to do in a location house."
The sets were constructed, therefore, with three sides, allowing the ability to track along them and pan from left to right, move up and down and reveal the various areas. Indeed, Robert Yeoman's camera really shows off Stockhausen's work in that sequence in particular and throughout the film in general. The house was "put back together again" on the stage after that opening bit, Stockhausen says.
Speaking of Yeoman, the film has a visual signature, like all of Anderson's films do. But the color palette, as always, was key to the design and how it would be conveyed thematically on camera.
"It started with basic kind of building blocks, like Suzy’s world definitely had a pink quality to it," Stockhausen says. "If you look at the sequence where Sam gets up from the pew and goes down into the basement of the church and meets Suzy, that’s kind of her world and everything is very, very pink. The clothes on the rack that he pushes through are all pink, and kind of everything about her is color-coded that way. And then Sam had his own thing, which wasn’t really a color as much as it was a pattern or a style. It was these Native American ink drawings of these animals that we kind of interpreted, and they became present on his canoe and his getaway tent with Suzy."
For the scout elements, there was baseline khaki but then plaid worked its way in. Stockhausen and Anderson settled on a plaid/yellow/khaki combo for that palette. Every character had its own inherent direction, too. Bruce Willis's Captain Sharp, for instance, reflected a black and white palette emblematic of his cut and dry, law and order disposition (ironic considering the depth and flaws his character ultimately presents).
The terrain of lower Rhode Island presented its hurdles. There was, for instance, the task of getting Captain Sharp's abode -- a big Spartanette trailer -- down to a beach area next to the pier where they built his office. "We sort of got all the pieces of that in the right geography to work," Stockhausen says. "It was certainly a challenge, especially after we chopped that trailer up pretty well and it didn’t have a lot of structural integrity left to it. And so keeping it in one piece as we got it down onto the beach was definitely an unusual sort of a challenge.
Then there was the fun of scouting all over to find the elements of Sam and Suzy's journey as they make their getaway from the confines of their lives. "That was a long process," Stockhausen says. "Everywhere we went we kind of would go off the trails and look for the most interesting little bits and pieces that we could find. And then Wes kind of assembled them into this journey."
Then the production would take actors Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward with a small crew before main unit shooting commenced to get certain shots. It would be long drives to inhospitable little bits of territory to get a scene of the two children crossing the rocks by the stream or crossing a little bridge or hauling luggage up the face of a cliff, which Stockhausen says was particularly magical and indicative of the rewarding design journey the film yielded.
"That’s stuff that you don’t get to do on every movie when you have to fit it into sort of the normal, 'what can we grab that’s around the corner from the restaurant location where we’re shooting today' way of going about things," he says. "That was really fun from a design and locations point of view."
"Moonrise Kingdom" is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.