Art direction is the art of designing and populating a film’s sets and settings and crafting the overall look of the production. Detail is key here. Being able to create a huge environment with cool patterns and paint all through it is all well and good, but can you make it look like a place where people actually live and work? Can you make it look worn and aged like a real location would be? Can you find interesting details about it that give it that extra bit of relatability.
- Contagion: Most art directors make sets that look at home on film, the team who made Contagion instead made sets that would look at home on CNN. The film tasked them with making realistic government facilities, homes that look like actual people live in them, and also large urban environments that have been laid to waste by disrepair and mass hysteria. All the while it avoids the temptation to make these locations look “cool” rather than “real.”
- A Dangerous Method: Period “costume dramas” have long been huge draws for this category, but it should be noted that “costume drama” isn’t about royalty, it’s about psychologists. Consequently it’s filled with cluttered offices and overly sanitized hospitals. The film makes these settings seem less like gaudy “period detail” and more like actual places where people live and work. It avoids drawing attention to its budget as much as possible.
- Hanna: The art direction in Hanna serves an interesting purpose in that it plays a big part in altering the film’s tone and giving certain scene a sort of odd element of the fantastic. Of course the whole movie isn’t like that, there are many scenes set in very normal environments, but whenever Hanna gets involved with any actual spy shit the locations take on a very odd and almost hallucinogenic design.
- Hugo: The art direction in Hugo, much like the rest of the film, carefully walks a line between fantasy and reality. For example, the film’s central train station set seems like a pretty real representation of a train station circa 1931, but once you go behind the stations walls things get a little more fantastical. You start seeing elaborate clockwork gears and childhood hideaways. Also, this was the only art director who needed to compensate for 3D, for what that’s worth.
- Thor: If this were an award for most art direction this would probably win it by default. In making the film the design team needed to build a completely foreign Asgard world from scratch and meld existing Viking tropes with science fiction technology and high fantasy trappings. They also needed to do this on a large scale and they needed to add a lot of little weird details before overseeing a CGI team that would bring many of their elaborate creations to life.