February 22, 2019

Behind-the-Scenes Q&A with 2019 Oscars Set Designer David Korins

Rendering of the 2019 Oscars stage design by David Korins in partnership with Swarovski.

Words like “stunning” and “breathtaking” are sometimes over-used in the context of talking about design. But when the work of a master designer like David Korins is up for discussion, they’re well-earned and often the only fitting descriptors for his monumental creations. Korins is an award-winning creative director and designer whose previous work includes designing the sets for “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway. Not to mention his set design for Fox TV’s live production of “Grease!”, for which he won an Emmy. Today, Korins is on-site at the set he designed with Swarovski for the 91st Academy Awards, taking place this Sunday, February 24 in Los Angeles. He managed to find a quiet corner on set to talk with Interior Design about his highly-anticipated Oscars set design, his inspiration, and what’s next for him.

Interior Design: Getting this commission and running with it the way you have is such a major accomplishment. Can you tell us about how this came together?

David Korins: So I knew Glenn Wise, who’s one of the producers of the Academy Awards show, through my appearances on the Tony Awards. I’ve been fortunate enough to have success on Broadway with the theater industry and have had shows on the Tony Awards. So I usually re-create those shows, be it “Dear Evan Hansen” or “Hamilton,” or any of the other shows I’ve done, and Glenn has been one of the producers of the Tony Awards for years. So we sort of knew each other tangentially, and I was actually in Washington, DC, putting up “Beetlejuice,” which is about to be on Broadway in a mere couple of weeks, and he called me, I was on a dinner break, and he said “The Academy has had a conversation, we have vetted you, we would like to see if you are interested and available,” And it took me about four seconds to finish the piece of sushi that I was eating before I said, “Yes!”

ID: How did you even begin to conceptualize the design of this incredible set?

DK: The thing about awards shows, like the Academy Awards, is there is no linear or written-down narrative. It is essentially the production design that becomes the narrative for the show. With so many eyeballs on the show, I think it’s a huge opportunity to speak to the world and paint the picture of one world that we would want. So what I brought up to the producers at the very first meeting was that I wanted the world to be one of inclusion. I think that there’s just too many stray lines. There’s too many “us’s and them’s”, there’s too much rigid thinking, there’s too much rectilinear thinking. So we tried to completely break the mold.

ID: Where did you look for inspiration in the concepting process?

DK: I’m a big fan of “be inspired by everything.” Really, mostly occurences in nature like weather events, the sky, garden flowers. Also, high fashion! Runway fashion and haute couture were very influential here. So was architecture; I think that you can see some Zaha Hadid as well in those crystal swags. You can see some nature-based inspiration in beautiful weather formations in that crystal cloud. 

I’ve tried to mix those three things: unexplainable natural phenomena, with beautiful manmade structures, and of course, it’s been created with a huge amount of love. Not just for the movie industry, but for, you know, human experiences in general. I’m thrilled and overwhelmed when I think about the honor that it is to make this narrative for this evening for literally tens of millions of people altogether. And I’m just so excited for it.

ID: Crystals, though beautiful, evoke a certain coldness and harshness. How did you counter that in the design process to make the set so warm and inviting?

DK: I’d say by using organic, natural, beautiful elements to just deliver warmth. For example, we’re bringing in 40,000 red roses, real roses, onto the stage [from OnlyRoses]. We’ve made an asymmetrical, sweeping design that is going to wrap out into the audience so that they will feel like they’re being hugged by it. And then, the way that we’re going to shoot the show is going to be different from years past. We’re going to do a lot of immersive and environmental camera angles which will, I think, really give the audience a way to feel like they are inside of the show. 

ID: You’re obviously very experienced in bringing complex set designs to life. Has your first time working with Swarovski and the Academy to design the Oscars stage taught you anything new?

DK: What I’ve learned is that much of designing the awards show is also about sculpting a message for the world. This isn’t like making a piece of theater you hope gets seen. The Academy Awards is something that, the second it shows up onscreen, it’s fully baked. The entire world gathers around their television sets as a community and then the conversation starts and it will go on in perpetuity in clips. And I’ve really learned a lot about making—I’ve obviously done large live television events before, but nothing like this. It’s been an interesting learning experience.

ID: Are you going to take some time to unwind once the full set is finalized, or are you jumping straight into another project?

DK: No, I’m full steam ahead. I am going directly home to New York City to go into tech rehearsal for “Beetlejuice,” which is a show that I’ve been working on for about six years. It’s an incredible new telling of that classic, iconic Tim Burton movie. We’re doing a massive Broadway musical, which I am very excited about, and I am the creative director and designer of the “Hamilton” exhibition, which is a 40,000 square-foot, fully immersive walk through the life and times of Alexander Hamilton told by the creators of “Hamilton.” I am the designer and creative director of it, so I will be spending time in Chicago. We put that up. Both opening days are April 25 and April 27, so I’ll be busy.

Before Hollywood’s brightest stars take to David Korins’ artfully designed stage, they’ll unwind in the sleek Rolex-designed Oscars greenroom. Take a peek at the underwater-inspired space

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