Finding inspiration from other filmmakers’ aesthetics can lead to innovations in your own film and video production projects.

All images via kaptainkristian.

One of the most visually stunning and unique production designs in recent history comes from none other than Spike Jonze‘s Oscar-winning romance, Her. The film takes place in the near future and is a visual wonder thanks to the work of K.K. Barrett and his consistent, grounded, and futuristic visual tone for the film.

The idea of art inspiring art is something that has become more prevalent since artists have access to basically all available resources via media such as YouTube, Instagram, and the obvious … Google. How we as filmmakers draw from this inspiration has led to some uncompromisingly unique stories that we can learn from, especially the work ethic and process perfected by professionals like Barrett and Jonze.

The essay is simple in its structure and message. Drawing inspiration from other artists is essential to one’s professional growth. Barrett found the motif and aesthetic the story required and ran with it, unafraid to challenge the norms of the usual dystopian color tones.

The Role of Production Designer

Creating a New Visual Aesthetic Through Production Design — Production Designer

The production designer for the film was also responsible for Jonze’s previous films Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, and Where the Wild Things Are. On top of this, he also worked on Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, a film with similar themes and visual language as we see in Her. So, as you see above, the production designer is in charge of these three departments (plus many more, depending on the scope of your project), so understanding the importance of a healthy and communicative relationship between the director and DP is crucial for everyone on set.

Creating Warmth

Creating a New Visual Aesthetic Through Production Design — Creating Warmth

The dedication to maintaining the visual tone of the film even spilled over to the cinematographer. For the interior shots from inside the central character’s apartment, the filmmakers decided to forgo any type of green screen in favor of practical lighting solutions from buildings across the way (I can’t even image how expensive these shots were) to create a natural, practical warmth in the apartment). This style of lighting is also textbook Hoyte Van Hoytema (cinematographer) who has adopted this way of lighting in his work as well.

This is just another example of how conflicting styles and methodologies don’t have to dampen creativity. The two professionals found a way to work together and figure out a way to realize the director’s vision as best they could, creating something entirely original in the meantime.

Inspiration and Beyond

Creating a New Visual Aesthetic Through Production Design — Inspiration

Taking other’s work and applying a similar visual construction to your own canvas is no new idea. Artists and directors have been doing this since the beginning of film. K.K. Barrett has said he drew inspiration from photographer and artist Rinko Kawauchi. Drawing inspiration from other photographers and filmmakers is always a good way to find references and inspiration. Just look at any Quentin Tarrantino film, and you’ll see just how often direct shot-by-shot inspirations fill his films.

So, let’s pull a 180 here in tone and theme. Another obvious source of inspiration in film history that led to perhaps the biggest contribution to a film franchise ever is H.R. Giger’s Alien style that led Ridley Scott‘s creation of the famous xenomorph. Kristian has covered this “inspirational” story of admiration and design before.

One of the most important production lessons from Her is how the filmmakers combined two cities and clever editing to create a futuristic Los Angeles that feels alarmingly feasible. The city is a character unto itself and leaves audiences feeling as if they know the world as well as the characters. This is perhaps a big reason the film was so successful. The group effort that pushed filmmaking boundaries demonstrates how crucial a good production design can be.


What are some of your favorite production designs from the past few years? Let us know in the comments below.