David Korins, 2019 Oscars Set Designer, Creates a Cloud of Majesty

The Emmy-winning, Tony-nominated creative director chats about what’s up his sleeve for Hollywood’s biggest night.

Rendering courtesy of David Korins.

David Korins has a fair share of feats. He revolutionized the Broadway stage with Hamilton’s famous turntable, built larger-than-life stages for larger-than-life artists like Lady Gaga, and partnered on experiential exhibitions with Sotheby’s, University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation, and Gagosian gallery. But for the 91st Oscars, he faces an even bigger challenge: a platform with no host but the eyes of the world upon it. Not to mention 40,000 real roses, and that many plus a thousand more Swarovski crystals, which not only gather into a massive ‘Crystal Cloud’ swelling above and around the stage, but also shimmy in a three-story swag of hundreds of glinting strands. Korins took a moment between rehearsals with Bette Midler and Queen—not to mention his other projects, including the Broadway-bound musical adaption of Beetlejuice and Hamilton: the Exhibition—to step into the Dolby Theatre’s grand lobby and chat about what’s up his sleeve for Hollywood’s biggest night.

So, right before the event, how are you?

I’m well! (Laughs.) No, actually, I’m really amazing. This is one of maybe five design jobs where everyone knows what you’re talking about. I had no idea it would ever happen or how it even could happen. But [Academy Awards producer] Glenn Weiss knew my work from the Tony’s. One night, when I was in D.C. rehearsing Beetlejuice on a dinner break, Glenn called and said he’d vetted me with the Academy. Are you interested and available? I swallowed my piece of sushi and said yes! He said, okay, you’ve got six weeks.

What did you do first?

Research. I reflected on old Hollywood, but also the year Bill Condon directed and David Rockwell designed it—the first time someone broke up the proscenium with a stage deck. It put the winners right there in the laps of their peers.

So to speak. How did the collaboration with Swarovski come about?

They have a long history together—crystals are iconic representations of glamor. They are perfect and manmade. I wondered if I could string them together, like pixels, to create atmosphere from architecture. The Crystal Cloud is like a weather event. It’s extraordinary, the way it floats.

Rendering courtesy of David Korins.

Is there a meaning behind it, as if there’s a cloud hanging over the ceremony, given the recent controversies?

Humans get stopped in their tracks, in terms of beauty, by three things: human effort, like architecture or design, where the feat of engineering is beyond comprehension; nature, such as weather phenomena or flowers, which cannot be explained or replicated in their majesty by human effort; and love. I’m trying this year to deliver all three in heavy doses.

Speaking of flowers, there are 40,000 roses? How do manage that many blooms?

More than 40,000. I live in Manhattan and kept seeing this billboard for Infinite Roses, who have a proprietary non-toxic, all-organic embalming method. It’s an opportunity to deliver a new texture. They are nature’s version of a perfect object.

Speaking of love, how do you communicate that?

In the Venn diagram of cultural events, the Academy Awards are dead center. But there’s no script, really. Production design is world-building, and I make the visual message of this particular world which is seen by millions of people at once. It’s fair to say there are hard lines being drawn in the sand—lots of rigid thinking. People have so many opinions these days. I wanted to make a clear statement about inclusion and community, so I chose to use almost no straight lines or right angles. Instead, the proscenium stretches out and hugs the theater. It’s more interesting to make everyone smile, lift an eyebrow, and say ‘this artist effort challenged me.’

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