Watching The Hunger Games at a press preview, both Angela and I were scrambling to jot down notes on the fantastic set design showcased in the film. Now, we have the answers to all of our set design questions. Set decorator for The Hunger Games Larry Dias was integral in making the film come to life, from the Appalachia-inspired homes seen in District 12 to the opulent palace of President Snow. Dias was nominated for an Oscar for his production design work on Inception, and he's worked on the set design for films including The Village, The Last Airbender, and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Keep reading to find out more about the process of designing the look of The Hunger Games. CasaSugar: I read that much of the decor for District 12 was sourced from local antique shops in North Carolina. How were you inspired by these antiques, and how did the look for this district develop?
Larry Dias: When [production designer] Phil Messina discovered the North Carolina location that serves as District 12 in the film, it just made sense to utilize the local antiques sources. In the book, District 12 lies within what is formerly known as the Appalachians. It could not have been more perfect. We found a number of dealers that had an abundance of unfinished "as is" antiques with rotting wood, peeled finishes, broken drawers, and rusty hardware, and they were items from the region. It was a perfect fit.
CS: The train car seems to have an art deco feel. Was this an influence for the look? How did you decide on the color palette and wood choices? What items did you include that seemed particularly important for these scenes?
LD: Phil came up with the design of the train cars, and the palette was an early idea that we toyed with changing a number of times but we always went back to the blue. The velvet I used in the upholstery was from Dedar, and at first we were having some trouble having it fit within our time frame. It was milled in Belgium, if I remember correctly, and we tried numerous times to find a replacement close to our original choice and just could not find a suitable one, so we played the odds and got it at the last minute. I'm glad we did because it had such amazing depth and was a really regal-looking hue that ended up being the perfect complement/contrast to the muted blue dress that Judianna Makovsky had designed for Katniss.
Of course we compared our swatches, but I think it really told a story when she entered that train car. The wood tones were chosen by Phil. As my team and I were sourcing the furniture for the train it became apparent that we would need to do part antique and part reproduction mainly because of quantities and also because Katniss drives a knife into the dining table! A lot of deco furniture is veneered, and we found a lot of great pieces that had irreparable finish issues or pieces that were too diminutive in scale, so we ended up finding some good reproductions that we could get quantities of. Because it was really difficult to get the woods to work well together on pieces coming from all over the US, we had our lead scenic Rick Riggs and his amazing crew faux finish the furniture to tie it all together.
A funny thing is the barrel chairs that play prominently were pieces that my buyer Sara Gardner-Gail found online, and they were really inexpensive but had the perfect shape. I had the legs cut off and added a swivel platform base, had them painted and upholstered, and they looked like the finest antiques. One of the things about set decoration is that you have to be ready to improvise as well as accommodate change. Unlike the design of, say, a hotel lobby where everything has been drawn in will not change, a film set is quite the opposite. Once the actors, camera, and crew are in the set, furniture starts flying, literally.
First, just to accommodate the cast and crew, usually at least one half of the set will be cleared of furniture, then as the shots and camera angles are being set up, the director may decide he needs things to rearrange a bit to accommodate a scene. It can be a little improvisational so having a few extra chairs, lamps, or occasional pieces hanging around is a good thing.
Keep reading for more of our interview with Hunger Games set decorator Larry Dias!
CS: The emphasis on eating and food really seemed to play into your tableware
choices — how did you decide on the tableware?
LD: The food was a huge part of the film, and Phil and I worked closely with food stylist Jack White. No, not that one. The day we shot the train it was madness, for lack of a better term. We had a lot of food ready but we had thought it would start "coming out" in phases. [Director] Gary Ross wanted the train laden with food everywhere, it was sort of a "all hands on deck" situation.
The dishware was a pattern we found that was just a perfect color to complement the deep blue tones in the car. The accessories came from a variety of vendors at the LA Mart as well as High Point, NC. We were helped out tremendously by the generosity of the showrooms; they really worked hard to accommodate our tight schedules.
CS: The District 12 penthouse that Katniss and Peeta share is particularly inspired. I love how the rich colors and textiles clash with the brutalist architecture. Can you tell me more about the "bones" of this set? Were you inspired by any particular architect or building?
LD: I think I can speak for Phil and myself . . . that was an odd set to do. Blue floors, magenta carpets, green chairs, and a 22-foot-long sofa? Phil was inspired by the brutalist era of architecture, and I think it was the perfect style choice. Not terribly warm or fuzzy . . . We wanted that space to be very stylized but very impersonal at the same time. The apartment is part of the whole training facility, sort of like the Olympic village housing of athletes crossed with a prison. Its only purpose is to house the tributes before the game, and since the residents of the Capitol are kind of vulgar and a little over the top, I felt our design choices had to follow suit. The sofa was definitely an anchor piece in that set. It is called the Non-Stop and was designed in 1972 by de Sede of Switzerland. I found it online in Palm Springs and had it shipped out to North Carolina; it zips together, hence the name. They have some great vintage ads for this sofa where the sofa is hundreds of feet long.
Check back later today for the second half of our interview with Larry!
Film photos courtesy of Lionsgate