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The Academy Award for Best Production Design Goes To Dune


Before the spectacle that was the 2022 Oscars even began last night (read: the Will Smith and Chris Rock altercation), the Academy Award for best production design went to production designer Patrice Vermette and set decorator Zsuzsanna Sipos for their work on Denis Villeneuve’s epic adaptation of Dune starring Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya. It was the third nomination and first win for Vermette, whose past work includes the Amy Adams-led sci-fi thriller Arrival and the Dick Cheney biopic Vice. It was both the first nomination and win for Sipos.

The prize, along with seven other awards including three short film categories and best score, editing, makeup and hairstyling, and sound, was announced during a preshow created this year in an effort to trim down the main show. The move was widely criticized, with the Set Decorators Society of America even sending an open letter to the Academy back in February.

Chalamet’s character Paul Atreides on the planet Arrakis.

Photo: Chia Bella James

Nevertheless, Vermette and Sipos gracefully accepted their award, with the production designer calling it “the pinnacle of 30—32 years of work.” He also thanked late filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée, who died in December and directed some of the most stylistically striking television series in recent years including Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects, as well as the Oscar-winning 2013 drama Dallas Buyers Club. “Thank you because you believed in me very early on in my career.”

An early scene on the planet Caladan.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

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For Dune, which is set on fictional planets in the year 10,191, was mostly filmed at Origo Studios in Budapest and was mostly built on sound stages despite the futuristic look viewers might think is all special effects. “Denis’s approach is always to have sets that are as immersive as possible,” Vermette told AD back in October. Most of the action takes place on planet Arrakis, where the sets consisted of large, partially underground palaces made of thick stone. Light wells are more prevalent than windows, and the buildings are quite angular to allow the 750-kilometer-per-hour sandstorms to roll right off of them. The result is striking, and calls to mind WW II bunkers, Mesopotamian ziggurats, Egyptian and Aztec pyramids, brutalist architecture, and even the Italian 1960s and ’70s design collective Superstudio.


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