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Oscars Set Designer Derek McLane Reveals Five Inspirations for Creating Hollywood's Big Night

Oscars Set Designer Derek McLane Reveals Five Inspirations for Creating Hollywood's Big Night
Set rendering of 85th Annual Academy Awards; Derek McLane
'One of the themes of this year’s show is music in the movies, and that was a motif I started to riff on.'

Tony-winning scenic designer Derek McLane has a glitzy new gig creating sets for the 2013 Academy Awards, which will be presented at the newly renamed Dolby Theatre on Sunday, February 24. Mega-producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan gave McLane the assignment to design Hollywood’s biggest night after the duo worked with him on Broadway’s How to Succeed in Business Without Reallly Trying. Now McLane is primed to give Hollywood a taste of his Broadway-honed aesthetic when his work takes center stage (quite literally) at the 85th annual ceremony. We asked McLane to share his inspiration for designing the starry telecast.

1. Past Ceremonies: “One of the first things we did was sit down and watch all the Oscar shows from the last 12 years. We looked at what was successful, and I learned things about scale and size and colors that worked well. The floor plan—the actual layout of the Oscars—has a lot to do with how to make the show flow well. That was really a preamble to actually getting started on the design.”

2. McLane's Broadway History: “Neil and Craig wanted this to look like my work, and they cited a couple of shows I had designed on Broadway—33 VariationsI Am My Own Wife and How to Succeed. They wanted me to riff on those and make them appropriate to the Oscars, but they were very clear: We don’t want this to be a Broadway musical. It is a stage show and needs to work as a stage show, not only for television but for the people in the room. The more we can make this a great show for them, that energy will translate onto television.”

3. Oscar Statues: “I’ve had a fascination with repeating objects and the patterns they make, and in a way I think the proscenium [with repeating Oscar statues, pictured above] evokes the history of all the great Oscar winners who have gone up on stage in the last 85 years. They’re a little larger than real Oscars, but they’re small enough to become a pattern and a beautiful backdrop without necessarily over-focusing on the individual objects.”

4. Movie Musicals: “One of the themes of this year’s show is music in the movies, and that encompasses movie musicals, scores and songs created just for the movies. That was a motif I started to riff on, and elements of that appear on the show in very abstract ways. There were a few [design elements] more specific to music than to movies that I think people will fully understand. Most of the design is more abstract than specific.”

5. Busby Berkeley: “The proscenium arch/show curtain is inspired by [director/choreographer] Busby Berkeley and speaks to the golden era of musicals in the ‘30s and ‘40s, what I consider great, beautiful, giant soundstages where movie musicals are created. Busby Berkeley is an inspiration for a lot of imagery in the design. I don’t know if the audience will consciously make that association, but I think they’ll feel it.”

Catch McLane’s glamorous Oscar sets—as well as Rob Ashford’s choreography and performances from Adele, Barbra Streisand, Kristin Chenoweth and the cast of Les Miserables—at the 85th annual Academy Awards on February 24.

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