David Rockwell, one of Fast Company‘s 2009 Masters of Design, has been just been announced as the set designer for the 2009 Academy Awards–for the second year in a row. His design for this year’s Oscars–the 81st–channeled the spirit of Busby Berkeley in Swarovski crystals, and no doubt next year’s stage at the Kodak Theater will be just as glamorous.
Rockwell describes a great job as “50 percent terror, 50 percent thrill,” and he definitely fulfilled the terror quotient with last year’s Oscar setup. The Thursday before the show, Rockwell told Fast Company, “A crystal leg in the curtain snagged, and it rained crystal on the Kodak theater. Then, everyone turned and looked at me because what had been a really good idea was now my idea. It was terrifying. It was ahorrible moment. And the stage manager, whose job it was to deal with all these actors who had never been on this stage before came over to me and said, ‘We can’t do this.’ So I had to make a spot decision: Take the crystal legs off, cut them down, remove them from the show, and I had to simplify the hanging plot … On a broadway show you have eight weeks to tech it. We had three days.”
Rockwell has showbiz in his blood, though–his mother was a Vaudeville hoofer, and he has designed a slew of Broadway sets, including Hairspray, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and The Rocky Horror Show. In the end, he made it sizzle.
As with many of the best designers and architects, the New York-based architect flits from project to project. Imagination playgrounds, the first ever Nobu, and the Walt Disney Family museum are all products of this shy extrovert’s big-picture approach. Oscar telecast producers Adam Shankman and Bill Mechanic profess themselves as “beyond excited.” Us, too! We can’t wait to see what the wiser Oscar show vet pulls this year. “One of the lessons from the book, Spectacle: It takes a huge amount of planning to make things look effortless,” he says.