The Turning Point: Perfecting The Look of “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Grand Budapest Hotel production designer and frequent Wes Anderson collaborator Adam Stockhausen talks about the key decisions that set the visual tone for the movie (plus: bonus making-of featurette!).

The Turning Point: Perfecting The Look of “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
[Images courtesy of Fox Searchlight]


Any film that reaches a wide audience is the end result of countless choices by a broad range of players. The Turning Point is a series that examines the critical creative decisions made during the making of a film, and how they helped shape the eventual end product. In this edition, we check in with Adam Stockhausen, production designer on The Grand Budapest Hotel who also worked with director Wes Anderson on Moonrise Kingdom and The Darjeeling Limited.

Adam Stockhausen

The detail-rich sets always distinguish a Wes Anderson movie. Every room aboard Steve Zissou’s ship in The Life Aquatic is its own world in miniature, and every part of the house in The Royal Tenenbaums is awash in revealing residue from the characters who inhabit them. As The Grand Budapest Hotel rolls out in theaters, Co.Create spoke with Stockhausen about the location of the production and the team’s of miniature models, and how these choices impacted the whole movie.

The Location Decision

My first conversations with Wes are sort of broad, raw discussions about the nature of the script and where we’re going to shoot. In the case of Grand Budapest, it was important to know whether we were going to build this whole hotel, shoot in a real hotel, or take some other kind of space and turn it into a hotel. We talked through the implications of each one of those options, then we started pulling records and photographs. We look at these visual references together–what’s interesting about the ones we like and the ones we don’t like–and that leads to the next round where we start getting more specific and digging deeper into the references. Then very quickly we start scouting and going out and looking at places. That process starts online. Looking around for areas you’re thinking about scouting. Wes calls it “Google-scouting.” You can learn a lot about a place before you go.

On his very first scout, Wes Anderson found this department store in a town called Görlitz that became the interior lobby of the hotel and also our headquarters for the movie. Locking into it as homebase was critical. That put us in the Saxony region of Germany and we built everything else around this central hub. We found things on scouts later on that were distinct to the region. We were in a therapeutic spa in a hotel that offered mud baths, and there were these amazing mud buckets that were being pushed down the hall. Those definitely found their way into the movie. You don’t always know what you’re looking for; you go and see what jumps out at you.

Ideas Evolve and Grow–Even “Miniature” Ones

We decided early on to use miniature models for introducing the hotel situated on the hillside. Visually, that became a choice that had huge implications for the whole look of the film. That idea led to all this other use of miniatures throughout the film, the ski sequence for instance, and some stop-motion work we hadn’t planned on at the beginning. The seeds were planted early on when we first figured out hot to introduce the hotel, but the idea evolves and grows. We ended up using more miniatures than on the previous movies. In Moonrise, they were used after the fact as a separate thing, but this time it became more organically part of the process, and we were developing them and building them during production.


Plan to Allow For Changes In Plans

Wes does thumbnail storyboards first, and those get developed into more fleshed out storyboards and then those get animated together to get the feel of the scenes–how they’ll play out as a sequence. We didn’t really deviate very much from those, but in the process, we’d sometimes find a location that is better than the one we were planning on, and so we’d redo the storyboards with different shots in mind.

For instance, we talked and talked about where this Alpine train station scene was going to take place. One location just didn’t feel alpine enough or interesting enough. We went around in circles for a while, thinking maybe it would be a miniature, maybe we would build a train station, and how would we accomplish that. Eventually we decided to do it as a single shot approach into the station. Near where we were working in Görlitz, there was a little spurt of a train track with some cargo loading facilities that weren’t in use anymore. They let us take those over and paint them white, and make a pine tree area off to the side. We kind of established an entire space, but just from one angle. If you turned around there wasn’t anything there. What you saw in that frame was absolutely everything there was to see. Ultimately, we were struggling for the answer to something, and the difficulty pushed us to come up with a more creative solution than we would have without the difficulty.

Watch a featurette on the making of the hotel in The Grand Budapest Hotel below.