All of the hyper-stylized and precisely composed imagery of Wes Anderson's oeuvre wouldn't be possible without the world-building of Oscar-winning production designer Adam Stockhausen. Stockhausen has worked on all of the auteur's films since 2012's Moonrise Kingdom, winning Best Achievement in Production Design for 2014's The Grand Budapest Hotel. (He was also nominated for 2013's 12 Years a Slave, 2015's Bridge of Spies and 2021's West Side Story.)
Anderson and Stockhausen's latest collaboration is the '50s-set Asteroid City. The production designer built the eponymous town from scratch amid the farmlands of Chinchón, Spain, with a motel, single-pump gas station, and luncheonette — each with functioning electricity and water. His team was also tasked with trucking in the cactuses and plateaus required to turn a Spanish farm town into the American Southwest.
In conversation with Asteroid City star Jason Schwartzman for the Academy's Trade Secrets, Stockhausen opened up about the unique process of production designing a Wes Anderson movie. "It's kind of not the normal way," he says. "At the beginning, there's a lot of 'All right, I know it seems crazy, but we're going to do it this way. Trust me,' you know?"
"One thing that was really interesting on this one was, because the place is gigantic but it's not as gigantic as a real valley in the desert, it's still using all the forced perspective tricks and techniques that you would if you were on a soundstage, just on a bigger scale," Stockhausen explains. "For me, maybe because it's not the 1930s and we don't do this every day, those tricks and techniques are a little bit like trying to re-figure out this older, interesting way of doing things. And it comes with this, like, 'I hope I got it right.'"
The production design on Asteroid City was "especially complicated," Stockhausen reflects, due to the meta nature of the project: Here, Asteroid City is not a real town; it is the set of a play that appears in a television special within the movie. For his part, Schwartzman says, "I've never gotten to be around something like this. For me, it was like this crazy dream come true that I never knew I was having."
Watch the full episode of Trade Secrets below.