AS: Do you do a lot of sketches yourself? Do you have a background in art?
HB: Originally, when I was young and dumb, I went to school for fashion design. My father’s an architect, my mother’s an interior designer. I grew up with it. My dad designed the house I grew up in and I have his drawings for the house hanging above my mantle. I do sketch although I don’t as much anymore. I will always sketch what I want and give it to the illustrators, along with a thousand references.
Sometimes I’ll just grab a piece of paper and illustrate a room and then say, Okay, this! It wants to be this and then there’s a thing that comes out here. And then it goes over like that and in plan view this is what it looks like. And then this is the elevation and they walk in here.
We’ll sit down with each illustrator and say, like, This is the texture. I’m thinking something like this. I’ll have a very specific idea, like for Hall of Kings the idea was puzzle pieces put together. The influence for that was very much Mpumalanga in South Africa and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Once I hand that to the illustrator they’ll go off and do their thing and then we sit down again and I’ll say, Let’s do this and take that away. And then I’ll draw some more while sitting there. And after illustration it goes to set designers and the set designers have to make things that actually work in real life.
AS: Do you start with a very long wall with reference images up for all the scenes in the movie?
HB: It’s the first thing I do. It’s funny, I’ve done pretty much every movie with Jesse Rosenthal art director and he’ll tell my crew, She’s going to spend a week having you guys put up pictures and reference images. It’s intense!
This fabulous decorator I was working with on the Soderbergh film, Merissa Lombardo, was like, This is intense, man! Because it is. I get into that in a way that’s over-the-top. I do boards not for every scene but for the character’s life. I’ll do every board for their world. Sometimes every character’s assigned a color. I’ll talk to the director about what this means to them. And then I’ll find a shape for them and that shape then then gets carried through. When different characters are occupying the same space you get to work with the shapes and colors that come with their worlds colliding. You can have an impact on the psychology of their motivation, whether it’s violent, whether it’s passion, whether it’s empathy, by using this psychology of color along with how those shapes interact with everything.
Maybe this is the most difficult way to do things but then that’s sort of been my motto for my entire life! When I was little my dad was like, Everything you do, you do it the hardest possible way! And it hasn’t changed my entire life! It’s helpful for me to do things that way. Because you know I’m a big fan of Ferdinando Scarfiotti. He changed production design, especially if you watch his early work with the Italian filmmakers. You see the shapes and colors and the collision of those when different characters are together. That’s my aesthetic.