She's on Our Team
With David Rockwell film sets, design is a heroine's secret weapon
Rebecca Flint Marx -- Interior Design, 11/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Having conquered outsize glamour with his designs for W Hotels, Nobu, and the Broadway set of Hairspray, David Rockwell was more than happy to lend his firm's talents to the miniature sets of Team America: World Police, a Paramount Pictures political satire performed entirely by 2-foot-tall marionettes and the occasional house cat. Already a "huge fan" of filmmakers Matt Stone and Trey Parker—better known as the masterminds behind the cheerfully foul-mouthed cartoon South Park—the Rockwell Group founder and CEO says that he was "immediately intrigued" by their emphasis on a symbiotic relationship between screenplay and sets. "The film's politics evolved, but craftsmanship always remained a guiding principle," Rockwell says. "We weren't allowed to use computer graphics. And, wherever possible, space itself became a character."
Interiors play numerous roles. At the palace of Kim Jong-il, for example, long, dark, Stanley Kubrick–esque corridors underscore the isolation of the North Korean dictator—a "tyrannical, narcissistic, very lonely character," Rockwell says. Back home, the bedroom belonging to Lisa, one of the film's heroines, evolves with the concept of the character, from girlish and silly to adult and sophisticated.
Rockwell found few similarities between his role as visual consultant on Team America's sets and his previous experience with theatrical work. The biggest difference, he felt, was adapting to the needs of a camera instead of purely those of the story. Still, despite going through countless sketches with Stone and Parker, Rockwell maintained his trademark playfulness.
Attentive audiences will notice props used to reveal the humor innate to the marionettes' small scale. "It's sort of a visual Where's Waldo?" Rockwell says. Observe the palm trees made of ripped dollar bills, the sconces constructed of toy hand grenades, and—in Lisa's room—a lamp that's actually a Philippe Starck juicer.