Though the funky aesthetic of Wes Anderson’s stop motion animated Isle of Dogs and digital formalism of Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One seem dissimilar, both are personal films rooted in the filmmakers’ idiosyncrasies. They also share the DNA of Wisconsin native Adam Stockhausen who was the production designer on both films.
According to Stockhausen, a production designer “is responsible for the overall look [of a film] in coordination with the director, cinematographer, costume designer and everyone involved in the film.”
Regardless of what you read on IMDB.com, Stockhausen grew up in Wauwatosa, not Brookfield, and used to see movies at the former Ruby Isle and Mayfair Theaters. His family would go to stage productions in Milwaukee, Spring Green and Chicago and he later “did every job” when he worked at the Skylight Opera and Milwaukee Chamber Theater. He says the “amazing” art school at Pius XI High School “had a huge impact” on his artistic development. And he attended Marquette University and earned a master of arts degree from the Yale School of Drama. In 2015 Stockhausen joined the state’s list of Oscar winners for Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Today Stockhausen is at the center of two of 2018’s most talked about films.
Now Brooklyn-based, Stockhausen previously worked on Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. And while he has designed “digital set extensions” – where the foreground goes off into the distance – Ready Player One, about a world inside a video game, was his first fully digital production.
Despite the high-tech tools, “it really starts the same way, with ideas and discussions, sketches and storyboards,” created digitally and “refined before you spend money to build the actual set.” He worked with Industrial Light and Magic to create the virtual game world and its characters.
Stockhausen said Spielberg takes to new technologies like a fish to water. “The rest of us are trying to wrap our arms around it and he’s diving around using a virtual camera. Perfectly at home. Using it and explaining it to you.” He said Spielberg was adamant that his own iconic works were not referenced in the game world designed around 1980s pop culture.
Meanwhile, Isle of Dogs has another connection to the Dairy State: art director Curt Enderle is a West Bend native as well.
“He’s from where?” Stockhausen said, unaware of the Badger State connection.
He also didn’t learn that Oscar winner John Ridley was from Mequon until the two were doing promotional work for 12 Years A Slave. And he was unaware that Ready Player One actor Mark Rylance spent his youth in Milwaukee.
Stockhausen spent six months on preproduction for Isle of Dogs and left when Spielberg started shooting. Though Stockhausen was gone by the time fellow Wisnconinite Enderle began work on Isle of Dogs as art director, “[Stockhausen] slipped in again at the end as a pair of fresh eyes at its completion,” Enderle said in an email.
The two films could not be more different, according to Stockhausen. “One is entirely done digitally and one is completely analog. But both pay amazing attention to detail and camera movement.”
A lot of the work is done virtually, Stockhausen said. “I got very comfortable with screen shares on Skype where you can point and circle things and make notes on imagery simultaneously.”
He recently finished working again with Steve McQueen on Widows, which he said is completely different from 12 Years A Slave. “It’s a contemporary story filmed in Chicago,” Stockhausen said, “and captures the real city the way it is today.”