Western Wanderlust

Building 'Westworld': A Production Designer's Inspiration Board

Howard Cummings explains his approach to season two of the HBO series.

Part Western fantasia, part sci-fi nightmare, HBO's "Westworld" imagines a dystopia in which artificial intelligence has run amok against the backdrop of an extravagant amusement park of the same name. It's a beautifully rendered world, one made possible by a hard-working crew of behind-the-scenes artisans led by production designer Howard Cummings. A 36-year veteran of the industry (his credits include "The Usual Suspects," "Magic Mike," and "The Knick"), Cummings joined the series in its second season, tasked with both ensuring continuity and dreaming up brand new worlds. Here, Cummings walks FOTO through the inspirations for season two's violent delights. (Pictured: One of several Western ambiance images that have inspired the show's look.)

A HOST WITHOUT THE MOST Nicola De Pasquale/Flickr Vision A HOST WITHOUT THE MOST A fan of "Westworld" during its first season, Cummings was excited to join the series for its second and was clear-eyed about the inherent responsibilities. "I had to respect the language of season one and then build from that," he explains. To that end, when it came to designing the faceless droids that help run the underground of the park's parent company, Delos, Cummings didn't look far for inspiration. He pulled the same references — including many shots from the "Body Worlds" exhibit, pictured above — used for the host manufacturing scenes in season one. "[The drones] are hosts — they're just like Dolores (played by Evan Rachel Wood). [But] you don't need the skin, you don't need any of that stuff. We just keep it to its elemental, white striking musculature." FORT FORLORN HOPE Prisma by Dukas/UIG via Getty Images FORT FORLORN HOPE For the season's third episode, "Virtù e Fortuna," Cummings had to create a bold new set piece within Westworld, Fort Forlorn Hope, which would be the location for an epic battle sequence. He settled on an adobe style fort — rather than a wooden lodge-pole style (think: "The Revenant") — typified by Bent's Old Fort in Colorado, pictured above. But Cummings eschewed the restored visage of Bent's in favor of a more ramshackle appearance. "The discussion about what this fort was and why it was forlorn is because this group of confederate soldiers are just constantly at war — they’re constantly under bombardment. So the Fort Bent's inspiration I took it as if it had been completely hammered and bombed constantly."

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"To me, [this] says 'Westworld,'" Cummings says of this ghost town in New Mexico. "It's not [a] pristine, restored historical fort. It's kind of lived in, beat up — a constantly evolving mass." Chris Becker Photo "To me, [this] says 'Westworld,'" Cummings says of this ghost town in New Mexico. "It's not [a] pristine, restored historical fort. It's kind of lived in, beat up — a constantly evolving mass." A WHOLE NEW WORLD DAJ A WHOLE NEW WORLD While drone hosts and Fort Forlorn Hope presented their own challenges, Cummings' biggest undertaking this season was no doubt architecting Westworld's Japanese-inspired counterpart, Shogun World. "When I watched season one and I saw the hint to Shogun World at the very end, I was like, Oh, that makes so much sense because the Shogun genre and [its] filmmaking [are] very tied to Westerns — it's a natural extension." It was such a natural extension, in fact, that after Cummings studied shots of Japanese mountain villages (like the one above) and visited the show's Western town set of Sweetwater, he realized there was an alley one block over that could be revamped with tea houses and cherry blossoms. "It was great for the crew," Cummings enthuses. "They walked from Western to Japan instantly." TO A TEA Ken Straiton TO A TEA Given that in the series, Shogun World's narrative designer (played by Simon Quarterman) cribs nearly all of the park's storylines from Westworld, Shogun's architecture also had to be a copy, adding an extra wrinkle to Cummings' work. "The 'tea house' structure had to reflect the groundplan of the Mariposa Saloon [in Sweetwater] because the action all had to match," explains Cummings. "Traditional Japanese tea houses aren't usually two-story affairs. You can see I found one Japanese house [whose] volume of space is really close to what the Mariposa Saloon is. So that was the inspiration for what it could be." And with that infrastructure in mind, Cummings' crew went about building a Japanese-style house (not just a simple scenery piece) in six weeks. For the tea house's interior, Cummings wanted to replicate traditional murals (like this one from Himeji Castle in Japan). "I just loved the kind of reflective gold and the way it bounced," he says. "We actually didn't take this exact mural but another Edo period [one that was] quite famous. It was a little bit like putting The Last Supper on the wall, but it was such a gorgeous image I just had to have it. We recreated that on these sliding panels to get the effect that's in this photograph." Werner Forman/UIG via Getty Images For the tea house's interior, Cummings wanted to replicate traditional murals (like this one from Himeji Castle in Japan). "I just loved the kind of reflective gold and the way it bounced," he says. "We actually didn't take this exact mural but another Edo period [one that was] quite famous. It was a little bit like putting The Last Supper on the wall, but it was such a gorgeous image I just had to have it. We recreated that on these sliding panels to get the effect that's in this photograph." The rest of the tea house's muted color palette came from period photography and artwork, like this image of a geisha playing the shamisen. "The hand-tinted colorized photographs of the time — I like that quality," says Cummings. To give the entire park its consistent, almost dull lighting, Cummings blanketed the set in silk, quite literally. "There is this super structure over the entire town with this white material that would diffuse all of the light coming in." Michael Maslan/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images The rest of the tea house's muted color palette came from period photography and artwork, like this image of a geisha playing the shamisen. "The hand-tinted colorized photographs of the time — I like that quality," says Cummings. To give the entire park its consistent, almost dull lighting, Cummings blanketed the set in silk, quite literally. "There is this super structure over the entire town with this white material that would diffuse all of the light coming in." A FILMMAKER'S LEGACY Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images A FILMMAKER'S LEGACY Cummings' most significant Shogun World inspiration, however, were the films of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. "It's critical," says Cummings of the auteur's work, a favorite of "Westworld" co-creator and showrunner Jonathan Nolan. "He's always loved these films and that's why it's found its way into 'Westworld.' I would say the basis for our Shogun World came mostly from these films. I did do Edo research as well — I think we have some of that in there, as well as the actual photographs from the time — but that's sort of stylistically borrowed more from the film." In Shogun World you can see direct parallels to the 1980 Kurosawa film "Kagemusha, The Shadow of the Warrior." For the show, Cummings mimicked the traditional pendants of the Shogun families (pictured above in a war camp scene), recasting them in the Delos colors of red, black, and white. Kurita KAKU/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images In Shogun World you can see direct parallels to the 1980 Kurosawa film "Kagemusha, The Shadow of the Warrior." For the show, Cummings mimicked the traditional pendants of the Shogun families (pictured above in a war camp scene), recasting them in the Delos colors of red, black, and white. DRESSING THE PART Heritage Images/Getty Images DRESSING THE PART The Westworld and Shogun World parallels don't start and end with sets — they're also reflected in the characters' costuming. While designer Sharen Davis was mindful of traditional samurai apparel (like that pictured above in a circa-1860 photo), she also incorporated bits of Western flare to visually draw a line between the Westworld and Shogun World counterparts. "The costume designer kept in the same color palettes as the wardrobe of the Western versions of Maeve and Hector, who is all in black and sort of rocker Western wear," says Cummings. "The Japanese version of Hector, Musashi, even though he's in traditional black cloth, it's all detailed with black leather, so she tied the designs together."



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