Paul D. Austerberry Interview: ‘The Shape of Water’ production designer
During our recent webcam chat (watch the exclusive video above), production designer Paul D. Austerberry describes “The Shape of Water” as “a very bizarre film, but visually very interesting.” Directed by Guillermo del Toro, this Cold War era fantasy centers on Eliza (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor in a research facility who falls in love with an aquatic creature (Doug Jones). “With Guillermo being a very visual guy… you could see a lot of the things in the script already just in the words,” adds the designer, “so I was very excited for this film.”
The film is a delicate balance of magic and realism, and Austerberry’s designs had to straddle that line. “Guillermo is always very fantastical, but he really wanted to set this movie in a period,” he divulges. “So the first thing we did was we had four weeks of proper research done.” From there, “we do have to develop the more fantastical portions of it.” Though the lab that houses the creature might not look like a real scientific lab, “we decided we wanted to keep it in the ’50s, ’60s brutalist architecture to contrast the romantic, late Victorian-style style of [Eliza’s] apartment above the old movie theater.”
Austerberry has worked on such films as “30 Days of Night” (2007), “The Twilight Series: Eclipse” (2010), and “Pompeii” (2014). He recently reaped a BFCA nomination for “The Shape of Water.” It was one of 14 Critics Choice bids the film received, including Best Picture, Best Director (del Toro), Best Actress (Hawkins), Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins), Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), Best Original Screenplay (del Toro and Vanessa Taylor), and Best Score (Alexandre Desplat). It now competes at the Golden Globes in those same categories.