Rick Heinrichs Q&A: ‘Big Eyes’ production design
"I think that people are going to … see it as a departure for Tim's work," says production designer Rick Heinrichs about "Big Eyes," the new film from quirky auteur Tim Burton, known for his fantastical vision in such films as "Batman" (1989), "Edward Scissorhands" (1990), and "Sweeney Todd" (2007).
"Big Eyes" finds the director working in a much more realistic tone, telling the true story of painter Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), who for years allowed her work to be credited to her charlatan husband Walter (Christoph Waltz). On paper, this seems like a far cry from the director's past tales of eccentric loners, yet Heinrichs, who won an Oscar for Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" (1999), doesn’t quite see it that way.
"I think that everybody … feels they have a sense of what Tim's work is like, based on quite a bit of his work," says the designer, but he goes on to emphasize that "it's very important for people to realize that this still is very much within his own canon of films. It's a biographical story … I think the fact of that means he approaches it in a certain way, but if you look at what it's about – a kind of oddball artist who has their own vision of the world, working in isolation, oftentimes at odds with that world – so many of his movies have that as an undercurrent theme."
This is Heinrich’s fifth collaboration with Burton, having previously designed "Sleepy Hollow," "Planet of the Apes" (2001), "Dark Shadows" (2012), and "Frankenweenie" (2012). The two first met working at Disney, where they "fell into a working relationship of mutual development of ideas." Heinrichs says of his frequent collaborator, "He’s got a very strong art-direction sensibility: Tim's focus is on … his story and characters, and how this sort of singular vision can support that. When I work with Tim, I find I'm best able to support his kind of singular vision by expanding upon what I see and am sensing what he's going for."
Although Heinrichs didn't meet Keene until after production had wrapped, he was granted access to her work through the artist's gallery, and studied the research done by screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. "I'd never worked on a film where I'd had so many kind of historical documents," he says of the many materials gathered about Margaret and Walter's life, adding, "It was interesting to be dealing with something in the near past like that which we had so much nonfictional information on." Heinrichs rifled through several photos and profiles of the artist and her husband, calling the experience "an anthropological dig."
In addition to his "Sleepy Hollow" win, Heinrichs received Academy Award nominations for "Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events" (2004) and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest" (2006). He's currently outside of our experts' predicted top 10 for Best Production Design, but should he be nominated alongside frontrunners "Into the Woods" (13/5), "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (13/5), and "Interstellar" (6/1), the odds may tip in his favor: every time a Burton film has been nominated in that category ("Batman," "Sleepy Hollow," "Sweeney Todd," and 2010's "Alice in Wonderland"), it has won.