“When we started this we wanted to put out a statement against nationalism, or upcoming nationalism, especially in Europe,” says Christian Goldbeck, the Oscar-nominated production designer for “All Quiet on the Western Front.” “We thought this novel was timeless. It warns us what can happen if you go down that road. We had no clue, at the time we started, that the Ukranian war would break out. Especially for the younger audience, it’s pretty gripping because it shows how a young, enthusiastic character can be used like food for the cannons. They’re losing their souls.” Watch our video interview above.
SEE How to watch ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’
Goldbeck met with director Edward Berger in August, 2020 to discuss the project. “We decided that authenticity is key,” he explains. “There is no beauty about this war, at all. I did heavy research deep down in German archives. I found photographs of this landscape dystopia. It was like a rocket ship landing on Mars, those high-resolution, black and white photographs. There were a lot of propaganda photographs already, but if you dive deep into the arvhives you find the real documentary photographs. Those are the ones we looked at. We wanted it as real as possible. We don’t only want to see the sets on screen, we want to be able to smell them. That’s what our approach was.”
The Netflix film about a young German soldier’s (Felix Kammerer) terrifying experiences on the western front during World War I has earned nine Academy Award nominations total, including Best Picture. For Goldbeck’s part, making the battleground appear authentic was key.
SEE ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ makes some noise at the Oscars
“We went to Czech Republic, we shot this whole thing in a 50-kilometer radius around Prague. The battlefield was about four football fields big, on an old airport. It was completely flat. The first thing we did was dig into the ground and see how the layers of earth were. How much clay is there? How much turf is there? It was only clay — very sticky, very bad for the actors. For the whole movie there’s not one inch of not-artificial ground. We brought earth to every square centimeter of this movie. We tested, how does the color react different kind of earth qualities of terrain? What happens if it snows? What happens if it dries out? How does it look if a bombshell explodes and what kind of particles would spread out around the crater? We did excessive studies about what we could do with earth. Our producer said, ‘Christian, what are you doing? When will you start designing those trenches?’ I said, ‘Look at those photographs. The first thing we have to do is create surface.'”
“The battlefield was the biggest undertaking,” Goldbeck admits. But he wanted to deliver the “maximum contrast” to that when creating the train the politicians were meeting aboard. “The most expensive tea cups and silver spoons you can imagine. We built it from there. There are some photographs of it — there are some paintings of it. Me and my team designed replicas. It was basically built out of wood with the amazing crafts of scenic painters. All the chairs, all the upholstery, everything was designed. Then we combined it with two historic wagons we found, brought them to Prague and brought them into the forest. Our visual effects supervisor added two wagons to make it longer and the locomotive.”
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