Howard Cummings Interview: ‘Westworld’ production designer
You might have been shocked by the destruction of the theme park and the reveal of the real world at the end of Season 2 of “Westworld,” but not production designer Howard Cummings.
“It’s one of the reasons I signed on to ‘Westworld.’ It was that I knew this was coming, so we had been talking about it for a couple of years, so it wasn’t a surprise,” Cummings said during Gold Derby’s Meet the BTL Experts: Production Design panel (watch above). “I knew eventually the robots would get crazy and get out. The question is: What do they encounter? That kept evolving. I think the big challenge for that show is they were going into not a spaceship — the future was actually the real world and they were going in all different places. The challenge of that is: How do I take these normal locations and amp them up and how do we infuse things that we know is Los Angeles, but what does Los Angeles look like now and how could we predict what it’s going to look like in the future? That was fun and challenging.”
Season 3 opens in Los Angeles 2058, inviting fans into a futurescape that’s pristine, bursting with greenery and with nary bumper-to-bumper traffic in sight — a far cry from the usual dystopian futures presented in media. According to Cummings, creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy “specifically wanted non-dystopian.”
“It’s the setup for the show because you’re like, ‘Oh, they conquered global warming and pollution. How did they do that? Everything is orderly.’ But it’s all a setup for Dolores [Evan Rachel Wood], a rioter, who sets everything ablaze. The setup is better when you live in a non-dystopian world,” Cummings stated. “One thing that’s great is from the time I’ve worked on ‘Westworld,’ Los Angeles has been growing, so we had access to all these empty, brand new buildings that no one was in to shoot some of this stuff with elevated plazas, which all fit into the genre of what we’re looking for.”
A two-time Emmy winner for “Behind the Candelabra” and “The Knick,” Cummings turned to Singapore for inspiration to help with the sleek buildings and the new idealistic downtown L.A. skyline, which is a mix of existing and new architecture. Danish architect Bjarke Ingels also suggested Singapore as an inspiration and offered some of his own designs, which Cummings had been studying already.
“Convincing HBO why we had to go to Singapore was fun,” he said with a laugh. “In many ways, Singapore has that non-dystopian, idealized futuristic, every building says its own thing kind of statement that we wanted. They had that everywhere. Every car overpass had greenery. I talked to one of the hoteliers and they said when they built the hotel, they figured out how much greenery they were displacing by the footprint of the hotel and the doubled it vertically. So it’s really interesting. … Bjarke actually also felt Singapore was the place to go. And he also let us use some of his projects when the visual effects department was creating the virtual Los Angeles. We used a lot of his projects, which was great.”