04 March 2016

Habitat, no. 12

From the looks of it, the architecture in Ben Wheatley’s film adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise doesn’t much reflect that of the novel’s Brutalist-era 1970s setting. But in an interview from latest Creative Review, designers Michael Eaton and Felicity Hickson talk about how pulled from a variety of Retro- stylistic sources to give the film a particular type of unified atmosphere in terms of graphics and typography:

CR: What research do you do for a film like this, set in the recent past?

ME: It was a really fun one – from a design point of view, everything just looked so cool from that time. ...We had fonts on the office wall that Ben and Mark Tildesley, the production designer, liked – certain things would have their own font; the high rise itself, the supermarket and everything had a sort of ‘brand’ within the building. So from the start, you were aware of how you could stick to a certain aesthetic.

...We realised when we saw the shelves just how much it would take to fill the space. We looked at references for that – Andreas Gursky’s shots of supermarkets with loads of repeats of the same packaging, that was the starting point. We also looked at old images of phone books, any kind of instructional manual, toy kits.

We looked at covers of things, such as Penguin books and magazines. Also, the buyers on the film would be out buying props and every so often they’d come in with, say, a box of comics, or TV guides from the 70s. So we had all this great stuff lying around the office we could look through.

CR: [The products seen in the supermarket set] have the feel of Sainsbury’s own-brand packaging from the 1960s and 70s.

FH: They’re brilliant, I love the simplicity of the designs, they say a lot about the period and the quality of available printing methods at the time.

CR: Were you asked to reflect some of the more ‘atmospheric’ aspects of the film – its oppressive air etc – or was it more about reflecting a time?

FH: Both really. The ‘oppressiveness’ was in the fact that the products were pretty standard and generic designs that were quite quickly produced. I guess if everyone [in the block] has got the same thing, then that helps the feel of that era – and particularly what Ben was trying to create in that building.

I hadn’t realized that the film’s official site has a splash page meant to look like that of the architecture firm from the novel. And was also unaware that the idea for a film adaptation had been kicked around since shortly after the book’s publication back in 1975, with Nicolas Roeg being the first director in line for the job.

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