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An Interview With Annie Atkins, Irish Oscar Winner

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Every year at the Oscars there is always a small Irish success story, or a massive one when you consider indie musical turned cultural phenomenon Once. This year, the patriotic honour falls to the incredibly talented Annie Atkins. The Dublin-based designer was the creative mind behind the gorgeous graphic design and period props in Wes Anderson’s masterpiece, The Grand Budapest Hotel. The movie deservedly won the Oscar for Best Production Design, and while Annie wasn’t there in person to collect the award (that honour fell to the film’s production designer, Adam Stockhausen, who accepted the gong on behalf of the entire art department), she did have a sound down-to-earth attitude about the entire evening.

IMAGE Interiors & Living, always ahead of the curve, caught up with Atkins in the January/February issue, currently on shelves. The March/April issue hits newsstands this Thursday. Read below for Sharon Miney’s interview with the Academy Award winner.

I live in a shoebox in Stoneybatter, which I 
love because it’s right next to the Phoenix Park. Dublin is my favourite city in the whole world. 
I’ve worked in Germany on two movies now and each time I’ve missed home like a mad thing. I know Berlin is super-cool and has so many great places to eat and make art, but it does absolutely nothing for my heart.

My favourite buildings in Dublin are the Georgian townhouses. I wish we still needed cornices and quoins to make architecture work.
 I don’t really like the smooth surfaces of modern construction design – I prefer traditional shapes and pattern and texture. You know, places for the dirt to get stuck in.

Ireland’s best-kept secret is its production design. It’s funny to hear American critics raving about the art direction in shows like Penny Dreadful; they don’t seem to realise it was all built on a stage in Bray. The crews here are so skilled – the painters, costume designers, set decorators and art directors.

I tend not to look to graphic designers as influences, but rather to graphic ephemera. I love the letterforms in old sign-painting around Ireland, and I collect all kinds of paper junk to inspire my layouts. Poison labels, cigarette boxes, old cinema tickets, anything that has typography- before-Adobe Illustrator on it. I keep them safely locked away in my studio as they’re invaluable references for making period film props.

My definition of good graphic design is when it’s clear that someone is thinking about our tactile three-dimensional world – rather than just moving vectors around a screen and sending to print. Nearly everything we make for film has to work in an actor’s hands. When a student comes to see me with a box of beautiful things that they’ve lovingly painted, glued and folded, then I know we’re onto something.

My favourite movie is Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, but I can’t remember a single piece of graphic design in that film – maybe that’s why I like it so much! The films I enjoy 
for graphic design tend to be kids’ films like the Harry Potter movies, ridiculous Victorian costume dramas, or anything by Tim Burton.

A recent project I worked on and loved was the movie The Boxtrolls. The whole thing was made with stop-motion animation, which means we created an entire foot-high world out of three- dimensional buildings and figures.

Right now I’m working on Steven Spielberg’s new unnamed Cold War spy thriller, written by the Coen brothers, shooting in New York and Berlin. It’s set in the 1950s and ’60s, so it’s the most modern period I’ve worked to yet, and it’s a true story, so everything we’re making has to be super-realistic.

The one clever thing I wish I had designed myself is Eoghan Nolan’s ad campaign, “One Million Dubliners”, for Glasnevin Cemetery. It’s a great lesson in how to make something wonderful out of thoughtful typesetting and a stellar idea.

I recently discovered the Irish fashion designer Lucy Nagle. I’m generally quite scruffy, and things always get glue on them in the end – but Nagle’s designs are so beautifully cut in the nicest fabrics that I seem to be smartening up a bit because of her.

My wish for 2015 is to spend more time with family and friends. Work has been thrilling these past couple of years, but it’s also been way too consuming. For all my talk about type, I do know that there’s more to life than kerning.”

See annieatkins.com for more.

Interview by Sharon Miney.

 

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