The Meaning Behind Oscars’ ‘Hollywood Portal’ Set Revealed

Oscars production designer David Korins told LA Mag: ”There’s a version of the last two years that’s devastating, incomprehensible. Yet there’s also a version of the last two years that is incredibly hopeful.”

The 94th annual Academy Awards has come and gone, and on Sunday when more than half the town was getting into their hair and makeup as they awaited for Hollywood’s biggest night of the year to commence, Oscars production designer David Korins was finally ready to relax.

The 45-year-old Emmy winning wunderkind has designed sets for Broadway’s Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, Beetlejuice, plus television specials with Elton John, as well as an episode of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. The Oscars set he was hired to create back in November—his second after designing his first one for the awards in 2019—was posted to his Instagram with even more bells, whistles and imagination than ever before.

Los Angeles talked to Korins before the telecast about the result of his creation, which he describes as “a look back to Hollywood’s past and a portal into its future.”

LA Mag: This is your second Oscars. How is different?

DK: The first time you do it, you have no idea what you’re doing. Now at least I have some idea. The Oscars are like a snapshot of the way the world is in this moment. The first time, Hollywood was in the throws of the #MeToo movement and I felt it was important to make a statement about the power of the female. Every single awards show I’d seen until that point was rectilinear and masculine. I decided 2019 called for more feminine expression. This year, we are coming back to The Dolby for the first time in years. We’ve lived through this unbelievably tumultuous time. I felt like it was important to comment on where we had been and where we’re going. The Academy Awards is celebrating some of the greatest storytellers alive; people look to those storytellers to be our due-north or Rosetta Stone of the future. We’ve tried to acknowledge all that’s going on, and paint the picture of what the world will look like when people look back at 2022’s Oscars.

LAMag: What was your directive from this year’s producers?

DK: In our first conversation, they told me, “We want this to be fun. We want this to be dynamic, exciting, kinetic… we want you to use all the tools you have in your Broadway lexicon as far as moving scenery from one place to the next. And then they were like, “Go! So I went!” This thing took four months to build. And we had about five weeks to design it.

LAMag: What was your jumping off point?

DK:  You start with conversation, a lot of research. I looked back to old Hollywood iconography like Austrian curtains, beautiful chandeliers—old fabulous Hollywood. Then I looked at optical illusion. I’ve always been fascinated by things that make you sit up. Television tends to flatten everything out. But even with flat scenery, I wanted a sense of depth and dimensionality. Optical illusions do that. So I did a hybrid, I tried to make these old Hollywood icons conflate and swirl together with optical illusions. The baby my team created is what I call this portal into the future. We pushed the stage WAY out into the audience: 70 feet. It puts the performers, the recipients and presenters right there immersed in their peers. That’s totally changed the intimacy of the show.

LAMag: Is there a lot of interaction between the stage and the audience?

DK: Major. It’s a fully immersive show that dictated a lot of new camera angles and new developments with regard to technology that’s kind of thrilling to see. It will be cool to see what people think—even the haters. The set’s inspired by things you see in nature, in architecture, the aforementioned things I found in research. But really it’s inspired by this idea of a portal. I’m trying to tell this story to invite people into this magic world. We desperately need some great escapism.

LAMag: What story are you telling about the complicated moment the world finds itself in now?

DK: The last couple years have been horribly challenging. I know this palpably because I work in live events. We got decimated—the entire Broadway community. And I have two kids in school, they were at home. There’s a version of the last two years that’s devastating–incomprehensible. Yet there’s also a version of the last two years that is incredibly hopeful, in which we’ve collected a bunch of silver linings. I never would have spent as much time with my children as I got to. A lot of people I know did a lot of really substantive work on themselves. So to me, this portal is one that is a transitional moment. it’s responding to this visceral inflection point. I’m showing a version that is hopeful. Yes, we are in a transition. But we are showing 5000 linear feeds of LED technology literally imbedded into every single piece of technology, so we can change the color of EVERYTHING. But every single thing glows from the inside. It’s buoyant and alive and sizzling with light emitting technology. And a lot of Swarovski crystals!