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HomeAwardsAwards Portfolio: Dante Ferretti/Aviator

Awards Portfolio: Dante Ferretti/Aviator

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For production designer Dante Ferretti, The Aviator was the sixth film he’s done with director Martin Scorsese, including visually lavish pictures like The Age of Innocence, Kundun and Gangs of New York. But he found creating the myriad settings for the Hollywood life of aviation pioneer Howard Hughes, though extremely demanding, also a special treat.“You can understand for someone like me who grew up in Italy devouring all those American movies to get the chance to re-imagine Hollywood from the 1920s through the 1950s was amazing,” he said.For the film, Ferretti, 60, came up with sets that included the fabled Coconut Grove nightclub at full tilt; the frenzied premiere of Hughes’ first movie, Hell’s Angels, at an impeccably recreated Grauman’s Chinese Theater; interiors of numerous airplanes from the first Constellation to the outsize Spruce Goose; the moderne Pan Am boardroom at the top of the Chrysler building where Hughes nemesis Juan Trippe held forth; and a Senate hearing room for a climactic showdown.“And there were also two very important public men’s rooms I had to do,” he laughingly recalled. The ornate washrooms were settings to demonstrate Hughes’ obsessive compulsiveness about cleanliness, which involved washing his hands until they literally bled in a wash basin, and then his fear of germs on a door-knob which he wouldn’t turn in order to exit.Preproduction started months ahead of shooting. “First Marty gave me all these movies to look at—he’s seen everything,” said Ferretti. Known for his artistic ability, the art director would make a number of large drawings six to seven feet long of important settings and numerous smaller renderings for the craft people to work from.Several of the big drawings Ferretti did for Titus, directed by Julie Taymor, are on permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington.When it comes to directors he’s worked with, the list is long and their magnitude is major—from Anthony Minghella on Cold Mountain to Terry Gilliam on Baron Munchausen. But it’s the way Ferretti began that’s most remakable. “When I was in high school, at the end of the day I’d go to Cinecitta [the renowned Rome studio] and do carpentry work to earn money.” He wound up art directing nine movies with Pier Paolo Pasolini, “he was my mentor,” and six with Federico Fellini.He also worked with Franco Zeffirelli, known for directing operas as well as films. And in the last few years Ferretti has done the production design for several filmed operas including Verdi’s La Traviata and Un Ballo in Maschera.Next up for Ferretti is a mystery, The Black Dahlia, for director Brian De Palma, now in preproduction and set to start shooting next spring. – Jack Egan

Written by Jack Egan

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