INTERVIEW: Production Designer Maria Djurkovic and Set Decorator Tatiana Macdonald on The Imitation Game

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Art Directors Guild Oscar Panel in Los Angeles which included all of the Oscar-nominated production designers and set decorators this year. I was able to get in a quick interview with The Imitation Game‘s production designer Maria Djurkovic and set decorator Tatiana Macdonald before the talk started. Here’s what they had to say about their inspired work on the film. After reading our interview be sure to watch the video of their discussion during the Oscar panel below which is very informative.


Q&A

Art Departmental: Can you describe your design process? How do you start a project?

Maria Djurkovic: I always start with the script and then obviously there is the conversation that one has with the director to get the job or don’t get the job and then my first starting point is always the research. Always, always. I like to be as formed as I can be and then I also feel at liberty to exclude the bits I don’t want to use but I want to do it from an informed place.



Art Departmental: For The Imitation Game, where did you start with the research?

Maria Djurkovic: Well Bletchley Park exists as a museum so obviously that was the starting point and on day one starting on the film I went to Bletchley with Morten Tyldem the director so that was literally the start.



Art Departmental: You have a great sense of colour in all of your work so I’m wondering if you could speak a little bit about your colour palette on the film?

Maria Djurkovic: I think it’s probably quite bold. I was very aware of this period always being presented in a pretty monochromatic sludgy kind of palette and I mean there’s so much that came out of the research being imposed onto it that gave us a lot of colour. The uniforms with their red hats and the fact that the machine actually does have red wires spitting out of it annotated diagrams that Turing did himself and so actually a very big colour palette comes out of the research rather than us imposing it onto it.



Art Departmental: Was there any piece of Alan’s story that stuck out to you that you felt compelled to somehow put into the film?

Tatiana Macdonald: Oh, yes. All the stuff you see in his house in Manchester at the end of the film is absolutely based on the stuff he was studying at that period of his life.

Maria Djurkovic: Very much so, yes.



Art Departmental: How long have you guys been working together?

Maria Djurkovic: laughs 15th film together. Nearly 20 years now.

Tatiana Macdonald: laughs 15th, yeah. We go back to ’97.

Art Departmental: So you guys have done so much work together, how does your collaboration start at this point? Is it simply a matter of picking up the phone?

Tatiana Macdonald: Well, we’re always talking to each other. I always know what she’s reading and when she takes it there’s a lot of [happiness] and then I start two weeks after she starts and we go from there but we’re kind of telepathic at this point now. laughs



Art Departmental: What was your biggest challenge on The Imitation Game?

Maria Djurkovic: Everyone always thinks it’s the machine but I would actually say the biggest challenge was to do something different.

Tatiana Macdonald: For it not to look tired because the period has been gone over and over and over… and it’s the military and it’s the war and it’s Bletchley and you know there’s enigma and so you want something that had a strength but with Morten he didn’t want it to be too out there, the design couldn’t be too…

Maria Djurkovic: He was quite happy for us to push it…

Tatiana Macdonald: …of course but he didn’t want us to be stylised as he wanted it to be totally believable. You had to believe you were there.



Art Departmental: Which set was your baby? What was your favourite set?

Tatiana Macdonald: I’d say Turing’s Manchester house, (to Maria) wouldn’t you say?

Maria Djurkovic: I loved that one. That one was really lovely.

Tatiana Macdonald: That one just really jumped out of the page which was really interesting.

Maria Djurkovic: And then Hut 14 which was the one with all the radios because just to gather all that stuff was… it was extraordinary to have all that equipment in one place at one time, you know.



Art Departmental: When you’re faced with something like this, with this kind of task of finding these hard to find things, how do you go about it? Where do you go? What goes through your head?

Maria Djurkovic: I had a really great buyer who just set about putting ads into old radio collectors magazines and she found a network who collected these types of things…

Tatiana Macdonald: These old boys from all over the country…

Maria Djurkovic: So she spent quite a lot of time amassing literally one radio at a time. On day one she might have found two and so by the time we were about to shoot she might have gotten it up to 29 or something. You know, and that was doggedly going and sitting in these old boys sheds and having cups of tea with them and chatting to them and working their networks out, you know, and the components so that in the end Morten could say, “I want this type of radio for this scene and she could find it really quickly because she had an extraordinary network of old boys.

Tatiana Macdonald: Once you tap into those people who are obsessed with the subject it gets much easier.



Art Departmental: What advice or suggestions would you give for anyone trying to get into the art department or set decoration?

Maria Djurkovic: I would say, go for every single opportunity that comes your way. Don’t be snooty about anything and you have to be passionate to succeed.

Art Departmental: One last question. Hand draughting or computer draughting? Which do you prefer?

Maria Djurkovic: It depends on the subject matter really.


ADG Oscar Panel with Maria Djurkovic and Tatiana MacDonald


The Official Trailer


What did you think of The Imitation Game? I would love to know your thoughts in the comments below.

Gary McMonnies | @artdepartmental

Posted by Gary McMonnies

Gary McMonnies is an art department professional for film and television and is currently based in Los Angeles. His credits include 'Mindhunter', 'The Grinder', 'Battle Creek', 'Black Sails', and 'American Horror Story'. Gary has worked in England, South Africa, and the United States.

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