Production Design Porn: A Visual Retrospective of Martin Scorsese’s Films

Martin Scorsese’s production designers thoroughly master his vision bringing the unique gritty worlds of Martin Scorsese’s films to life.

“Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.” -Martin Scorsese

From the mean streets of New York City to the days of Christ in desolate landscapes to the vast beauty of Paris in the 1930’s, let there be no question that Martin Scorsese is a master of visual storytelling. Great filmmakers don’t stop telling the story on the page, in the camera or in the cut, they continue to use the tool of environment and space: production design. Often times in Scorsese’s films the environment is another character. New York City is his most prominent character no matter which decade he sets his story.

The quote above is an important one for me and one I use very often when designing a film. What you have in the frame is as important as what you leave out. Everything you have in the frame is part of telling the story. It’s the details of the graphics in Travis Bickle’s apartment which were written into the script to the branded poker chips which you may have not noticed in Casino to the tiny tools dressed on the desk in Hugo’s living space, that make Scorsese’s worlds all-encompassing and believable. In a Scorsese film the one thing you can always count on is that every detail is accounted for.

Now obviously Scorsese himself does not implement these details but he demands the very best from his crew. Luckily, success has awarded him the opportunities to work with the very best in Production Design. His work with Production Designer Dante Ferretti is particularly epic and their collaborations together always leave me breathless. Hiring the right people, as they say, is half the battle.

So here now are those worlds. I warn you there are spoilers and violence ahead.


Martin Scorsese production design | Martin Scorsese Films | Director Martin Scorsese sitting in metal chair with white cushions in front of greenery in navy suit with glasses

Director, Martin Scorsese


The Martin Scorsese Production Design Aesthetic


Who’s That Knocking At My Door (1967)

Who’s That Knocking At My Door (1967)

Slideshow

J.R. is a typical Italian-American on the streets of New York. When he gets involved with a local girl, he decides to get married and settle down, but when he learns that she was once raped, he cannot handle it.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Club Designer: Victor Magnotta
Production Designer: none
Art Director: none


Mean Streets (1973)

Mean Streets (1973) | Martin Scorsese production design | Martin Scorsese Films | Harvey Keitel sitting at bar with red lighting

Slideshow

A small-time hood aspires to work his way up the ranks of a local mob.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: none
Art Director: none


Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974) | Martin Scorsese production design | Martin Scorsese Films | Ellen Burstyn waitressing at diner looking at Kris Kristofferson

Slideshow

A recently widowed woman is on the road with her precocious young son, determined to make a new life for herself as a singer.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Toby Carr Rafelson


Taxi Driver (1976)

Taxi Driver (1976) | Martin Scorsese production design | Martin Scorsese Films | Robert DeNiro clenching fist over stove in kitchen

Slideshow

A mentally unstable veteran works as a nighttime taxi driver in New York City, where the perceived decadence and sleaze fuels his urge for violent action by attempting to liberate a presidential campaign worker and an underage prostitute.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Art Director: Charles Rosen
Set Decorator: Herbert F. Mulligan


New York, New York (1977)

New York, New York (1977)

Slideshow

An egotistical saxophonist and a young singer meet on V-J Day and embark upon a strained and rocky romance, even as their careers begin a long, up-hill climb.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Boris Leven
Art Director: Harry Kemm
Set Decorator: Robert De Vestel & Ruby R. Levitt


Raging Bull (1980)

Slideshow

The life of boxer Jake LaMotta, as the violence and temper that leads him to the top in the ring destroys his life outside of it.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Gene Rudolf
Art Director:  Alan Manser (L.A) & Kirk Axtell (L.A)
Set Decorator: Phil Abramson & Frederic C. Weiler


The King of Comedy (1983)

Slideshow

Rupert Pupkin is a passionate yet unsuccessful comic who craves nothing more than to be in the spotlight and to achieve this, he stalks and kidnaps his idol to take the spotlight for himself.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Boris Leven
Art Director: Lawrence Miller & Edward Pisoni
Set Decorator: George DeTitta Sr. & Daniel Robert


After Hours (1985)

Slideshow

An ordinary word processor has the worst night of his life after he agrees to visit a girl in Soho who he met that evening at a coffee shop.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Jeffrey Townsend
Art Director: Stephen J. Lineweaver
Set Decorator: Leslie A. Pope


The Color of Money (1996)

Slideshow

Fast Eddie Felson teaches a cocky but immensely talented protégé the ropes of pool hustling, which in turn inspires him to make an unlikely comeback.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Boris Leven
Set Decorator: Karen O’Hara


The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Slideshow

The life of Jesus Christ, his journey through life as he faces the struggles all humans do, and his final temptation on the cross.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: John Beard
Art Director: Andrew Sanders
Set Decorator: Giorgio Desideri


Goodfellas (1990)

Slideshow

The story of Henry Hill and his life in the mob, covering his relationship with his wife Karen Hill and his mob partners Jimmy Conway and Tommy DeVito in the Italian-American crime syndicate.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Kristi Zea
Art Director: Maher Ahmad
Set Decorator: Leslie Bloom


Cape Fear (1991)

Slideshow

A convicted rapist, released from prison after serving a fourteen-year sentence, stalks the family of the lawyer who originally defended him.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Henry Bumstead
Art Director: Jack G. Taylor Jr.
Set Decorator: Alan Hicks


The Age of Innocence (1993)

Slideshow

A tale of nineteenth-century New York high society in which a young lawyer falls in love with a woman separated from her husband, while he is engaged to the woman’s cousin.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Dante Ferretti
Art Director: Speed Hopkins
Set Decorator: Robert J. Franco & Amy Marshall


Casino (1995)

Slideshow

A tale of greed, deception, money, power, and murder occur between two best friends: a mafia enforcer and a casino executive, compete against each other over a gambling empire, and over a fast living and fast loving socialite.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Dante Ferretti
Art Director: Jack G. Taylor Jr.
Set Decorator: Rick Simpson


Kundun (1997)

Slideshow

From childhood to adulthood, Tibet’s fourteenth Dalai Lama deals with Chinese oppression and other problems.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Dante Ferretti
Art Director: Alan Tomkins
Set Decorator: Francesca Lo Schiavo


Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

Slideshow

Haunted by the patients he failed to save, an extremely burned-out Manhattan ambulance paramedic fights to maintain his sanity over three fraught and turbulent nights.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Dante Ferretti
Art Director: Robert Guerra
Set Decorator: William F. Reynolds


Gangs of New York (2002)

Slideshow

In 1862, Amsterdam Vallon returns to the Five Points area of New York City seeking revenge against Bill the Butcher, his father’s killer.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Dante Ferretti
Art Director: Stefano Maria Ortolani
Set Decorator: Francesca Lo Schiavo


The Aviator (2004)

Slideshow

A biopic depicting the early years of legendary Director and aviator Howard Hughes’ career from the late 1920s to the mid 1940s.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Dante Ferretti
Art Director: Robert Guerra & Claude Paré
Set Decorator: Francesca Lo Schiavo


The Departed (2006)

Slideshow

An undercover cop and a mole in the police attempt to identify each other while infiltrating an Irish gang in South Boston.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Kristi Zea
Art Director: Teresa Carriker-Thayer
Set Decorator: Leslie E. Rollins


Shutter Island (2010)

Slideshow

In 1954, a U.S. Marshal investigates the disappearance of a murderer, who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Dante Ferretti
Art Director: Robert Guerra
Set Decorator: Francesca Lo Schiavo


Hugo (2011)

Slideshow

In Paris in 1931, an orphan named Hugo Cabret, who lives in the walls of a train station, is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Dante Ferretti
Set Decorator: Francesca Lo Schiavo


The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Slideshow

Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stock-broker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Bob Shaw
Art Director: Chris Shriver
Set Decorator: Ellen Christiansen


Silence (2016)

Slideshow

In the 17th century, two Portuguese Jesuit priests travel to Japan in an attempt to locate their mentor, who is rumored to have committed apostasy, and to propagate Catholicism.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Designer: Dante Ferretti
Supervising Art Director: Wen-Ying Huang
Set Decorator: Francesca Lo Schiavo


What is your favourite Scorsese film? Why does it resonate with you?

Posted by Rose Lagacé

Rose Lagacé is a production designer for film & television by day and an emerging filmmaker by night. Rose is also the creator and editor of Art Departmental where she celebrates the art and craft of production design.

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