The film sets and production design of Maze Runner: The Death Cure and an exclusive tour of Ava Paige’s WCKD office
Maze Runner: The Death Cure, released 23 January, 2018 is the third and final movie in the Maze Runner trilogy (based on James Dashner’s best-selling book series), each with it’s own distinct look and feel. Wes Ball, director of all three films, describes the differences in the worlds where each story takes place: “The first film with the maze, was all cement and decay. The second story [The Scorch Trials] was the sand and rust of the scorch and this film, The Death Cure, is a world of glass and steel. They each have their own tone and color palette.” The film sets and production design of Maze Runner: The Death Cure are certainly worth a closer look.
The production of the film needed a location that would provide diversity – from the scorch, to the city, to the safe haven and everything in between. To achieve this filming took place in Cape Town, South Africa. The Southern Cape provided the perfect backdrop for the concrete fortress utopia ‘Last City’ with its tall buildings and modern architecture.
In the movie, the WCKD headquarters and laboratory is located within Last City, which has been built to protect the planet’s few remaining survivors from the The Flare virus. In creating the impenetrable WCKD building, production used the sleek design of the Cape Town International Convention Centre as the exterior.
With Production Design by Daniel Dorrance and Set Decoration by Anneke Botha, the interior and the WCKD Lab on the 20th floor was a massive set constructed in a converted warehouse just outside of Cape Town. The set had many different rooms and multiple long corridors creating once again, the feeling of being in a maze, only this time the Gladers were trying to break in, not out. The design also allowed filming to take place from one area to the next in long, continuous shots.
“Wes shot a lot of stuff in the lab,” confirms Dorrance. “Which was great: you feel like you’ve done a good job designing a set when the director wants to shoot more there; when they’re finding new angles they like, and wanting to shoot more.”
Playing the part of Janson, the man responsible rounding up the immunes and for keeping the facility secure, Aidan Gillen credits the Production Design of the facility for bringing a lot to all the performances. “The design is fantastic. It’s very easy to act on those sets, you know. It’s not like, ‘Oh here’s a white wall and over there it just stops and there’s a bunch of people standing around’. It really feels like a world that you can inhabit, like the real thing, because it’s all there. You know you can walk down that corridor and there’s another corridor and you can walk into that corridor and there’s a lab and then it brings you back to the other corridor. It’s quite easy to feel it. So, I think the production design plays a big role in this film.”
The scene in Maze Runner Death Cure which had our eyes on stalks was the dramatic and carefully considered office in the WCKD headquarters – the domain of WCKD’s authoritative, mysterious executive director Dr. Ava Paige (played by Patricia Clarkson). To help us identify this film set’s contents, furniture and decor we caught up with Set Decorator Anneke Botha to talk us through the details.
The furniture and decor details of Dr. Ava Paige’s WCKD office
“These sets involved a laborious process with a lot of planning and preparation” Botha told Film and Furniture. Ava is a hard and steadfast character and Botha explains that she wanted lots of straight lines and a distinctive palette of monochrome with gold and grey to represent Ava: “She doesn’t bend, she doesn’t curve”. Clarkson describes her character as “someone who truly cares for the immunes but she has a drive to succeed that is above all else. She has a very strong agenda, obviously, and people’s feelings, thoughts, emotion are not a large part of her life”.
We spot two beautifully placed lounge chairs in Ava’s office (seen left above). These are Ventura Lounge chairs, designed by Jean-Marie Massaud in 2011, from the prestigious Italian furniture brand Poliform. These chairs exhibit distinctive, angular and yet sensual shapes . They generally sit upon a wooden walnut base and legs but we note that Botha has had the chairs in Ava’s office made in steel to reflect the WCKD world seen beyond, through the grand floor-to-ceiling window. These chairs are an inspired choice by Botha. They could so easily have been a modernist classic such as a Mies van der Rohe Barcelona Chair but here we have something less obvious, slightly more mysterious.
The high gloss tiled floor reflects the dramatic view like a mirror.
The coffee table with the stainless steel undulating top is Mosaic by Okha. The table was imported from Sweden where it ‘gets beaten on a beach overlooking the ocean to recreate the exact ripple effect of moving water’.
Ava’s office desk is by Cecil Nurse and her desk chair is the Freedom Task office chair which for this film was re-upholstered in a Milano Pewter Grey. “Ava’s key tone is Milano Pewter” Botha tells Film and Furniture.
The visitors chairs in front of the desk were designed and made by the film art department as were the seating arrangements for the senators and business men. “We made them with wide arm rests, attached them on swivel bases and upholstered them in leather” says Botha.
Botha made good use of local talent too. The artwork behind the desk, above the side table is by Oliver Barnett, an English photographic artist living in Cape Town and the sculptures are by Vincent da Silva.
And last but not least, we see the wall hanging Maze art piece which sits loud and proud on the wall – an absolute must from Director Wes Ball we are told. This piece was made from stainless plates, raised in layers on top of each other and fitted with an RGB light strip so that the colour and temperature could be controlled.
Getting inside this world of steel and glass known as WCKD, Thomas and his gang of faithful Gladers enlist the help of Lawrence the Crank overlord (Walton Goggins). The contrast between Lawrence’s lair and Ava’s office speaks volumes about their worlds and personalities. “We really wanted to contrast the black and white personality of Ava’s against the organic cluttered world of Lawrence, both being ‘freedom fighters’ of their respective camps” says Botha.
Death Cure film set challenges
When asked about the challenges with the design and set decoration of The Death Cure Botha is very open: “I was apprehensive of the scale of the movie and the film sets and being able to produce what was needed from Cape Town – we are small and our suppliers are limited. Our designer understood this and we had total support from production, so we could import if we got stuck, to ensure we had the best of what we wanted on screen. The challenge, as always, is time and fabrication but Dan [Dorrance] knew this and we worked around our hurdles”. Botha also adds that it was tricky working in locations where her and the team wouldn’t get on set to prep until 20:00 in the evening and having to have the film set ready by 4:30 the next morning for filming – for 3 weeks solid! But this set decorator certainly loves her job: “I love that we get to dress something like Ava’s and then in the same movie dress something like Lawrence’s and the Safe Haven. I love being challenged, I love sci-fi and that’s the genre that I work in mostly”.
On her working relationship with Production Designer Daniel Dorrance she says: “Dan has full control over his designs. He always welcomes input but ultimately it’s his baby. He was a very hands on designer with Death Cure and is incredibly experienced. He knows all too well the workings of the Art Department. I learnt so much from him and he is very professional and patient with everyone for someone with his experience. We would receive the concept art but had the freedom to layer as we please, under Dan’s supervision and guidance. These are the production designers you want to work with, they get the best out of you”.
We thank Anneke Botha for sharing her on set experiences during the filming of this movie.
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