The honor of receiving an Emmy nomination for his work on “Gotham” was not lost on production designer Doug Kraner. He was previously nominated for an Emmy in 1983 for his work in “Little Gloria – Happy at Last,” and the work featured in the pilot of “Gotham” was previously recognized with an Art Directors Guild nomination. What excites him the most about the recognition is the process that must occur to receive the nomination.
“It’s so rewarding because you invest so much of yourself and have the privilege of creating this unique world with such exceptional collaborators,” said Kraner. “It’s so rewarding to find that enough people agree something special was created.”
The world Kraner and his team created melded the familiar concepts people have come to associate with the Batman mythology depicted in the comics and previous films, with a fresh take on the city of Gotham that represents the ongoing story of the series. “Gotham” executive producer Danny Cannon wanted the imagery of the city to be a physical representation of the moral decay and corruption running rampant through the streets. The team researched periods of New York City’s history, including the 60s, 70s and 80s, looking at the urban landscape and subsequent decay, to use as a visual launching point.
The architecture of the city features elements of modern buildings with classic imagery found throughout the Batman comics including Neo-Gothic and Romanesque columns and pillars. The buildings also float through periods, mixing together structural details from the 20’s and 30’s, and modern glass and steel. Decrepit brick and mortar is the glue that is commonly found holding the buildings together.
“The visual choices represent what’s happening in the world; it’s a metaphor of the society,” said Kraner
Once design concepts had begun percolating, Cannon and Kraner spent some time in LA conducting additional research and discussing the color palette of the show. They placed mood boards and photographic research around the office that they frequently added to and juggled around as they developed a deep and rich yet narrow in nature series of tones. They zeroed in on dark strong greens, dark strong reds and created a “background palette” of greys and dark ambers. Blue was used extremely sparingly.
“This allowed the costumes to move forward; to stand out like a relief,” said Kraner.
Pleased with the palette, the team became conscientious of the lifeless effect it could have on the production design. Finding ways to pull colors forth and add unique style to the environments were plentiful. Fish Mooney’s bar was lathered with splashes of rich red: from the tapestries and curtains to quilted leather wallpaper to the table lamps. The police station was another setting that introduced a lot of green and red tones throughout it’s multiple layers.
“The police station is a very exciting set. It’s the home base in many ways, and was the first set we started drawing,” said Kraner. “Danny knew he wanted it to be dynamic and multiple levels, to allow for interesting blocking.”
Kraner worked off the architectural concept that the building should be grand but also appear as if it could easily crumble if not taken care of. He used train stations as an inspiration for the design, looking at stations from around the world, specifically Saint Pancras Station in London and New York’s Penn Station. The final design features a steel structure with rounded arched beams and a Gothic/Roman cathedral ceiling. The subtext of the structure was to provide an almost sacramental façade, a building that services the public’s well-being.
Another interesting environment was the penthouse belonging to Barbara Kean, James Gordon’s girlfriend at the beginning of the series.
“We spent time figuring out how to approach (this set)” said Kraner. “We wanted to incorporate the old world but make it look like a place a contemporary, stylish woman would live in.”
The concept Kraner and his team developed was the creation of a new structure built into an old building. The front portion of the penthouse resembles a glass cube, while the back walls are covered with limestone. From every window, views of the city far below can be seen.
“She remains high above everything going on, but we never forget the city below,” said Kraner. “It’s always lurking just outside the picture.”
Kraner loved working on the Wayne manor as well, yet another very different type of environment that was contained inside the same world. When he looks back on the pilot episode, he fondly regards the strong collaboration he had with the episode’s DP David Stockton and costume designer Lisa Padovani (also nominated for an Emmy) in establishing the look and tone that would carry through the first season. Despite the joy he had working with many talented collaborators, from the producers to his team, Kraner made the decision to return to his home after three years on the road. He’s excited to have been a part of the original concept, and is excited by the direction Richard Berg, the series current production designer, took the look.
“He is a superb designer; it’s so wonderful to see the respect he had for the original concepts, and the new ideas he’s brought to his designs,” said Kraner. “He’s provided a new slant. That’s what you would expect every good designer to do.”