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Work / Set Design

Anna Rhodes on designing a time-travelling set for Oscar Hudson’s new Absolut advert

Art director and production designer, Anna Rhodes, has a real knack for designing sets for films, adverts and music videos that look inconspicuously real. It’s Anna’s job to take a viewer out of the mindset of watching a staged production and make it look coaxingly real. Through thorough research and a lot of experience, Anna’s the kind of art director who knows what difference a certain prop can make in evoking a time, place or feeling. For Absolut’s new advert, The Walk directed by Oscar Hudson, Anna was tasked with designing not just a room but a whole street travelling through decades of design in New York – and you fully believe it.

Back in June, Anna received an email asking to speak to her about a new job for Absolut and just a month later, “we were in a huge studio in Slovenia turning over on the first take of the film,” she tells It’s Nice That. The studio needed to be huge, as Anna describes, because sitting inside it was “two 55 metre-wide, 25mm-deep, and 8 metre-high New York street sets, connected by the interior of two bars”.

The need for a large set was due to the advert’s concept of delving deep into Absolut’s creative archives to advertise its new creative competition, and, in order to switch through time, place and design aesthetic, the team “built the Absolut street twice, but decorated it, with historical accuracy, four times, to show the eighties (and the genesis of the brand), the nineties, the noughties and the teens,” Anna explains. “Throughout the sets, we littered hundreds of Absolut references, including recreations of the iconic still lives the brand is famous for.”

Watching out for the Absolut references in the film is almost like a Where’s Wally book, finding posters in the corners of bar windows, on newspaper stands or seeing someone pasting one up on the wall in real time as the camera sneaks past. Oscar’s direction encourages this too, as “the camera and viewer enter through the front door of the bar and exit through the back, in order to travel in time by a decade to the same street years later,” Anna describes.

On top of Oscar’s directorial camera trickery, Anna’s attention to detail allows the viewer to travel through time seamlessly. This is first achieved through props; she began by creating a list of what the film needed which “was a feat of engineering itself,” she explains. “The prop make list was 136 rows long (and four columns wide). And we had a team of three graphic designers assisting me, working for a week on period-specific printed ephemera. I won’t mention the bespoke furniture and lighting.”

However the detail in designing the furniture for the set’s interchanging design is full of references from material used to cover the bar to evoke a certain time period and a lengthy deck with everything from screenshots of Madonna music videos in the 80s, Chloe Sevigny films from the 90s, and 00s bar designs with a Stokes’ lyric in neon lights too.

The Walk was made thanks to Absolut’s CEO Anna Malmhake and creative agency BBH whose team include producer Victoria Keenan, assistant producer, Zaf Choudhury, creatives Psembi Kinstan and Daryl Corps and executive creative director Anthony Austin. It is also produced by Pulse Films including director Oscar Hudson, executive producer Lucy Kelly, producer George Sanders, DOP Ruben Woodin Dechamps and, of course, Anna Rhodes on production design. You can watch the mammoth task all come together in just a few minutes below.

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Absolut: The Walk

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Absolut: The Walk

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Absolut: The Walk

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Absolut: The Walk

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Absolut: The Walk

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Absolut: The Walk

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Absolut: The Walk

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Absolut: The Walk

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Absolut: The Walk

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Absolut: The Walk