Production designer Ra Vincent first heard about Taika Waititi’s plan to film Jojo Rabbit back in 2013 (Waititi started working on the script in 2011) and he thought they’d be shooting on a small scale somewhere in New Zealand, but that plan never materialized.
What did materialize was a bigger production when Fox Searchlight came on board and production began in the Czech Republic. With the area being tied to Nazi History and having baroque architecture, Vincent was able to find the perfect locations needed for the film to help visualize Jojo’s vibrant color palette.
Vincent was also tasked with building Jojo’s home. For that, he had an idea that Rosie and her husband had renovated the space in the 30s. Contrasting that, he also created Elsa’s space, a dark corner of this house.
Read how Vincent created the world of Jojo Rabbit.
I love the vision you had for this film and recreating Nazi Germany the way you did. Where do you begin?
I was fortunate enough to spend a little bit of time with the earlier time of the script back in 2013. Taika and I had talked about making a possibly smaller scale film that was mostly independent, maybe shot in New Zealand and confined within a house. But that script was shelved.
A few years later, Searchlight picked it up and we had the tools and finance to make a film on the scale that it deserved.
We were super fortunate that the best place to make the film was in the Czech Republic. It was an obvious choice, not just because of its history and its history during the Nazi occupation of the Czech Republic, but it also shared a border with Germany. The architecture and the period considerations were quite accurate.
There’s a vibrant color palette to the film because it’s through the eyes of the child, so how did that factor into your design?
In a way, Jojo’s experience comes from his relationship with his mother. Rosie’s character is a pretty sophisticated and stylish woman. She’s a single mother and she’s dealing with raising this young boy and keeps him from the unfortunate time that they’re living in. Jojo’s experience of the world is a slightly heightened reality. He has this notion that the world is not a treacherous and dangerous place. His strange idea of this imaginary friend is a complete fabrication. He has no real knowledge of Hitler as a true person. His fictionalization of this imaginary friend and the world that he lives in has an optimistic tone to it. As we go through the story, the tonal arc shifts. He lives in a house that is warm and inviting, and when he visits his sister’s room, there’s a melancholy shift so we use color to make that transition.
We’re introduced to Elsa who lives in this dark and dusty corner of the house and it’s a cold space. Those tonal shifts help to guide an audience emotionally.
We break out into the wide-open world and Jojo’s idealistic version of the world is falling apart. We’re in battleground sequences and things that are devoid of saturated color, and it helps drop us into his experience where his rose-tinted glasses are no longer colorful.
I love the bedroom because it’s almost fanboy-esque in a way with all the propaganda on the wall.
It’s hard to create a sense of austere and something stoic in a kid’s bedroom, but Jojo has this ideal version of himself. We’re introduced to this subtle palette there as well, so not to distract from the propaganda material that was on the walls of his bedroom. That works with his tacky and dark-colored uniforms and his personal flavor of clothing. That’s Jojo’s personal influence on his own environment that his mother doesn’t really have control over.
Did you build the house or was that something you found?
We spent a few weeks scouting for the house in Prague. The thing about making these films, if you’re working with location, you’re always going to come across some problem whether it’s the size or scheduling issue. Or maybe the landlord doesn’t want you to repaint the house. The thing about Jojo’s house is we spend two-thirds of the screenplay inside the house, so we needed to build it from scratch on a soundstage and built exactly what we wanted.
We built into it Rosie’s flamboyant art deco 1930’s version of a Baroque German stone house. Unless you were really affluent, those houses were really small with big stone walls and were hard to modernize. So, we came up with this idea that in the 1930s Rosie and her husband renovated this cottage, so the set design and the detail speak to that. We’ve got heavy inset windows and big chunky doorways. If it was an old Baroque renovated building, it would speak to the scale of the stone architecture.
The easiest solution for everyone including the cinematographer and gaffer was to build on a sound stage, and we could leave it there the whole time. We always had a place to go back to, and it served one of Taika’s directing style which is to allow performance to grow. If that meant having a standing set somewhere that you could go back to and somebody had something extra they needed to do, there was always room to go freestyle with that setup.