Narrative by Design: David Korins’ Academy Awards Set

By Lauren Knight

Many acceptance speeches from the 91st Academy Awards spoke of inclusivity and inspiration; before these speeches were even written, set designer David Korins had those exact ideas in mind while designing the stage for the prestigious awards show. With an elaborate proscenium that remained onstage for the entirety of the show as well as several interchangeable set pieces, the breathtaking space combined old Hollywood glamour with modern architecture. Constructing a stunning design adorned with gold leaf, roses, and crystals, Korins brought his experience in Broadway set design to the stage of Hollywood’s most exclusive event of the year.

Korins has designed award-winning sets for some of Broadway’s biggest musicals, including “Hamilton,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” and “War Paint.” In addition to his work on Broadway, Korins also works with musicians and performers, developing concert staging concepts for Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Mariah Carey and more. With his integration into the arts across the nation, Korins has captivated those present at the awards show as well as the millions of viewers at home. With many intricacies to the creation of his sets, Korins took to social media to break down some of the details of his favorite pieces.


Image via @DavidKorins on Twitter

A common term used in theatrical set design, a “ proscenium” acts as middle ground between the stage and the audience, creating a “frame” of the stage and bringing a multi-dimensional aspect to the set. The asymmetry of the cloud in Korins’ design represents the nonlinear structure of the awards show itself.

“It was my responsibility to sculpt the narrative of the evening with an idea that we hoped would inspire inclusion, community, and hope,” writes Korins on Twitter, “The shape of the proscenium not only envelops and wraps around the audience but also reaches out to viewers at home.”

Sections of the proscenium extended out into the box seats on the first and second tier, so instead of this massive set piece separating the stage from the audience, it merges the two in a space that feels immersive and unifying.

“Crystal Swag”

Images via @DavidKorins on Twitter and Instagram

With 41,000 Swarovski crystals spread across 400 different strands, Korins’ 34-foot-tall design drew inspiration from waterfalls. The strands created two “streams” of crystals stretching across the stage, with one flowing downward, and the other flowing upward against gravity.

“Evolving the idea of a classic bead curtain was a feat of engineering,” explains Korins on Instagram, describing the massive structure and the inspiration that he drew from the beaded curtain as well as a waterfall.

When asked on social media where the crystals go after the award show ends, Korins reassures everyone that the crystals get returned to Swarovski, as the company lent the crystals to construct this set piece for the ceremony.

“Rose Ribbons”

Image via @DavidKorins on Twitter

As Korins developed a modern design adorned with classic red roses, he modeled the structure of this piece into a fluid sculpture sweeping across the stage. Taking inspiration from feminine curves and rolling landscapes, Korins constructed this piece with a mix of metal, gold foil, and nearly 20,000 roses to transform the expansive stage into a 64-foot-long, elaborate sculpture.

Click here to see Korins’ design for this structure come to life.

“Rose Topiaries and Segmented Oscars”

Image via @DavidKorins on Instagram

Paying tribute to the “Oscar,” the Academy Award trophy, Korins developed statues of the iconic award with red roses and segmented gold panels. Wrapped in brilliant gold leaf, each panel of the Segmented Oscars statue appears to have the metallic sheen of a real Academy Award trophy. Although these statues are not plated in 24-karat gold like the real Oscars, their layering of gold leaf gives the same iridescent finish of the real trophy.

The Rose Topiaries, made with hand-sculpted foam and 5,190 vibrant red roses, were inspired by the juxtaposition of man-made and natural beauty.

“Nature creates more perfect objects than people ever can,” writes Korins on Twitter. “I wanted to show the world a softer, more feminine version of this iconic statue.”

Korins’ intricate designs paid tribute to both modern architecture and classic beauty, intertwining both concepts into a set fit for a glamorous night of Hollywood celebrations.