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How 'Project Blue Book' Production Designers Evoked the Golden Age of UFOs

March 4, 2019 in History

By Heather Corcoran

Designers fashioned a mid-century world visually inspired by Dr. Strangelove, Edward Hopper paintings and more.

To transport “Project Blue Book” viewers into the top-secret world of the U.S. government’s Cold War-era U.F.O. investigations, production designer Ross Dempster and his team were tasked with conjuring a moment in time—from scratch. The drama series, in its first season on HISTORY, is based loosely on the real-life story of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a brilliant astronomer recruited by the U.S. Air Force to scientifically scrutinize the growing number of saucer sightings, alien-abduction claims and more during the early 1950s.

HISTORY talked with Dempster, whose credits also include the recent reboot of “Lost in Space,” about how he creates environments that bring mid-century history to life onscreen and evokes the anxiety of the Atomic Age and the mystery of the unknown.

What does a production designer do?

Production design is the world in which our characters inhabit. It’s my job, along with the director and director of photography [DP], to make sure we come up with something creative that pushes the story along, makes it believable, and absorbs the audience.

Concept drawing, top, and set photo of the Project Blue Book headquarters reception room, which was designed to evoke the federal Art Deco look of the 1920s and ’30s. CREDIT: Drawing Ross Dempster, Photo: Eduardo Araquel/HISTORY.

How would you describe the setting for ‘Project Blue Book’?

We’re in 1951-52, so you’ve got this post-war thing that all the characters are living in. Rather than making it scream out as stereotypically ’50s, I wanted to keep it in the realm of reality and show the time periods before that. In Dr. Hynek’s house, for example, there are antiques in the bedroom that were meant to be pieces that might have been handed down to the couple by their parents. Alongside that, you have modern furniture that they’ve purchased more recently. All of that tells a story, and makes the characters more real.

READ MORE: Interactive Map: UFO Sightings Taken Seriously by the U.S. Government

What mood were you trying to evoke in the key sets? Were you given a specific brief?

Other than the script, I didn’t have a brief to follow. I wanted my set design to evoke the period: the Project Blue Book HQ shows government frugality—plain enough with just enough period details to keep it visually interesting. …read more


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