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John Paino - Production Designer - "The Last of Us", "The Morning Show", "Big Little Lies", "Dallas

Updated: Apr 19

The Design of "The Last of Us"

In this episode, I share my obsession with "The Last of Us", an HBO show based on a video game with a heart-pumping storyline, great acting, costumes, lighting, and especially sets. To talk about its brilliant production design, the speaker interviews John Paino, the show's production designer, who has creatively built over 180 post-apocalyptic locations with a perfect blend of growth and destruction of 20 years. With advance access to each episode, the speaker discusses the sixth episode with John and talks about his other brilliant shows such as "The Shrink Next Door", "Dallas Buyers Club", "Sharp Objects", "Big Little Lies", and "The Morning Show". Don't miss out on this exciting episode!

Timecode for podcast....

[00:16:16] The Last of Us game had attractive cinematic art and gritty atmosphere. Show design incorporates game elements and real-world situations.

[00:18:21] A team had difficulty sourcing appropriate greenery and bushes for a movie's set and had to create realistic street rubble with sculpted blisters to simulate water damage.

[00:20:50] Tank-built lobby with slimy but colorful atmosphere, live animals, and spraying to maintain grittiness. Importance of having color behind objects for desiccation without everything becoming brown and black.

[00:23:00] Challenges sourcing wallpaper during COVID led to designing and printing Aztec-inspired wallpaper for sets in a post-apocalyptic world, creating a sense of nature overtaking everything. The design resembles the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

[00:27:14] Challenged to find American architecture in Canada, they discovered frontier-style buildings out west, but little else. They ended up building on a housing development on land that was previously in a flood zone.

[00:34:06] Old, creepy brewery tunnels used as a filming location in Calgary with murals, dusting, and dankness.

[00:35:34] The text discusses how characters in a show obtain electricity and the importance of realistic lighting in set design. The use of natural sources of light, such as vents or windows, is emphasized. Puncturing holes in the vents is mentioned as a method to create natural lighting in certain scenes.

[00:40:40] Large, talented crew with multiple art directors and concept artists quickly developed and modeled computer layouts for film production. Included were meetings, a model maker for each set, and an emphasis on practical effects.

[00:43:52] Building facades and changing Kenmore to give it a western appearance, creating interior sets for stores in Jackson.

[01:09:48] The location of the Today Show is small and old-fashioned, except for the control room which is state of the art. The recording equipment and microphones are challenging to work with, but the actors give direction like a real director.


1. What are some of the shows designed by John Payneo, who is being interviewed in the episode?- Some of the shows designed by John Payneo include "The Shrink Next Door," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Sharp Objects," "Big Little Lies," and "The Morning Show."

2. What movie does Kim predict will win the Oscar for production design?- Kim predicts that "All Quiet on the Western Front" will win the Oscar for production design.

3. What challenges did the speaker face in getting wallpaper during a shoot in Calgary?- The speaker faced supply chain issues caused by COVID-19, which made it difficult to get wallpaper in Calgary.

4. What is "The Last of Us" and why did the speaker become attracted to it?- "The Last of Us" is a video game with high-quality cinematic concept art that had a sense of grit and atmosphere, which attracted the speaker.

5. What challenges did the team face when adapting "The Last of Us" game design to a real environment for the actors to work in?- The team had to adapt the game's design, which was created in a computer, to a real environment for the actors to work in.


Creating a Real-World Version of The Last of Us Concept Art: "The really good concept art that Neil had done for the game was very cinematic. And a lot of concept art for games is not cinematic and also just not everything's rounded off."— John Paino

Creating the Swamp Lobby: "It's important to have a little bit of the remnants of life in the places and then have a sense of that, so that we didn't really want everything to look like everything's dipped in mud or whatever."— John Paino

Creating a Creepy Atmosphere: "Those were, like, rooms and tunnels under a brewery in Calgary and old brewery and had enough room to work. And they were creepy and dirty and everything..."— John Paino


Kim Wannop [00:00:07]:

Decorating Pages is a podcast dedicated to taking you behind the scenes of the designs of your favorite TV shows and films. Each episode, I'll be sharing design stories from some of Hollywood's most famous sets. Interviews from set decorators, production designers, directors and actors are about creating the look of TV and films, about their design, inspirations and stories that take steps from page to screen.

Kim Wannop [00:00:37]:

Hello there and welcome to Decorating Pages podcast. I am your host, Kim Wannop. How you doing? I I feel like I haven't been on here for a while because I taped my last episode, like, kind of a week before I went to Mexico. I did really well to the last day, and then I got so sick that I couldn't leave the room. Thank God the kids and the hubby didn't, because there's nothing worse than being sick and then having sick kids. That's even worse. So just me. I'll take it. If anybody got sick, it's me. It's good I didn't get any weight on the trip, let's put it that way. But I had a beautiful time and now I'm off. I have deep dived into this podcast. I have so many good interviews coming up for you. Yes, you. I've been watching the shit out of everything, which is great. And it's award season, and in the past week, we got SDA, we got the ADG, we got BAFTA, and I'm going to give you my Oscar prediction. So let's start off with the SDSA Awards. The winners were for contemporary film. A tie between Tar and Topgun. Bravo. And then best achievement in period film. Elvis. Bravo. And then best. What's this? Best Achievement. Design and fantasy was everything. Everywhere, all at once. And then Musical or comedy was Ronald Doll's Matilda the Musical, and the unbearable weight of massive Talent. So they had two ties this year, which is kind of crazy, but good for them, the ADG Awards, which were this past weekend. I'm always kind of baffled by the winners, but let's just talk about it. Period film all Quiet on the Western Front. Fantasy, film. Everything, everywhere, all at once. Contemporary film, the Glass Onion. Okay. For television. 1 hour penchinko. I'm saying it wrong. Fantasy was Lord of the Rings. Contemporary was Severance and then Music limited series was Guillermo del Toro's cabinet of Curiosities. Half hour was our flag means death. Multicam was how I met your father. And reality competition. Variety was Saturday Night Live. Variety special was the Oscar, commercial was Lord of the Rings, and short format was Adele. I drink wine. And then Baftas production design went to Babylon. So Babylon really kicking it in. All three, I think. SDSA didn't win. It was nominated. But yeah, everything, Everywhere, all at Once seems to be crowd pleaser with the DGA even. And All Quiet on the Western Front seems to be the big winner of BAFTA. And here's my theory. Now, usually in the past, majority of the time. The picture that wins production design also wins cinematography. And there's only two films this year that are both nominated in both. And now I forget what the other one is, but I'm picking All Quiet on the Western Front for the Oscar. I just think they had to build all I mean, everybody had to build everything. I get it. But that's a rough movie to watch. Not that Babylon wasn't, but it's for a different reason. So my prediction is all quiet on the Western front for the Oscar. But good luck to all and congratulations to all. It's all great work, all the nominees. It's a lot. We all know it's a lot. And you all deserve a huge pat on the back. We all do because it's hard. That's why I do this, to let you know how hard and wonderful it is at the same time. I've been watching a lot of the movies also. What's one up watching this couple of weeks, I watched Tar and production design Marco Bitter Rouser and set decoration by Ernestine Hipper. I thought the design was interesting and different and modern and I wanted to see I liked seeing, like, Germany and all the concert halls and all that. I liked the look of it. The palette was sort of like beige and black or something. I don't know. That's what I think of when I think of it. But the movie wasn't great. It didn't go anywhere. I don't think that's Kate Blanchette's best work. I love her. I think she's fantastic and everything, and she is. But I just watched everything everywhere, all at once. Or anything everywhere all at once. Production Design Jason Kevaste and set decoration by Kelsey Fram Wonderful production design. I mean, the amount of things they had to do and then all the fight scenes and all the color. That apartment that Laundromat loved it. The movie. No, I'm sorry. No, it's a half hour best, not three. It was 3 hours of that. I got really lost. I didn't know why this was happening, that I thought, oh, and I actually rewounded a little bit, thinking that I missed something and I didn't. So I don't know, I don't get it. But here's the thing. Then I started to think about really good films and I just really wanted to watch really good films and went back. I watched Taxi Driver, our director, Charles Rosen and Seth Decorator, Herbert Mulligan. Man, Taxi Driver so gritty and so raw and such a great performances. God, I love Albert Brooks. I love simple shepherd in that movie. It's so awkward, it's so frightening. As a young woman in New York City at that time, I can imagine. And this just the bloodbath at the end and then the psycho is the hero. It's crazy. It's a crazy movie. But what a time capsule of that period. In New York City, I watched for the first time The Wild Bunch, because I had read that Quentin Tarantino book I told you about. Now the name of that escapes me. I don't know. Am I getting old? Do I need some ginkgabiloba? I don't know. My mind just goes cinema speculation. There it is. And he kept talking about George Peck and Paw. And we were looking through things one night and The Wild Bunch came up and I was like, oh, let's watch that. Because I'd never seen it. And I could see so much how Tarantino was influenced by those scenes. It's not my kind of movie, but I definitely appreciate it, and I appreciate all the acting in it. And it was all filmed in Mexico, and I went down a rabbit hole about it. I enjoyed seeing how when you watch these older films and then you see how they influence films of today. I love seeing that. So that was our director, Edward Carrie. C-A-R-R-E-R-E. Carrie. And then the other night we turned on Terminator, which has production design by Maria Queso and George Costello, and then set decoration by Maria Queso. I don't know if she did both or one or I don't know if that's wrong or not. But talk about another time capsule of la in the cyborg. Shit doesn't hold up. It's really bad. But the story of it and when you you know that part two is so much better in a sense that it's almost like a just nice little pre Terminator.

Kim Wannop [00:09:57]:


Kim Wannop [00:09:58]:

Because when you think about do you hear my kids? It's like 10:00 at night. They're screaming. All they do is play at night. I don't even go in anymore because they just play. And I don't just play themselves asleep. I don't know if other parents do that. I'm too tired. It's too much. Anyway, Terminator holds up, especially when you think about how good number two is. I'm going to say the other thing is Housewives. The end of Salt Lake City was awesome. And New Jersey, I'm so sick of selling them. But I started to do little TikToks about the decor of Housewives. So if you want to check that out, so far I've done Melissa and Joe, that's on the decorating Pages podcast, TikTok, if you're into that. I've been really stepping up my TikToks. I did a couple about Denise Bizini and the Muppets. And better call Saul. They're very interesting. So they're just little snippets of the interview with the pictures of the sets that we're talking about. So you should check that out. This episode is you want to hear me dork out? This is the one. So I have been obsessed with the last of us. I have watched each episode probably two to three times. The Nick Offerman episode is just perfect to me. The development of that relationship and showing them through the years and just the acting I thought was so good. And you're in the middle of this story they're not really zombies, but God, it's so good. And like I say in this interview, I just don't know where every episode is going. And I'm really glad that I don't know anything about the video game. Sorry, I don't. I don't know anything about it. And so I don't know where the story is going. I haven't at all. And I just think it's brilliantly done, and I think the lighting is great and the costumes and the acting and especially the sets. I'm just obsessed with it. And if you're not, you're missing out. That's all I'm going to say. So I am talking to production designer John Payneo, who has brought this incredibly beloved video game to life. He's designed this poke apocalyptic world with over 180 locations, no permanent sets to fall back on. They're building towns and neighborhoods and tunnels and all with the look of this growth and destruction of 20 years. I go kind of episode by episode. I've been lucky enough that HBO has given me a couple of days advance of each episode. So I was able to talk to him about episode six, which just came out this past Sunday. It's wonderful. I don't know. I think it's the only thing I'm watching live, I think. I don't know. But then I also ask him about his other brilliant shows, which I love. The shrink next door. Dallas Buyers Club. Sharp objects. Big little lies. And the morning show. So tons to talk about with him. He was very gracious with his time, so I hope you enjoy.

Kim Wannop [00:13:39]:

I never knew how many buttons I'd be responsible for. I had a tech buyer. I never knew how much buttons cost. I was like, sure.

John Paino [00:13:52]:

Well, life is short. I don't know if you should worry about yeah, true.

Kim Wannop [00:14:00]:

Well, I think, like everyone else who's watching The Last of US, we're just blown away every single episode. I mean, I don't even know. I know I always ask, how much prep did you have? And it never seems like enough, but did you?

John Paino [00:14:18]:

No, it's not. No, I think I had two or three months. I'd say three months, but it's not enough because each episode is kind of each episode was a movie and a half.

Kim Wannop [00:14:33]:


John Paino [00:14:35]:

Each page had so much detail on.

Kim Wannop [00:14:39]:

It because even and the world was.

John Paino [00:14:42]:

Created and there's been no services for 20 years. So we built all the interiors, more or less. I think we had something like 98 sets. We had three back lots. We built in about 180 locations.

Kim Wannop [00:15:05]:

That's insane. Two to three months is maybe enough for the first episode, but then quickly episode two comes around like, were you block shooting, or is it just individual episodes?

John Paino [00:15:21]:

No, I think no, we weren't. I honestly can't remember. We never really were block shooting because we were ever in the same place.