Lawrence G. Paull, an award-winning production designer and art director whose work on the science fiction classic Blade Runner received an Oscar nomination, died Sunday in La Jolla. He was 81 and no cause of death was given.
Paull had a long history in Hollywood, designing for such films as Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future (1985) and Romancing the Stone (1984) and Ron Underwood’s City Slickers (1991).
Blade Runner was a groundbreaking visual effort, winning Paull an Academy Award nomination for production design in 1982. The Oscar went to the creators of Ghandi, but Paull later won a BAFTA together with futurist Syd Mead and VFX inventor Douglas Trumbull. Three years later, Paull was again nominated for a BAFTA for his work on Back to the Future.
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Born in Chicago in 1938, Paull graduated from the University of Arizona. He soon discovered that architecture was too conservative for him, and after seeing Dr. Zhivago, he embarked on a career in film.
In the 1960s, Paull worked as a draftsman on numerous film productions, then moved to set designing and art direction. In the 1970s, he made his first movie as a production designer, Little Fauss and Big Halsey.
Paull also worked on Peter Fonda’s The Hired Hand (1971); Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976), American Flyers (1985) and Another Stakeout (1993), all directed by John Badham; John Carpenter’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992) and Escape From L.A. (1996); Jonathan Kaplan’s Project X (1987) and Unlawful Entry (1992); Jon Avildsen’s W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings (1975); and Paul Schrader’s Blue Collar (1978).
He also worked on Harlem Nights (1989), Predator 2 (1990), Born Yesterday (1993), Naked Gun 33-1/3: The Final Insult (1994), Sgt. Bilko (1996) and Light it Up (1999).
But his work on Blade Runner was his defining moment.
“Ridley really knew how to appeal to the art department, he was very wise about it,” Paull said in an interview. “What he would say, up in the art department: ‘If you build it, I’ll shoot it.’ And who could resist the temptation of that? Because we’ve all suffered, making films with gigantic sets, and beautiful sets, and all that is shown are talking heads. And that was disappointing. But because [Ridley] was an art director, he knew he could hook us with that bait. And he did it – if we built it, he shot it.”
Paull also taught a production design program at Los Angeles Film School since 1999 and later became a professor at the Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. Before Chapman, he was the senior filmmaker-in-residence at the AFI in Los Angeles, creating the curriculum required for another masters in production design.
Survivors include his wife, Marcy; son Michael; sister Lesley; and brother-in-law Craig. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made in his memory to the charity of your choice. There will be no services.