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The elements that make up Wes Anderson’s genius

Pastel-hued interiors bring to mind a Wes Anderson movie. Famed for his colourful aesthetics, unique characters and extravagant storylines, the Houston-born filmmaker is hailed by many as one of the best of his generation, and is known to create not just movies, but also art. Popular for award-winning films such as The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson creates an intricately designed world full of oddball characters — and he does so with an unmistakable design style.

Last year, a movement called “Accidentally Wes Anderson” gained traction online, started by a Reddit thread, dedicated to photos of locations that bear an uncanny resemblance to a stylised Wes Anderson film set. Think balanced symmetry, pastel facades and cinematic setups.  

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Photo credit: The Grand Budapest Hotel

As unique as his films are, Anderson attributes his genius to the filmmakers who have inspired him, such as John Huston, Orson Welles, Jean Renoir, Roman Polanski, Stanley Kubrick, Fellini and Bergman.

Thankfully for us Anderson fans, the award-winning director isn’s stopping anytime soon, with his next movie slated to be a 1940’s musical set in France, at the end of the Second World War. Details are kept super-secret at the moment, but it’s been said that the production of the movie is set to begin in February 2019, and will last at least four months. This 2019 production start would mark his 10th film and 23rd year making features, ever since his first film, Bottle Rocket in 1996.

While we patiently wait for more details surrounding the film, we dissect the elements that make up Anderson’s cinematic genius.


If there’s one thing Anderson is famed for, it’s his ridiculously unique aesthetic. All of the filmmaker’s movies are washed by a distinct hue that gives off a slightly surreal, mystical vibe. His films, be it The Life Aquatic or The Grand Budapest Hotel, continually coincide with a very specific colour pattern used throughout the film. In the movies, he uses a scheme of colours continually through the layout, background, and within the characters — creating a unique and visually pleasing combination.


The Royal Tenenbaums
Still from The Royal Tenenbaums. (Photo credit: The Royal Tenenbaums)

So well-thought-out is Anderson’s cohesive aesthetics, that the attention to detail goes down to the fonts. In fact, his preference for his recurring font, Futura, borders on obsession. Take The Tenenbaums, for instance, who seem to exist in a world dominated by Futura (specifically, Futura Bold) — with the minimalistic typeface appearing in various scenes — from hospital signages to advertisements on buses.

Yet, a few other typefaces make their appearances, interestingly in connection to characters (or elements) outside the Tenenbaum family. The other dominating font? Helvetica, which has become popular in the design industry, too.


Most Wes Anderson movies evoke a certain sense of nostalgia, taking place in an affectionate version of the past. The retro lens through which they are filtered enables a simplicity that feels familiar yet otherworldly at the same time. Mostly set in the past, the storylines often remind the audience of the warmth of distant memories, or the whimsy of childhood, making them perfectly nostalgic and escapist.

Moonrise Kingdom
Photo credit: Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom, which has a theme surrounding the innocence of young love, s set on an island off the coast of New England in the 1960s — following the story of a boy and girl falling in love. On the other hand, The Grand Budapest Hotel follows the adventures of a lobby boy and a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka between the First and Second World Wars.


However, one should not be under the impression that Anderson’s films have no depth to them, though. In fact, it is quite the contrary. The themes of his movies are bittersweet issues that his audience deals with on a daily basis: love, heartache, sibling rivalry, and family feuds — all of which might just be completely relatable.


The music used in Anderson’s films are also a distinguishing factor that sets his work apart. In his work, the director is known for bringing back tunes from the 50s, 60s and 70s that provide a musical backdrop. The Life Aquatic is known for its David Bowie Covers, while The Royal Tenenbaums brings to mind The Rolling Stones or The Velvet Underground, and The Darjeeling Limited showcases classics by The Kinks.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Photo credit: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

The Grand Budapest Hotel, set in the 30s, is one of the only films in which he chooses to utilise other genres. The movie doesn’t include a single Western pop song, though, which seems fitting for a story set in a fictional Central European hotel doomed by war and other 20th-century horrors.

Symmetrical framing

Our brains are hardwired to love symmetry — and Anderson, being the cinematic genius that he is, draws on that fact for his movies. Perfectly centred shots have become one of the distinguishing elements in his movies. Granted, Anderson isn’t the only filmmaker to utilise central framing (there’s Stanley Kubrick, George Mille, and Paul Thomas Anderson), yet, he is one of the most distinguishable trademarks in his cinematic oeuvre.

In fact, beautifully symmetrical framing isn’t a testament to Anderson’s directorial precision, but also a technique that creates a cinematic world removed from reality, turning establishing shots into stylised portraits and dialogue sequences into stunning set pieces.

wes anderson symmetry
Photo credit: Wes Anderson//Centred

A lot of thought has to be put into the framing, as a symmetrical shot needs two elements to be effective. One, a strong composition. The second, an eye-catching point of interest. Anderson accomplishes both by using rich colours, fascinating characters, and quirky objects in his shots.

Central framing doesn’t only serve its purpose aesthetically, but also as a comedic device who, according to film theorists Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, creates “humour by means of geometrical tableaus.” In fact, symmetry can indeed create a “static geometrical form that can evoke a deadpan comic quality”, and symmetrical shots can make almost everything amusingly offbeat.

The elements that make up Wes Anderson’s genius

Dewi Nurjuwita

Senior Writer

Dewi Nurjuwita is a travel and design writer who can be found exploring the streets of foreign cities with passport in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.


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