The 91st Academy Awards take place on Feb. 24 and air live on ABC at 8 p.m.

By Madison Roberts
February 19, 2019 10:00 AM
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Since Oscars set designer David Korins was a child, he remembers being moved by the annual awards show. So when he was asked to create a stage for the prestigious presentation in its 91st year, he couldn’t contain his excitement.

“There’s the ever-present kid in me who remembers watching the Oscars at a very early age,” Korins tells PEOPLE exclusively. “Being able to attach my name to a cultural phenomenon and being added to the long lineage is obviously an exciting thing to be part of.”

Korins, a creative director and designer who has developed live musical experiences for artists like Kanye West and Lady Gaga, as well as worked on Broadway for Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, also says he’s excited just to be able to “work on the canvas” that the Oscars stage provides.

“It’s humbling, frankly, to be entrusted with the mantle of creating the look of perhaps the most-watched cultural television experience that isn’t a sporting event,” he says. “That is a real and true honor.”

Courtesy of Swarovski

When developing the set, Korins wanted to reimagine the traditional form by having it swoop out into the audience — and not just because it would be beautiful.

“I really tried to think about what the world is right now — the rigidity and the straight lines — and I thought the world of the show should be one that cuts completely against that, that reaches across the aisles, that reaches out into the audience and is one of inclusion and of community.”

David Korins

On top of creating grandiose set pieces like a “Crystal Cloud” and “Golden Gates,” — which use over 1,600 cables strung with over 26,000 Swarovski crystal beads and 10,000 Swarovski pearls — Korins also wanted to stun the world by straying away from Plexiglass structures and other manmade materials to use organic elements.

His stage will incorporate 40,000 Infinite Roses from OnlyRoses — which are real flowers that last for years without water — that will be used in multiple ways throughout the ever-changing set, including on a recreation of the iconic Oscars statues as a floral sculpture called the “Rose Topiary Oscar.”

Courtesy of Swarovski

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“The roses in particular felt like they epitomize a state of humanity and an organic, natural thing,” Korins says. “We’ve seen them used a lot in design on red carpets and in fashion shows, but I’ve never seen them in awards shows.”

He continues, “They are iconic. They are glamorous, but also they are natural, and I think that just feels right.”

Courtesy of Swarovski

However, Korins says, having watched the Oscars for years, he wanted to further develop the iconic visual elements — like the crystal installations — that have been so successful in years past.

“It has to be dazzling and it has to be interesting looking and aesthetically pleasing,” he says. “But to me, it’s not just about creating beauty for beauty’s sake. To me, it’s beauty with a message.”

But after watching his set — which took 15 people and 2,100 hours to complete — come to life in tech rehearsals, he says, he’s simply grateful for the opportunity and he can’t wait to see how people react when it’s unveiled.

Courtesy of David Korins

“This is one of those ‘pinch me’ jobs where all along the way, I continue to check-in and just remain [conscious of] the fact that tens of millions of people will watch this on Sunday,” he says. “I am interested to see how the world reacts to what is a really muscular, pretty strong visual gesture.”

Courtesy of Swarovski

Don’t miss People/Entertainment Weekly Red Carpet Live: Hollywood’s Biggest Night at 5 p.m. ET/2p.m. PT on Feb. 24. To watch, go to peopletv.com or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite mobile or connected TV device. The 91st Academy Awards take place on Feb. 24 and air live on ABC at 8 p.m.