Oscars Set Designer David Korins Teases an 'Electric,' 'Future-Forward' Look for 2022 Ceremony

PEOPLE talks to Emmy-winning production designer David Korins about his creation of the 2022 Oscars set, with an exclusive first-look rendering

david Korins
David Korins' Oscars set design. Photo: Courtesy David Korins Design

For David Korins, this year's Academy Awards is all about "community first."

The Emmy-winning production designer chats with PEOPLE ahead of the 94th Oscars ceremony this Sunday, and reveals that after being asked to design the set at the Dolby Theatre — his second time taking on the gig, after 2019's show — he thought, "What did I want people to think about as we gather in the tens of millions to watch this thing?"

"We've all been through this undeniably complicated and challenging time, regardless of socioeconomic situation. And so, to me, it's like, how can we lead with community first? How can we lead with acknowledging where we came from and where we are right now?" says Korins, 45.

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"But in the way that film does — it kind of looks to the future," he adds of the "electric" design, of which PEOPLE is offering an exclusive first look.

With that in mind, the Hamilton designer came up with an aesthetic of swirling blues and whites, which he describes in part as being inspired by a "magical portal into the future, in which we trade in the currency of elegance and electricity."

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The mastermind being designs on Broadway productions such as Beetlejuice, Dear Evan Hansen, Mrs. Doubtfire and more tells PEOPLE he wanted the Oscars set "to be able to move seamlessly from one act to the next" — which could come especially in handy given that the show has three hosts this year, in Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Skyes.

"I wanted every single piece of scenery in the environment to have electricity kind of glowing from within. So much like, I'm hoping, the cultural embers are beginning to glow from within," he says. "I wanted it to be future-forward; I wanted it to be something that felt mesmerizing."

Korins "looked a lot at optical illusions" for inspiration, and "really tried to endeavor to make something that felt incredibly deep."

"We're looking into this portal, but [with] layers and layers [that] continue to unfold, much like what we're kind of dealing with now," he explains.

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Korins challenged himself to "deliver three discrete-looking environments" and create "bite-sized chunks" with the project, "so that when you tune in, you really feel like the entire world has changed and evolved" as a result of a recent cultural shift.

"There's three hosts, there's three different environments, and the entire thing is wrapped in, hopefully, a message of community and hope. It is forward-thinking," he says.

Korins tells PEOPLE he "can feel a palpable sense of excitement" as he spends time on the West Coast, both at the Dolby itself — which is back as the Oscars venue after the show was held at multiple locations last year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic — and in Los Angeles in general.

"It's one of those things you don't know how much you miss something until it's gone. And this town always transforms itself, every year, around the Academy Awards," he says. "And this is like a revelatory return to its home and you can really feel it, it's electric."

Korins adds, "It's interesting because we've, of course, chosen to embed electricity into every single piece of scenery. So it's not just like a sparkly glossy environment, but really one that is illuminating."

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Korins is a creative director and designer who, aside from his work on Broadway, has developed live musical experiences for artists like Mariah Carey and Lady Gaga. He has been nominated for three Tony Awards, and won an Emmy for his work on 2016's Grease Live.

And he is a big fan of the Oscars, telling PEOPLE he has watched the annual film-celebrating ceremony "for as long as [he] can remember."

"This year is particularly sweet for me because I have many dear friends and collaborators who are nominated — many of whom I came up with in the trenches doing theater, working in New York, and who have risen to extraordinary heights," Korins says.

"And I think, as you get older and you work on more things, you really try and be present in these moments, in the making of the moments — not necessarily the finished product, but the journey," he adds.

The 2022 Oscars are airing Sunday from Hollywood's Dolby Theatre on ABC.

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